§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Home Secretary, I should tell the House that more than 60 right hon. and hon. Members have already indicated to me that they hope to catch my eye. I hope that that will be borne in mind by all who participate in the debate.
I hope that hon. Members will not come to the Chair to canvass their interest. In the words of my illustrious predecessor, such action would be counter-productive. I have always thought that that was a very good phrase. When we have such a long list of hon. Members wishing to speak, it makes the life of the Chair a misery if hon. Members come to the Chair canvassing for a place.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)
Since Friday 3 July, there have been major incidents of civil disorder in many of our great cities. The first occurred in Southall, London. Over the following weekend—from 4 to 6 July—there was serious rioting in Toxteth, Liverpool. By Tuesday 7 July, and on the two days after that, the focus of disorder had shifted to Moss Side, Manchester, but there were still serious outbreaks in various parts of London.
From Friday 10 July, there was repeated street violence and looting in a number of cities. From 3 July to date, more than 3,000 people have been arrested for offences committed during the disturbances. Large numbers of police officers have been injured. Some are still in hospital. Damage to property and theft of property, have been widespread.
If the House and the country are to use this debate to plan our future action, we must recognise that we are not dealing with a single, simple phenomenon. The reasons for the eruption of violence, the course it took and the necessary responses to it varied from place to place.
In Southall, skinheads from other parts of London moved into a predominantly Asian area. Their behaviour was provocative. The violence that followed was undoubtedly an expression of racial tension, but the main victims were the police, trapped between warring factions.
In Toxteth, in Liverpool, there was concerted violence of a wholly new ferocity and intensity, directed first, and specifically, against the police. The weight of numbers, the fury of he violence, and appallingly high police injuries and property damage, compelled the chief constable as a last resort to use CS gas. A compact triangle of the city was devasted.
Liverpool 8 has long suffered a range of social, economic and high crime problems. The three days of violence reflect the complexity of the situation. The first night consisted largely of black youths, children of many generations of Liverpool people, erupting against the police. The second saw a concerted attack on the police by white and black youngsters. The third witnessed a predominantly white crowd of looters exploiting the earlier disturbances, while local black leaders played a major part in keeping their young people off the streets.
In Manchester, the violence was spread over a number of areas for three nights. Some of it appeared well co-ordinated. In the main it focused not on a set-piece battle with the police but on window-smashing and theft. The 1398 events there seemed to set a pattern of criminal hooliganism and imitation, which was repeated around the country.
I should like now to report to the House on yesterday's events in Brixton. At 2 am yesterday, police officers entered 11 premises in Railton Road in execution of search warrants. Five people were detained on the grounds that they were alleged to have in their possession small quantities of cannabis resin. They have all since been released pending analysis of the substances. A further person was detained and charged with obstructing the police in the execution of their duty, and one other was detained on suspicion of being in possession of equipment for manufacturing petrol bombs. However, subsequent analysis of the substance in question allowed the man to be released.
Last night crowds of local youths gathered in the area. Cars were burnt and barricades set up. In the process, of clearing the streets, 10 policemen were injured and five arrests were made.
It is alleged that in the course of the morning operation serious damage was caused to property and personal effects. It would not be appropriate for me to comment in detail on these questions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—for the reasons that I am giving. It would not: be appropriate for me to do so, beyond saying that I understand that a number of complaints have been made to the Commissioner and are being urgently investigated under the procedure being laid down by Parliament, which includes scrutiny by the independent Police Complaints Board. The Commissioner has also assured me that he intends to hold a full inquiry into the conduct of the operation as a whole and that he will report to me his conclusions. Thereafter, I shall report further to the House.
Last night in this House both I and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), were approached by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and the hon. Members for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley), for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland), all of whom reported their concern about the situation. I readily agreed to a visit being paid to the scene of the raid by my officials this morning. As a result, two senior officials went to Railton Road, where they met the leader of Lambeth council and local residents. Also present was a representative of the Receiver of the Metropolitan Police, responsible for dealing with claims for damage compensation.
The officials entered property at the invitation of the owners and saw over the scene of events at first hand. They subsequently reported what they saw to me. For the reasons that I have already explained, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further. However, I can tell the House that the Receiver's representative will this afternoon be having a meeting with the chief executive of the Lambeth council to settle how repairs and damage claims should be dealt with.
I was very glad that yesterday evening Lord Scarman, on a visit to a community centre in the area, was able to inspect the situation himself and talk to community leaders. I know that he will take this matter into consideration, along with a wide range of others, in phase two of his inquiry.
It is clear that a variety of factors have contributed to the propensity for violence that we have seen break out in the streets of our cities. Of course, there will be—
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, as he is the Member concerned in the Brixton issue, but in view of the large number of Members who wish to speak I should be doing damage to the debate and to the interests of many hon. Members if I were to give way frequently.
§ Mr. Fraser
Was there one general warrant, or were there several warrants, for the search? Secondly, may I make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that investigation under the Police Act alone will not be regarded as sufficient?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I shall look into the detail of the hon. Gentleman's first point. I understand—I speak subject to correction—that there were search warrants. When I have received the report from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and have reported his conclusions to the House, I shall make sure that the House has an opportunity to question me on these matters. I do not think that I can be fairer than that.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
It would be much better for me to reply when I have had full reports and know all the facts, which I could not conceivably have known at 2 o'clock.
I want to emphasise my strongest possible support for the way in which the police service has handled the operation of dealing with the riots. Of course, there will be, and there have been, some criticisms of detail of the way in which the police have handled particular situations. But I think that in general the feeling that they have handled the riots with great skill should be recognised.
Nor is this my view alone. The local authority leaders of all parties, and the police authorities themselves, firmly expressed that opinion to me. Whatever suggestions, therefore, are made about police action or criticisms that may have arisen over a much longer period than that of the recent disturbances themselves, I am sure that the House will be united in assuring the country that it expects from the police a firm and effective response. I know also that we would all wish to applaud the efforts of the policemen, many of them young, who through long hours of duty showed great courage in the interests of protecting us all.
It must, therefore, be my first duty as Home Secretary to reassure the public that the police will have the full support of the Government, and the necessary resources, to tackle street violence. Whatever else the disorders that we have suffered represent, they were first and foremost criminal acts that have to be dealt with by the police on the spot in containing them, in arresting the offenders and bringing them before the courts. No reason, no explanation, for recent troubles justifies what has occurred.
The police are the bulwark on which we all depend for our protection. To do this effectively in the face of new levels of recent violence, they, too, need extra protection. The decisions that I have therefore made were announced to the House yesterday. I want to emphasise again, however, that better protection has helped chief officers in adopting positive tactics to break up violent groups. The chief officers who have been most closely involved in the recent events are firmly of the view that their most 1400 effective approach lies in training their officers and developing their tactics for mobile and positive public order policing.
The events of recent days, and the police reaction to them, have demonstrated the value of the national reporting centre of Scotland Yard in organising the rapid deployment of assistance between police forces. Discussions with some chief officers of police who have been most concerned have ranged over all the arrangements for organisation, training—for senior and junior officers—and tactics. Intensive work will take place in this field, coupled with a determination on the part of chief officers to obtain as much advance information as possible about the potential for widespread criminal violence.
This basic strategy sets in perspective the decisions to make available equipment such as water cannon, CS gas and plastic bullets. Each of these may have a part to play as a means of last resort, depending on the circumstances that a chief officer faces. Neither chief officers nor I wish to see or encourage their use.
Equally, it would be wrong not to have such facilities available against the possibility that the police are faced with a type of violence that cannot otherwise be contained.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) asked me certain questions yesterday, particularly about CS gas. Chief officers of police and I are fully aware of the dangers attendant on the use of CS gas or plastic bullets. As I reported to the House yesterday, a review has been undertaken of the stocks of CS available to the police. Although the gas itself is of the same type, there are wide varieties of CS gas equipment. The stocks held by police forces were essentially for use against armed, besieged criminals. Some of these are appropriate for riot control, but not all forces hold the latter because, until the riot in Toxteth, it had not been envisaged that they should be used for that purpose.
In Merseyside, use was made of a type of canister that had to be fired so as to detonate against walls or other hard surfaces. The chief constable is conducting a full inquiry into the way in which the injuries reported have occurred, and he will present his report to me. As a result of the review of stocks, I have asked my Department to ensure urgently that every police force has available to it a type suitable for the two main circumstances for which they are designed.
The basic principle for the use of either equipment, as a means of last resort, is that they should be used only in circumstances where other conventional methods have been tried and failed and where, in the judgment of the chief officers, such action is necessary to prevent serious risk to life or widespread destruction of property. Such equipment should be authorised for use only by specially trained personnel and only with the authority of the chief constable himself or, in his absence, his deputy. In the light of this basic principle, careful and urgent attention is being given to further detailed guidance on the use of such equipment and on the training needed. All these points will be followed up and developed in continuing discussions between my Department and the police.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I was asked yesterday whether I would consider reserving to myself a decision to use CS gas or 1401 plastic bullets to restore order in riotous circumstances. I have reflected carefully on this but believe this would, on balance, be mistaken. Despite the fact that any Home Secretary must always be available to be consulted urgently at all hours of the day and night, the responsibility for operations is that of the chief officer alone. He is on the ground. Only he can be in full possession and appreciation of the facts in what, by definition, will usually be very rapidly changing circumstances. I therefore believe that the proper responsibility of the Home Secretary is best discharged in authorising the guidelines and circumstances. I have set out the principles on which these will be based and will inform the House in due course when the details have been decided.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Many criminal charges arising from the riots are now being dealt with in the magistrates' courts. The more serious will be going to the Crown court for trial. We must be grateful to the magistrates and their staff on whom this extra burden, involving additional sittings, has fallen. The final responsibility for deciding what priority should be given to any case or class of case in the Crown court rests on the judiciary and, in particular, on the presiding judges of the courts. I have no doubt that they will do whatever circumstances allow to bring these cases to trial without delay.
Some of the charges will result in custodial sentences. It must fall to me to ensure that I provide for necessary facilities so that the sentences can be properly fulfilled. As the House will be aware, the prison population had been increasing even before the recent disturbances began. It now stands at the figure of 45,500. The prison system is under great pressure and I warmly appreciate the prison service's response in dealing with the additional numbers who have been committed to its custody and the inevitable strains that the present level of population places on it. We are discussing with the staff the measures that are now required.
Within the system, arrangements are in hand to provide extra detention centre places at Lowdham Grange in Nottinghamshire and at Erlestoke House in Wiltshire and these will he ready next week. I have also made arrangements with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to use military camps to provide additional prison accommodation. The first of these will be at Rollestone on Salisbury Plain and others will be brought into use if they are required. They will accommodate suitable inmates drawn from the prison population as a whole and they will be staffed by members of the prison service.
I have a duty to ensure that the law that the police and the courts have to enforce not only sets the appropriate limits on what is tolerable but also provides a sufficient means to combat violence and effectively supports the police in their task. I should therefore comment on the recent calls to reintroduce the Riot Act.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
In fact, the Riot Act 1714 had as its object not the creation of a new criminal offence but the conversion of what was already a misdemeanour into a felony. Under its provisions, people ordered to disperse were made guilty of felony if they did not do so but instead continued to riot. Many people have something different 1402 in mind—that it should be a criminal offence simply not to disperse when ordered to do so. I have considered carefully whether such a provision would have helped quell recent disorders.
We must remind ourselves of what was the nature of these disorders. They were least often, but most dangerously, a large group of violent people confronting the police. They were most often scattered groups of looters causing damage to property. Riot Act provisions are mainly designed for the first category. There are in this field wide-ranging existing powers—in common law offences of riot, rout and unlawful assembly—and powers to arrest for actual or threatened breach of the peace. There is also section 5 of the Public Order Act 1936 and the offence of obstructing the police in the execution of their duty. But, despite the range of powers and penalties currently available, I am persuaded that it is indeed often difficult for the police to isolate and identify particular wrongdoers in such violent circumstances.
I am equally sure that it would be wrong, in any event, to hurry forward in this difficult field. I therefore intend to examine in consultation with my right hon. and learned Friends the Lord Chancellor, the Attorney-General and the Lord Advocate the value of such proposals in the overall perspective of what new powers generally should be available to the police to maintain order and to deal with disorder.
So far, I have spoken about my duty to take the measures necessary to enable the police and the courts to deal with street violence effectively when it has occurred. It is the duty of every Government to underline, and act on, their fundamental responsibility to uphold the rule of law. I also have the other and wider responsibilities, both as Home Secretary and as a member of the Government. These are simple to state but complex to carry out and achieve. Put briefly, they are to promote the conditions in which violence does not flourish but is rejected, so that a peaceful and harmonious society is a reality and seen to be a reality for all people.
Many of the young people committing criminal violence on the streets in recent weeks live in inner city areas, which suffer relatively from a range of disadvantages, including serious unemployment over a number of years. Youthful violence and youthful frustration have been evident in outbreaks of football hooliganism and other acts of violence, quite apart from the much more serious outbreaks that have occurred in the past two weeks. The complexity of the issue has to be recognised rather than reduced to a matter of simple slogans. We must, therefore, be prepared to acknowledge some measure of failure in our society, particularly as regards young people. We have to work to minimise the sense of frustration that is evident and try to prevent it turning into violence.
The problems of urban decay and deprivation are intractable and deep-seated, particularly in Merseyside, despite decades of efforts to remedy them and the expenditure of very considerable sums of public money.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is, of course, the chairman of the partnership committee for Merseyside, to go up to Merseyside to discuss with the local authorities there, with the urban development corporation and with representatives of industry, commerce, the unions and the various communities the problems of the area, the urgent issues 1403 raised by recent events, and the opportunities that exist. He will not only be concerned with those areas of policy for which he has departmental responsibility; he will be looking generally at Government policies, into the way in which they interact with the responsibilities of the local authorities, and into the ways in which ideas, resources and energies can be brought to bear from a wide social and industrial background. He will be based on, and will spend much of his time in, Merseyside. He will be accompanied and supported by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Aylesbury. They will be supported by a small team of officials from the two Departments and will be able to call upon the advice and support of other Government Departments, including the regional directors of the various Departments in Merseyside.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
My right hon. and hon. Friends will start by convening a meeting of the partnership committee. My right hon. Friend will report the outcome of his consultations to his colleagues in the Government, and we shall then consider both how we should proceed in relation to Merseyside and the extent to which the procedures adopted and the measures envisaged in respect of Merseyside are capable of being, and ought to be, considered for extension to other areas with similar problems, with the intention of reporting to the House again when we resume in October.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Since the hon. Gentleman represents a Liverpool constituency, I shall give way to him.
§ Mr. Heffer
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept from me that that sounds pretty good? But will he say that one of the first things that his Government will do is to stop telling the Merseyside county council that it has to reduce its budget by £19 million or have £4 million taken off its rate support grant, which, incidentally, because of the cuts, led last year to the police authority on Merseyside having to reduce its budget by £2½ million? Will the right hon. Gentleman say immediately that that will be taken into consideration and that action will be taken on it?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) for saying that my statement sounded pretty good. Equally, I believe that these are matters which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will look into when he goes to Merseyside, and I am glad the hon. Gentleman welcomed the decision that my right hon. Friend should go there. He will be looking into all these matters, of course.
I should like now to set before the House the steps we have been taking from the Home Office point of view.
First, I know that the police themselves, and their police authorities, want to continue all their efforts to mobilise the maximum community support. They are not, nor do they want to be seen as, the agents of the Government. They are the agents of the societies and communities which they serve. They need the community's support in sharing in the task of establishing a peaceful and orderly society. Perhaps in this context I might say that during my visit last week to Greater 1404 Manchester, for example, I found that there had been the closest consultation and understanding between the chief constable and the police authority. Nothing I have said, therefore, about firm police measures to put down violence when it occurs implies any departure from the necessary policy of continuing to develop closer and increasingly sensitive relations between the police and the local community. Much of the training of officers, junior and senior, is directed towards this. Fortunately, as the numbers of our police have recently increased, it has become more and more possible to reintroduce constables on the beat, working day by day with their local community. This is a policy to which I know chief constables attach great importance.
I believe that chief officers need to be more involved, and more systematically involved, in the way in which local authorities plan their spending programmes and execute them in the high crime areas of inner cities. Already a great deal of good work is done, for example, by police officers being invited into schools. We cannot continue to allow a situation in which we point, often persuasively, to a wide range of environmental and economic factors as contributing to disorders such as these and then sit back and expect the police to pick up the pieces. I am, therefore, pursuing urgently with chief police officers and my colleagues with local authority responsibilities the way this systematic involvement can be achieved. I am sure also that the probation and after-care service, with its extensive knowledge of local problems and of local patterns of delinquency, has a uniquely valuable contribution to make.
Next, there is the crucial strand of race relations. There is an underlying thread of racial difficulties which runs through many of the incidents which either have triggered or are thought to have triggered wider demonstrations against the authorities and the police in particular. I think it is right, therefore, in the context of this debate to repeat two assurances to the ethnic minority communities in Britain.
The first is the complete commitment of the Government to a society in which none is a second-class citizen. We want a society in which people are treated according to their merits and as fellow citizens.
The second is my determination as Home Secretary to support the wish of the vast majority of citizens, black and white, to see the evils of extremist racialist activity isolated and eliminated. It was for that reason that I set up the inquiry into racial attacks. I shall report the conclusions of this important work to the House. I can, however, say at this stage that it will certainly show that inner city communities, their leaders, the police, local authorities and the Government, together with the Commission for Racial Equality and community relations councils, must work to prevent tensions between these communities and authority being exploited by the extremists of Right and Left.
All that I have said this afternoon matches the purpose and extent of phase two of Lord Scarman's inquiry into the disorders in Brixton in April of this year. The inquiry that he is undertaking fits exactly, and in the most timely way, into the interlocking policies I have outlined for trying to promote the conditions in which violence cannot flourish.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I wish to emphasise in conclusion that the immediate task for the Government, backed I am 1405 certain by the whole House, is to remove the scourge of criminal violence from our streets. To this end, we must give our fullest support to the police and the law enforcement agencies and provide them with all the equipment necessary to carry out their task. But at the same time we must develop policies designed to promote the mutual tolerance and understanding upon which the whole future of a free democratic society depends.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
I congratulate the Home Secretary on a speech which contained very much which commended itself to the Opposition. He will understand that I am not implying any good will towards the Government when I say "Long may he continue in his present office." Much of what he said seemed not only right but to measure up to the circumstances in which the country finds itself. I should be wrong if I did not offer him the congratulations of this Bench, against the background of what we and the country have faced during the past 10 days. During that time, we have witnessed violence on our streets which has exceeded anything that: has been previously seen in this century.
It is important not to exaggerate the extent of the damage, the number of the participants, or the risk of general conflagration. But it is equally important that we should not assume that a couple of comparatively peaceful nights mean that the danger of renewed violence has passed. While the causes of disturbance remain—poverty, unemployment and deprivation—the chances of violence breaking out again will remain, and perhaps even increase.
I share entirely the Home Secretary's view that our principal duty is to create conditions in which violence cannot flourish. I share, too, his opinion that it is equally our duty to act swiftly and strongly when violence breaks out. There is no reason why the fundamental causes and the immediate symptoms should not be tackled simultaneously, for while our first duty is to remove the underlying causes of violence—and none of us should condone or appear to condone such conduct—when violence breaks out because of those causes the police must be supported in their proper determination to restore law and order. The people who organise or take part in criminal activities—arson, assault and looting—must be caught, prosecuted, convicted and punished and the police must be given whatever protective equipment is necessary for the proper and responsible discharge of their duties.
On the evidence of her performance at last Tuesday's Question Time, the Prime Minister regards the Opposition's attitude to CS gas as the test of our sincerity in these matters. She pressed the Opposition to give her a categorical answer about whether we supported its use in certain circumstances. I shall answer the question that she put directly to us, because I believe that her question and the way she asked it demonstrate the dangerous path along which the Government have been tempted to travel during the past 10 days, and from which they have turned back, I suspect, not least because of the wisdom of the Home Secretary.
I shall answer the Prime Minister's question in this way. In Toxteth, as I understand it from the Home Secretary and from people who were present during the riots, a tires. and outnumbered police force was in imminent danger of being overrun. Had that happened, there might well have been a number of deaths. There would certainly have been serious casualties. In those 1406 circumstances, it seems to me self-evident that the use of a temporarily incapacitating gas, notwithstanding its operational weaknesses, was infinitely better than the risk of death and injury.
Having given that unequivocal answer to the Prime Minister, I must point out that her simple question does not measure up to the complexities of the situation. For instance, it now appears that some chief constables have in their possession CS gas of a type which is potentially lethal. Perhaps it is time for the Prime Minister to answer a similar question. Does she approve of the use of that gas when it is known that it might well kill not only rioters but innocent bystanders? I ask that question with no intention of causing the kind of confrontation to which the Prime Minister treated the House on Tuesday but simply to remind her and people like her that these questions are much more complex than simple slogans about law and order suggest. I ask the Home Secretary three questions on the simple subject of the potentially lethal gas. Did he know that some police forces had it in their possession? Can he say whether he knew when it was used? Does he believe that it was right to use it in those circumstances?
My criticism of the simple questions to which the House was subjected on Tuesday is of rather more than the incompetence of putting complex matters in that jejune form. It is that the obsession with sounding tough will harm rather than help the chances of ending the violence that we all detest. After all, Toxteth demonstrates that chief constables in extremis already possess the power and the resources to use CS gas.
I fear that all the talk of police moving on to the offensive and the rejection of even questions about such a policy—let alone criticism of it—can have two damaging consequences. The first is that tough talk encourages the view that tough policing alone will end the violence. It not. The disturbances will continue until the social causes of disturbance are removed. The second is that the tough talk will, as a senior chief constable told me last night, prejudice years of careful community relations work within the inner cities.
In short, tough talk is a product of the view that our principal aim is to defeat the rioters. In my view, that opinion is wholly inadequate. Our real aim should be to stop riots taking place. My fear is that much of what leas been said over the past week will not reduce their possibility but positively increase it. Water cannon, CS gas and plastic bullets are indiscriminate, dangerous and operationally inadequate. Few chief constables will wish to employ them. However, the atmosphere that they create and the atmosphere associated with the publicity about them over the past week will do nothing to prevent, and may actually promote, the recurrence of what happened in Toxteth and Southall last week, in Brixton last Easter and last night, and in Bristol last year.
I specify those areas because I believe that more recent disturbances over the past week had different causes and a different character from what happened 10 days ago. Some of last week's violence was the result of mindless imitation of what had been seen on television, of provocations by political extremists, and of exploitation by criminals who hoped to loot where others had smashed. But the second wave of violence was the product of the first, and the chance of the first recurring—Bristol, Brixton, Toxteth and Southall—will be increased if there 1407 is a change in the character of the British police force which alienates the police from the people they serve and protect.
It has become clear that, despite the headlines in Tuesday's morning papers, little in practice will change in terms of police equipment and police powers. I am delighted that the Riot Act has been finally sunk in those delphic words of the Home Secretary. Clearly, the new equipment of which he spoke in a private place on Monday will not be used to any great extent, not least because most chief constables are too sensible to take the advice of the 1922 Committee. Since last Monday, there has been a new atmosphere.
While the Home Secretary properly restates his commitment to community policing, others build on the Government's tough talks to insist that the days of community policing are over. I want the traditional relationship between the police and the public to be preserved, and where it has broken down, as has happened in some places, to be restored. We do the police no service by pretending that that breakdown did not occur in some of our inner cities.
The Leader of the House said in Beverley last Saturday, speaking about the police:They themselves know that their approach has not been wholly beyond criticism".The hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw)—who was much quoted by the Prime Minister for what he said had not caused the riots, but not quoted by her for what he said about their cause—said in the House a week ago thata genuine belief not only in the black community but in the white community that in that area the enforcement of law is not even-handed"—[Official Report, 6 July 1981; Vol. 8, c. 24.]had made a major contribution.
I think that that overstates the police's responsibility for the riots, but it surely demonstrates that what we need is not a new Riot Act, the fingerprinting of children or the right to stop and search, to hold without charge, or to arrest for refusal to give names and addresses—all of which proposals have been advocated from influential sources. We need more officers with regular beats and the commitment to the local community that that brings. We need more specialised training, particularly including the understanding of the special problems of the ethnic minorities.
Calling for stronger powers and stiffer penalties can easily divert attention from the need for a real policy. I know that it wins cheap cheers, but it can have wide and potentially disastrous consequences.
I do not know how much the recent talk of more aggressive policing influenced what happened in Brixton yesterday but, on the evidence at present available, yesterday's police raids in Brixton were wrong in principle and wrong in practice. What has been said by the police since they occurred has only made my fears of the police's attitude the greater.
I must say three things to the Home Secretary. First, it seems to me to be a miracle—for which we must be thankful, not least, to Lord Scarman—that Brixton was not the scene of much more disturbance last night than actually occurred.
Secondly, last night's events demonstrate that riots and the prevention of rioting are inextricably linked with the 1408 relationship between police and public, the need for the police to be accountable to a proper authority, and the necessity for a wholly independent complaints procedure.
Thirdly, the Home Secretary tells us frequently, and with great pride, that he is the police authority for London. The police authority for London had better act over the Brixton incident, and act quickly. We want an inquiry, we want it to report to this House, and we want it to report within days, not within weeks.
Having said that, I repeat my belief that the principal cause of last week's riots was not the conduct of the police.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the police authority for London, like the police authority for anywhere else, is not supposed to be charged with the control of policing policy? The only place in the United Kingdom where the police authority has that power is Northern Ireland. Is it not about time that in the rest of the United Kingdom we had the same power in our police authorities?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I said that yesterday's disturbances demonstrated the need for proper control, proper authority and proper responsibility. But we must make the best of what we have. We have a police authority for London who sits in this House, and we must therefore take advantage of his seat among us in order to insist and require that a statement is made by him at the first possible opportunity.
I repeat that I do not believe that the principal cause of last week's riots was the conduct of the police. It was the conditions of deprivation and despair in the decaying areas of our old cities—areas in which the Brixton and Toxteth riots took place, and areas from which the skinhead invaders of Southall came.
Those areas have four common features. The first is housing that is decaying and inadequate. In the inner city area that I know best—Sparkbrook—this year's housing investment programme has provided the sudden and arbitrary ending of the entire house improvement programme.
Secondly, those areas have a woeful lack of amenities.
Thirdly, there is inadequate provision of remedial education for deprived families and the nursery places that can give poor children a head start.
Fourthly, and most important, unemployment in the inner cities is monstrously high, even by the standards of July 1981—perhaps 40 per cent. or more of the whole working population—and with youth unemployment, of which I believe the riots are a direct product, particularly breeding despair.
The Secetary of State for Employment said in Cheshire last Friday:Undoubtedly the present high level of unemployment is a fruitful breeding ground for the sort of thing we are seeing. We must recognise that to have such numbers out of work leads to a disaffected people.Nobody could agree with that more strongly than those of us who occupy these Opposition Benches. We can do no more than hope that the Secretary of State for Employment will be successful in convincing his colleagues that what he said in Cheshire is true and that some action must be urgently taken, for nothing would help to reduce the risk of persistent violence more than a general upturn in the economy.
Until the Government abandon their policy of managing the economy by deepening the slump, 1409 something must be done specifically to aid the special areas in their special problems—the inner cities and in particular the young unemployed within them.
In May 1968, the President of the United States received the report of the National Advisory Committee on Civil Disorders. It is important not to overstate the comparison between what happened in America in 1967 and what happened here. The scale was wholly different. But some of the conclusions of that report have a terrible relevance to what is happening in Britain today. The main conclusion of that report was this:Our nation is moving towards two societies, one black, one white—separate but unequal.I do not think that the division in Britain of the two societies is quite the same. The divide is essentially between the inner cities and the rest of the country. But within the inner cities the people with least hope are the young unemployed, and the people with a desperate shortage of hope are the young black unemployed.
I do not suggest for a moment that the young black unemployed in the inner cities had a particular responsibility for last week's violence. Anyone who watched those tragic events on television could see that black youths and white youths were together carrying out some of the unacceptable practices that we all condemn.
The black residents of inner cities did not cause urban deprivation. They are the victims of it. But they are the most dramatic example of fading hope and rising resentment. As their hope fades and as their resentment increases, we must tell them—and I shall continue to tell them—that in a democratic society there are democratic ways of solving their grievances.
But I must be honest and say that I have some pessimism about the sort of answer that I am likely to receive from a young man of 16, about to leave school, certain to become and to remain unemployed, and denied any unemployment benefit until the second week in September. If that young man is black, how do the Government think that his answer is affected by the Prime Minister talking on television of other blacks "swamping" this country and the knowledge that a dozen or two dozen of her Back Benchers want to send that young man home, when he knows no other home than Brixton, Toxteth or Southall?
Our task is to make such people think that they have a stake in our sort of society by showing them that our sort of society responds to their needs, and that must mean special help for the inner cities—help, not inquiry.
§ Mr. Cyril. Smith (Rochdale)
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind the fact that, while these problems are particular to inner cities, there are other areas which are not classified as inner cities but which none the less have exactly the same sorts of problems, connected with immigration, unemployment and housing. I am extremely anxious that any extra aid that he is able to extract from the Government shall not be confined simply to those areas that are classified as inner cities.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and I appreciate that there is much truth in what he says. However, at a time when the Government are talking of limited resources, the scale and intensity of the problem that I have described is greater in the inner cities than anywhere else. It is to the inner cities that our first resources should go. The hon. Gentleman overestimates my powers of persuasion if he believes that the 1410 Government will provide any money. We know that the Prime Minister is opposed to throwing money at the inner cities. All that we have heard today is that she will throw Ministers at Liverpool. I do not believe that that will remotely meet the urgency and desperation of the problems that that city faces.
I shall tell the right hon. Lady what we should do. First, for all its inadequacies, the Prior plan must be implemented. That is the assurance of a job or training for every school leaver and the assurance that resources will be made available to the school leaver's family to ensure that the opportunity turns into a reality. That alone is not enough. That alone is only a beginning.
There must be greater incentives for private firms to move into the inner cities. Some local authorities and public enterprises must be located in all those areas. There has to be investment in inner city schools, houses and public services that will improve their conditions and, at the same time, create jobs. There has to be a policy of positive discrimination in favour of those young people whose job prospects are the worst. Those people are the young blacks and the young Asians, and special assistance must be given to them.
I share with every hon. Member the determination that riots, when they occur, will be brought to a speedy end. However, I fear that policing, no matter how strong, and equipment, no matter how innovative, will not achieve the result that we seek. The riots will end only when the social and economic conditions that brought them about are ended and changed. It is to that obligation that the Opposition will work in Opposition, and eventually in Government.
§ Sir Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I promise not to take more than seven minutes of the time of the House.
I am sure that the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) will be remarked upon for the tragic note that they struck. The fact that the House should be discussing the use of plastic bullets, CS gas and armoured cars against part of our population is the feature that fills me with despond.
Order must be maintained, but do not let the House or anyone else imagine that any of these items in the hands of the police or of others will do anything but put a check on behaviour. They will do nothing to change attitudes. It is attitudes that we must change if we as a civilised nation are to survive. The past 10 or 15 years have been a period of decay. That applies not only to the inner cities but to the attitude of young people towards the nation as a whole, to national discipline and to their own advantages and hopes. That is what the House must face.
Some of the suggestions of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, and some of the matters mentioned by my right hon. Friend, which no doubt will be taken up by those who reply to the debate from the Front Benches at a later stage, do not touch the main issues that are at stake. The problems are not confined to the inner cities. They are concentrated in the inner city areas, but they exist elsewhere. Many hon. Members have talked of the need to do something for our youth. Youth is a force which can be used for the destruction of society or for the rebuilding of society. That is what the House and the nation should be about. That is what our leadership should be about, on 1411 both sides of the House. The art of politics is to change the negative or destructive to the positive. The young should be turned to a proper purpose that will benefit us all. That is what we must do.
I shall be attacked from many quarters for what I am about to say. I could not care less. We must make full use of youth. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have said that we want voluntary schemes in which youth may participate. The Government are spending millions of pounds on so-called youth employment programmes, many of which are pointless. We are told that £93 million more is to be offered for such schemes. That does not begin to approach what is needed.
We need a compulsory form of youth service to undertake many of the tasks upon which we should embark. I have in mind many areas of dereliction. Whatever the so-called leaders or Establishment may say, the country would back such a national service to the hilt. The Establishment has been wrong. It has been wrong, and wrong again, for the past 20 years. It is time that something new was done.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
The Home Secretary reached almost the end of his speech before he referred to that aspect of the recent disorders which was most visible and best understood by the people at large, particularly by those in the areas most affected. When he reached it at the end of his speech he used phrases—I make no complaint that the phrases were careful in their nature—such as "working to prevent tensions" and to "promote mutual tolerance and understanding".
It is right that the House should ask itself seriously how far those phrases and those intentions correspond with practicable reality. If they do not, I submit that we are not doing our duty as a House of Commons.
On 3 April 1980, after the events of Bristol, I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he was surprised by what had happened and, if not, why not. He thought for a moment and then seized the less uncomfortable of the two prongs of the dilemma. He said that he was surprised. I imagine that his surprise and that of others has progressively diminished since then. It is certainly a surprise which was not then shared, and is scarcely shared at all now, in the areas which are affected or in the areas which believe and fear that they may be affected.
There are two radical over-arching facts. When I say "facts" I mean facts. First, there is in inner London and in many of the major cities of England a young generation aged up to 24 or 25 years which is, in varying places, one-quarter, one-third and anything up to one-half New Commonwealth.
The second fact, which is inseparable from that and which, linked with it, is of ultimate significance, is that we know that therefore, over the next generation, the size and proportion of the New Commonwealth population in those areas will double and that in the years further on it will approach treble.
That is an automatic consequence of the fact that the young generation reproduces itself and its pattern. The only way in which one can escape from that consequence is by one of two assumptions, which I would have thought to be unacceptable.
1412 The first is that there will be wholesale and vast decentralisation of that population. The second is that the fertility of that population will be far less than that of the population at large. Unless one or other or both of those conditions is fulfilled, then, in the pattern of the young generation, we see the pattern of the total population of a generation or so ahead. When I say "We see", I do not just mean that we see it statistically or logically: it is what is actually seen by the people concerned.
I imagine that during the past weeks hon. Members will have received much evidence; some of it they, like myself, will have rejected as unbalanced and unacceptable: by other of it I believe that they will have been moved to read the analysis which their fellow citizens were making. I shall trouble the House only briefly with one such which reached me, for it seemed to me to express those facts succinctly as they were seen by an individual. He wrote:What the riots in England are all about basically is that the immigrant areas are not static pools…but expanding entities. Therefore it follows that as they expand house by house, street by street, area by area, so the indigenous population must retreat house by house etc. at the same rate…As they continue to multiply and as we can't retreat further there must be conflict.
It is because of those two facts and their interaction—
§ Mr. Powell
—that those of us who have seen—the insight is not restricted to any single party or to politicians alone—the future population content of inner London and other great cities have been unable to imagine that that could come about without at some stage—I will use phrases which I have used myself—inner London becoming ungovernable or violence which could only effectually be described as civil war.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Member asks me what I know about inner cities. I was a Member for Wolverhampton for a quarter of a century. What I saw in those early years of the development of this problem in Wolverhampton has made it impossible for me ever to dissociate myself from this gigantic and tragic problem.
§ Mr. Powell
My difficulty is that if, as would be my wish, I gave way to hon. Members from all parts of the House, which I would be happy to do in a different discussion, the inevitable consequence would be that what I wish to say to the House would extend over a longer period and I would deny many of my colleagues in the House the opportunity to say anything. May I say to hon. Members that they will have—I hope they will have, if it can be done—the opportunity in the course of the debate to refute what I am saying?
§ Mr. Faulds
But there is a parliamentary convention of intervention. Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Faulds
The right hon. Gentleman is frightened of the arguments against him and he dare not take an intervention.
§ Mr. Powell
I believe I am best serving the House if in these circumstances and at this stage of the debate I can continue my remarks.
This prospect which I have described points not merely to the likelihood but at some point to the certainty of major conflict.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is not giving way. The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) well knows that he has no right to rise when the right hon. Gentleman is not giving way.
§ Mr. Powell
If the hon. Member catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, no doubt he will make his contribution.
There were, however, two features of the events of the past two or three weeks which, although they were foreseeable and predictable, were, so far as I know, not actually predicted. They are features of which the House should take note. If I had been told on 1 April last year that there was a certain city in England where the police would come under attack from large numbers of the New Commonwealth population, I would not have said that—
§ Mr. Powell
I can assure the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) that, anxious as I am to serve the purposes of the House, there are certain things which I wish to say today and which I intend to say. I hope that I may say them as briefly as possible.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must say to the hon. Member for Warley, East that he well knows that interruptions from a seated position are not in order.
§ Mr. Powell
I would not have said that it would be Bristol. But when what happened did happen in Bristol at the beginning of April last year, I remembered how, 10 or 12 years earlier, I had received from that precise area of Bristol a mass of information expressing fear and anxiety as to what might occur because of the change in that area and the local concentration of New Commonwealth population.
I believe the whole pattern of events in the last 10 or 20 days has illustrated the fact that not merely is it fallacious to average percentage figures over large areas or over England as a whole; it is not even satisfactory to take a whole city or the whole of inner London and simply to look at the percentages and the figures relating to that. One has to realise that the same consequences can be produced, what the Home Secretary calls the same "tensions" can exist, when those proportions are found in a much more restricted area.
1414 The other feature which has become more prominent is the role of the police, that in this conflict, ultimately feared and apprehended, between the indigenous population and the newcomers—one uses words of generality, but they are well understood—it seems to be the police who were the objects of attack. I do not really think that that is so difficult to understand. If a city is becoming ungovernable, if the tensions which exist there are becoming uncontainable, it will be the police, as representing the attempt to maintain law and order, as representing the attempt to contain those tensions and to restore the integrity of the community, who will be the butt and the object of attack.
Those are features which we should acknowledge will be a regular part of what we face. I say "of what we face" because, although there may be remissions—the Home Secretary said something very like this—although we may have a pause, even a reaction for a time, we should grossly deceive ourselves if we supposed that we are nearer to the end of this experience than to the beginning. The Government and the House will not be serving the country unless they address themselves to the ultimate reality, the ultimate cause, the sine qua non, without which what we have witnessed and are witnessing could not and would not have happened.
§ Mr. Faulds
Is that the German example? Does that happen in Germany? Is that the German explanation?
§ Mr. Powell
The right hon. Member for Birrningham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) gave three causes—poverty, unemployment and deprivation. Are we seriously saying that so long as there is poverty, unemployment and deprivation our cities will be torn to pieces, that the police in them will be the objects of attack and that we shall destroy our own environment? Of course not. Everyone knows that, although those conditions do exist, there is a factor, the factor which the people concerned perfectly well know, understand and apprehend, and that unless it can be dealt with—unless the fateful inevitability, the inexorable doubling and trebling, of that element of a population can be avoided—their worst fears will be fulfilled.
Something has happened in these past weeks that will not be reversed. People have come to terms with this reality as they never did before. Our New Commonwealth fellow citizens are not such fools as we commonly take them for. They are perfectly capable of reflecting upon the circumstances, of foreseeing the future and of drawing deductions as to the dangers to which they and the society in which they live will be exposed. In these past days, for the first time, people have begun to accept, or at any rate to envisage seriously, that the lesser evil may be what might in other circumstances have been discounted—measures whereby that inevitable increase, that inevitable doubling, will not take place.
§ Dame Judith Hart (Lanark)
The right hon. Gentleman might like to take account of the fact that the great majority of hon. Members regard what he says as an evil incitement to riot.
§ Mr. Powell
I am within the judgment of the House, as I am within the judgment of the people of this country, and I am content to stand before either tribunal.
1415 I was about to say that there has recently come in France a Socialist Government, whose policies were announced by the new Prime Minister. They included proposingto the countries of origin of the present immigrant workers agreements on…their eventual return home.The circumstances in France are very different from the circumstances in this country—different numerically and in the legal and economic background—but it is salutary to be reminded that a new Government—and a Socialist Government at that—coming into power in France have considered the return home, by agreement, of immigrant workers not merely a practicable or desirable objective but one that a Government—and a Socialist Government at that—might envisage.
As the weeks go by—this is happening already, among the New Commonwealth population as among the rest of the population of this country—the question will ever more practically be asked "Is it inevitable that we accept a future in which the inexorable increase of that proportion of the population of our cities will drive us into a conflict which neither of us desires, or can we, by humanity and generosity and by a common recognition of the dangers, avoid in all human wisdom what otherwise might befall?"
The Government may well say to me "We know that for years past you have said you regarded that course of action as the only practicable means of avoiding unacceptable and unimaginable conflict in the country in the long run, but are you seriously suggesting that we should now sit down and produce an element of Government policy like that mentioned by the new French Prime Minister?" No, I am not. I am asking of the Government something much more simple, but a necessary preliminary. It is something that I have asked for before. It is that they should candidly tell their fellow citizens in inner London and the other cities what the future will be 10, 20 or 30 years ahead. [Interruption.] All around me there break out the cries "We do not know." Of course, we do know what the consequences and their implications are.
§ Mr. Faulds
Would the right hon. Gentleman give way? There is a simple answer to some of his queries. I shall enlighten his ignorance.
§ Mr. Faulds
I shall not be given a chance, unfortunately, either by the right hon. Gentleman or by Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. Faulds
My answer would make more contribution to the common weal than the right hon. Gentleman's bloody rubbish.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If I hear one more such contribution from the hon. Gentleman, I shall order him to withdraw from the Chamber.
§ Mr. Powell
The Government have a duty frankly to tell the people of London and of the other cites what after all an ex-Home Secretary some 15 years ago told the House of Lords—that one-third of the population of our great cities would, before the end of the century, be coloured.
1416 Let the Government say what they believe, what their advice is, what their information is, about the future composition of the population of the metropolis and of those other cities. Then let them come before the people to whom they are responsible and say, if they can, "That is the future that we believe you can and must accept. We believe that it is a future in which there need not and will not be conflict, ungovernability and civil war in our cities."
Let people and Government face and debate their future. That is the first step. Until that first step is taken and those facts are recognised—[Interruption.] The police forces in England are learning from the experience of the police force in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Powell
I would not have thought hon. Members would have been anxious to refer to the intractable existence of two populations there that do not both identify themselves with the same country—[Interruption.]—and I would not have thought that hon. Members, at any rate on this side of the House, would laugh at the spectacle of the entrenchment in a part of this United Kingdom of two incompatible ambitions for its future.
I referred at the beginning to expressions of opinion which reach us in the House from those whom we represent. Hon. Members will know that many of those who write to them—the elderly and the old—say how glad they are that they are old.
§ Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way to one of the few parents in this House of a black child?
§ Mr. Powell
They are expressing—and express to us—their sense of relief that they are too old to live to see what they know lies ahead. If hon. Members deny that, either they do not know what their constituents are thinking or they are denying what they know. [Interruption.] I shall be going for only another two or three minutes.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Our parliamentary democracy depends upon the absolute freedom of hon. Members to speak their minds in this place uninterrupted by their colleagues, and when limitations are sought to be put upon that, the continuance of our parliamentary democracy is put at risk. Nevertheless, it must be asked of you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if there are no limitations upon what hon. Members may say, whether it is open to right hon. and hon. Members on the Floor of the House to advocate breaches of the law and racial—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is raising a point of order. He must not make a speech.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that I have the gist of the hon. Gentleman's point of order. I answer it like this. Our democracy consists of people in the House taking responsibility for their own speeches. There have been many speeches with which either side of the House may disagree. The right hon. Gentleman has every right to say here what he wishes to say and he takes personal responsibility for that.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point is a serious one. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has now spoken for nearly 25 minutes—
§ Mr. Maclennan
I was not seeking to make a point of order about the time that the right hon. Gentleman is taking. The point I wish to raise is a matter of deep seriousness. Is it open to a right hon. Member to advocate on the Floor of the House a breach of the law of the land for which this House is responsible?
§ Mr. Powell
Mr. Deputy Speaker, if anything that I have said in the House falls under the description that has just been applied to it by the hon. Gentleman, I assure him that I have said and will say exactly the same outside the House where my privilege can in no way cover me. I have no intention to be in breach of the law or belief that I am; but I do not rely upon my privilege, nor have I ever done so, in order to say what I thought needed to be said on this subject.
I conclude by saying this. Unlike so many, I do not share the view of those whose feelings I have described. Rather, like Chatham at the worst and most shameful point of the American war, "I rejoice that the grave has not closed over me", for I believe that when it sees the reality and the magnitude of its peril and the choice which it faces, this nation will rise to its danger, as it has in the past, and that it will do so with wisdom, with humanity and with courage. It is the duty of Government to enable the people to do just that, by being candid and truthful with them and by presenting them with the prospect of what the Government know, as the people themselves know, lies ahead.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
I am most grateful for this opportunity to address the House on the problems which have arisen as a result of the civil disorder. I find myself a distressed Member of the House listening to some of the remarks which have just been made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell).
I wish to deal with two matters which I believe are of the utmost importance to the House and to the country at large. One is tie role of the police and their relationship with the public, which I believe is becoming misunderstood. There is a fallacy, which has grown into a myth, that the police have to court universal popularity and that everything they do must be approved of by all sections of the community. I do not believe that that is the role of the police at all.
1418 The role of the police is to deal with crime. The role of the police is to protect and serve the community at large. Where there is assault, where there is arson and where there is theft, it is the duty of the police to see that they act in such a way as to stop those forms of crime as quickly and effectively as possible. There is no doubt at all—this must be recognised as a basic fact—that riot and what happens in the course of a riot is crime. The police cannot afford to neglect to deal with that crime. I believe that the country at large and also right hon. and hon. Members recognise that that is one of the basic functions of the police.
The traditional role of the police has not basically changed, but the role of the police has been extended and enlarged because of the additions to their duties which have come about as a result of riot. The unarmed, unprotected, avuncular policeman is as much out of place in a riot as a bowler hat in a battle. We must recognise—I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on having recognised it—that the police must have the protection that they deserve in order to meet the terrible events that have occurred during the riots.
One of the matters which concern me and one which has concerned many other hon. Members is whether we ought now to have some form of emergency legislation to deal specifically with riot and the crimes involved in riot. I would respectfully agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that we must move cautiously in this respect.
For what it is worth, I am sceptical about the need for anything approaching a new Riot Act. In the circumstances of the kind of events suffered in the various cities that have been the victims of the recent riots, I cannot see that the reading of the Riot Act would have brought those riots to a swift conclusion or would have done anything to assist materially.
It might sound splendid to say "We shall bring in the Riot Act", but we must ask ourselves what that Act does. Riots are not new to this generation or to this century. I have with me a textbook on the law relating to riots and unlawful assemblies which was printed in 1848. It has on it the signature of Sir Edward Clarke, who was the Solicitor-General of the day. Based on the law contained in it, as hon. Members will recollect, he prosecuted tie people responsible for what was called the "Bloody Sunday" riot of November 1887.
The two people charged were John Burns and a Member of Parliament, a Mr. Cunningham Graham. The object of the riot was to achieve the release of an Irish Member of Parliament called Mr. William O'Brien, who was refusing to wear the clothes of a prisoner and was demanding special privileges as a political prisoner. That reflects a similiarity of problem that we are facing elsewhere today.
The reason why I mention that is that during that serious riot, in Which 100 people were injured and two people were killed, a magistrate came along with the full power of the Riot Act but did not read it because there was not an opportunity to do so.
I do not believe that a new Riot Act—unless it merely had the title and powers that we have not yet discussed and will have to consider carefully—is the answer to the problem. Emergency legislation rushed through at the speed with which we should have to do it, were it to be appropriate to today's problems, would be bad legislation of which we would not be proud in the future.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
In so far as tensions of the kind referred to by the Home Secretary in the latter part of his speech may exist, no speech could be more likely to aggravate them than that of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell).
It is an irony that the Government, who were helped to power on the back of a law and order campaign, have presided over more widespread lawlessness and greater disorder than any since the war. Their record includes the highest number of prisoners, more than 45,000, a prison officers' dispute, which brought home the folly of an excessive prison population, and unprecendented disorders and disturbances, which ought to bring home to us other follies in our society.
In condemning, as we do, the lawlessness, looting and violence, we must ask how this last example in the long history of broken promises has arisen. Is it a cynical disregard for promises made, or sheer incompetence? I do not think that it is either. It is both.
I have great sympathy for the Home Secretary. He is an honest and compassionate man, as his speech showed, who ought not to have been subjected to so many concentrated short, sharp shocks. As often happens, unhappily, they have brought him into bad company, and the danger is that he may be learning bad habits and even becoming institutionalised. The Governor of the institution—perhaps I should say the Governess—is no help to him. She rushes in where the more prudent people tread gently around the edges, and she seems to regard recent events not as symptoms of a disease whose cause must be cured but as an affront to her personal position.
What respect can we possibly have for a Prime Minister who openly says that we can tackle the causes of the breakdown in law and order only when law and order are restored, and who makes it patently obvious when she loses patience with her own Ministers? It was obvious from the Home Secretary's speech on the Representation of the People Bill that his stomach and mind were not in it. It is equally obvious that the pressures put upon him over the last few weeks have told upon him. The trouble is that he has been put up to show a tough front on the symptoms and to make a public display of aggressive measures to deal with lawlessness—I am glad that he mentioned other things as well—never mind that the sacrifice required by tough aggressiveness may be the erosion of the long-term patient policy of bringing the police more closely into, and in tune with, the community.
It is not the Home Secretary but others who bear the responsibility for the malaise, but when the consequences are seen, it is they who retire into the background, leaving the unfortunate Home Secretary to field the bricks and the petrol bombs. Therefore, it is he who, with praiseworthy and obvious reluctance, announces the possible use of offensive weapons which, if they are used, can only widen the barriers that exist, and which are at the root of the evil. Indeed, they are weapons which the militants on both the Left and Right would dearly like to see used, because their ends would be served by their use.
Yesterday I asked the Home Secretary to consider reserving a personal authorisation for the use of some of the more extreme weapons, which he assured us would be used only in the last resort. I deliberately did not press him 1420 yesterday. He explained the difficulties today, but I hope that on reflection he will see the wisdom of the proposal that I made.
It must be wrong that the decision to use extreme weapons, such as water cannon and plastic bullets, should be in the hands of those, however able and trustworthy, who are not directly responsible to Parliament. These weapons are repugnant to virtually the whole House and, from what they say, to most chief constables. If they are used, it is right that we should be able to challenge their use and question whether their use was really necessary.
We can do that only if the Home Secretary takes direct, personal responsibility on each occasion that they are used. The argument that they may be needed at short notice and that the Home Secretary may be unavailable is specious. A senior Minister must be available in his place and the Home Secretary must take the ultimate responsibility. It is far too important a power to delegate to officers who, however able, are not responsible to this House.
Therefore, I urge the Home Secretary to think again with his colleagues and to make this concession. If he does so, it will not endear the weapons to me, but I should at least know that there would be nothing automatic and that there would be reasonable consistency about their use.
The debate has been and must be about deeper causes. Can there be any possible doubt that among those causes two stand out? I refer first to the ever-increasing drift to worklessness. It is not merely that those who are workless may suffer poverty and squalor, but at least as much that they suffer unending boredom and frustration. How much does that apply to the young and the black young? If they can see no prospect of a bright morning again, and if their vision is of lengthening days of idleness, uselessness and hopelessness, can we be surprised if they develop feelings of deep alienation towards the society that has caused that situation? What is their incentive to accept society's norms of behaviour when they can expect so little from it?
If I had agreed with anything in the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South it would have been the implication that if that situation applies to young blacks, they are likely to be even more alienated than young whites. I do not condone lawlessness, but when we are faced with it we cannot shirk our duty to explain it and to remove its cause.
Alienation is the second most predominant cause of recent events. It is bred of the deep inequality that is rooted in our society. It fosters the spirit of "us" and "them". It produces an antagonism to authority, to what is regarded as the Establishment, which shows itself, unhappily, from an early age. That antagonism has grown over the past decade.
It is a deeply regrettable aspect of the malaise that many young people should regard the police as the protectors of—and indeed part of—that Establishment. That is why the police are so often the target. That is why we must look with deep mistrust on any measures that may widen the gap and erode the process of bringing the police and the community more closely together. Therefore, our measures must be directed certainly against the symptoms, but even more against the disease.
That is why we mistrust the Prime Minister's attitude. We mistrust it all the more when we see that the mounting toll of unemployed is accompanied by the growing decay of our inner cities. Those are the very areas where disturbances take place. Indeed, Brixton is a notable 1421 example. Much remarkable work has been done in restoring areas and communities, including multi-racial communities in Brixton. Indeed, I often pass such areas on my way to my constituency. They are hardly a stone's throw from the troubled areas in Brixton. Resources need to be provided to areas such as the troubled areas.
The blame for the fact that these things are not done does not lie at the Home Secretary's door. It lies at the door of the Prime Minister and her closest advisers. In the early hours of tomorrow morning, one part at least of the electorate will have taught her a lesson. The question is whether her arrogant assumption of perfection will allow her to learn it.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)
I hope to keep my remarks brief. I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the statement that he made. What he said was remarkable. He made one of the finest speeches that I have heard him make. He struck the truth and spoke common sense, and I am sure that that will be welcomed by all hon. Members.
When the first paid police force was established in London in 1829, the tradition of the constable as a citizen—and only as a citizen—was maintained. Our arrangements are unique. The police officer is a citizen. He is not a Government or local council employee. He does not take his orders from the Government or from a local authority. He enforces the law that Parliament alone passes. Let us remember that our tradition of policing binds the citizen constable with the citizens. It is the role of the police to carry out their duties with the consent and approval of the community. Nothing has happened during the past few days to change that situation. Events have reinforced the importance of the police working with their local communities.
There is no demand to make a change in the accountability of the police. After all, a police officer is accountable to the court. If he breaks the law, or if he arrests or prosecutes someone, it is for the independent judiciary to decide whether his action was right. Nothing has happened since the establishment of the Metropolitan Police as the first of those paid police forces to suggest that our constitutional arrangements should be changed. However, in the intervening years we have heaped on the police service a responsibility for enforcing more laws and regulations than ever before. Sometimes their enforcement brings the police into conflict with sections of the community, and in particular with the young. Hon. Members should bear in mind that about 2,000 motoring offences could be committed on the Queen's highway alone. The conflict that arises in our cities between the police and the young springs from the attempt to enforce so many laws.
Nothing has occurred to excuse the disorders of the past 10 days. The police must maintain the Queen's peace on the streets of our cities. It is the Home Secretary's duty to ensure that police forces are equipped with all that is necessary to ensure that the peace is kept with the minimum of violence. Recently, many members of the police force have told me that they seek only to enforce the law in the traditional way. They have told me that they do not seek water cannon and special equipment. They have said that they do not want to use such apparatus in order to carry out their duties. They have told me that they 1422 wish to maintain the traditions of their service. I hope that hon. Members will use their voices and energies to encourage the police to continue down that road.
I pay tribute to the way in which the police have grappled with the new problem. Their first duty is to control and then to contain outbreaks of disorder. I think that they are now achieving that.
I remind the House that throughout the country, especially in the big cities, chief constables and commissioners of police have worked for many years to establish community relations departments to liaise with different parts of the community and ethnic groups who dwell in our cities. An excellent effort has been made and it should be encouraged, not forgotten.
Those who, in considering the background to the disorders, say that a member of the Government is responsible for some policy or action that has contributed to the present position have short memories. Those of us who represent constituencies in inner cities know that the problems have been with us for several decades. The shame of it is how little has been done by any Government to solve the problem.
We should consider what confronts us in many of our cities. The largest property owner is the local authority. What does it do with its property? It builds council estates that are no more than slums and tower blocks that are hideous to live in. Is it any wonder that so many who live in our inner cities are alienated and frustrated in their life styles?
We should be working towards allowing those who live in our inner cities to be the owners of their homes, their environment and their businesses. People who own things rarely loot, set fire to property or steal. They have a vested interest in the quality of life about them and in maintaining it. The truth is that in our cities that is not so. In Liverpool 8, one can examine the black British community that has lived there for 150 years. It has remained virtually unchanged in not owning anything, not even the corner shop that serves the locality. Such conditions have contributed much to the difficulties that we have experienced during the last few days.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is to visit Liverpool. I hope that he will do something about the conditions that he finds there and elsewhere in our cities. He must take action to ensure that the people who live in cities become the owners of property and are involved in the businesses.
We should consider the position of small businesses. It is a 30-year scandal. In the United States, about 48 per cent. of business is small business. In West Germany the figure is 54 per cent. In the United Kingdom it is a mere 25 per cent. That is a measure of the failure of successive Governments over many decades. It is much worse in the cities, where fewer people own businesses than elsewhere.
Those conditions must be remedied rapidly if we are to see a change in the life style and characteristics of those who live in our great cities. It is not a question of throwing more money into the council hall for it to be used to build a bigger town hall or a larger council estate or a larger swimming pool. The money must be used so that people can relate to it, have a genuine involvement and feel that they belong to their environment.
§ Mr. Wheeler
No, the hon. Gentleman will make his own speech. Brixton has received £8 million, and Liverpool £17 million. What has the money been used for? Has it benefited those who live in those places? The answer is that it has not, alas.
§ Mr. Wheeler
It has not been used so that people can identify themselves with it and relate to it. Those are the underlying causes and questions to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment must address himself.
In conclusion, I refer briefly to the work of the Select Committee on Home Affairs and its Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. On 6 August the Committee will publish a report on racial disadvantage in England and Wales. The Committee spent about eight months looking into the complex problems of minority groups who live in our cities. The Committee visited many of our cities. When the report is available, it will contain many practical and sensible recommendations which I hope will be considered and acted upon at the earliest opportunity by both the Government and the local authorities.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I suppose the first question that we must answer in the debate is what factors or elements are responsible for the plague of disturbances in our country. I use the word "elements" because the best analogy is between a chemical explosion and the sort of explosion that I saw last night in my constituency.
There is not one cause but usually three or four elements or factors. They are not always the same elements or factors in one place and another. Sometimes there is spontaneous combustion and sometimes a plausible cause, as we had in Brixton last night. It is necessary to understand that there is not usually one cause for the problems.
I have heard stories about the four motor cyclists of the apocalypse going from place to place throughout the United Kingdom stirring up the riots. Anyone who knows, knows that that is a ludicrous explanation. Or there is the militant paper seller—a member of my general management committee—who travels from one part of the United Kingdom to another. It is ludicrous to suggest that one person could do anything to stir up these matters.
There will always be parasites and camp followers, but they are the consequences, not the causes, of what has happened. There are criminal elements and, my God, they put fear into me when I see some of the things that they do.
Let us examine the proposition about criminal elements. Of course there are criminal elements in rioting in one form or another, but those who commit crimes are but one colour at the end of the spectrum of social and economic deprivation and disadvantage. They cannot be separated and made discrete from the conditions.
When trouble flares up, those who are inclined to criminality are often the front-line troops of the riot, but 1424 they have been trained not by extremists or by any political or militant organisation but by the economic and social conditions that they have endured for some time.
Anyone who imagines that the blame can be put on one small group of agitators is gravely mistaken. I am sure that when Louis XVI was talking to Marie Antoinette they deplored what was occurring then and said that there was no justification or that there was a simple explanation. We know from contemporary accounts that there were explanations of the same nature for the peasants' revolt, but we understand that there are deep and long-standing social and economic causes.
One cannot go through all the factors responsible, but one of the first and most important must be unemployment. Unemployment disproportionately affects young blacks in our inner city areas.
There is massive evidence that even people with the same qualifications and ability, but with different coloured skins or different racial backgrounds, are treated differently. That explains why the reactions to unemployment in our inner cities, where there are mixed races, is different from that in places such as Consett, which has a homogeneous population. Because people are treated differently, bitterness and disillusion have grown, particularly among the young people.
Within the inner cities there is a contrast between the glitter and the gutter. Those who experience deprivation, poverty and unemployment are alienated. At the same time, they can see the ostentatious consumption of wealth about them. I do not say that any of that justifies the reactions, the burnings and lootings, but it helps to explain them. Our job is to explain, not simply to dismiss these matters.
It will be difficult to recover from the situation. The growth of bitterness and alienation has been taking place for such a long time that it will be difficult to bring about redemption.
Relations between the local communities and the police cannot be left out of account. I cannot begin to describe the depth of distrust and disaffection that exists between some of our people—and not only young people. There are several reasons for that.
The police force is regarded as being mainly an all-white force, representing white authority. The police have to take the blame for that which others are responsible for. The "sus" law, for example, created distrust between young blacks and the police force. Some policemen tend to make assumptions about people based upon their colour. People are treated differently according to their status and colour. The police have become remote from the community because of the gradual ending of intimate policing. The police now patrol in panda cars. They are not seen in the street and do not get to know the local population.
Far too few black policemen are in the force. There are historic reasons for that. The police do not always take account of the desires of local communities. In London, in particular, there is no proper accountability.
As Members of Parliament, we have a heavy responsibility to support our police force and to support those in the front line of maintaining law and order. At the same time, we must not shrink from criticism when we believe it to be fair.
All the support that I have tried to give was gravely undermined in my constituency on Wednesday. I do not 1425 believe in the conspiracy theory, but, if I were to be persuaded to believe in it, what happened on Wednesday might persuade me.
I went to five shops and three houses in Railton Road in Brixton. I was aghast and stupefied by what I saw. How on earth there could be a connection between five separately owned shops and three houses I do not know. The police said that they had received a tip-off about the presence of explosives.
When I looked inside the properties, the degree of damage was beyond comprehension. I taped notes, which run to four pages, describing the damage that I saw. As regards two houses, I could come to no conclusion other than that a large number of policemen had deliberately set out to wreck the houses to make them uninhabitable by taking up floorboards, breaking water pipes, removing gas and electric meters, hand-rails and banisters and smashing almost every window. It seemed that they had tried to make two houses uninhabitable, as local authorities sometimes do to prevent squatters moving in. That was the only conclusion to which I could come.
I spent most of yesterday trying to bring about some calm. I tried to arrange a meeting with the local commander, who led the raid, and local people. I tried to reach an agreement about compensation.
I conveyed the Home Secretary's message of last night to my constituents. I am grateful to him for that and for his response today. I emphasise that the action that I have described takes away my credibility and undermines the credibility of the community leaders. It provides a plausible cause for the type of events that occurred much later last night in Brixton. I deeply deplore those events, but the cause lay there.
As my son said yesterday, "You know, Dad, when we had the burglars in, they did not make as much mess as the policemen made when executing a search warrant." What a comment from a young man who should have some respect for the police. We want an independent inquiry into the events which detonated the further explosion yesterday.
The third factor is more abstract. One of the causes of what took place is a long-standing deterioration in the fabric of our society. It comes partly from the breakdown of the family. That is a particular problem among West Indians with the breakdown of the extended family and the supportive help that it gives, which is one of the causes of alienation between the parents and the children. Other forces inside that community have become less reinforcing to the observance of law and order. I refer to redevelopment and large council estates. It would take too long to discuss the factors in detail, but an examination of patterns of behaviour deserves consideration.
Another abstract factor is Northern Ireland. Events shown on television night after night have habituated people to violence. Responses are weakened by seeing such events. People are prepared to tolerate more as a result of what is happening in that part of the United Kingdom. We are catching the plague in this part of the United Kingdom. That cannot be ignored.
People are bewildered and insecure because of the way in which economic conditions have changed as a result of inflation. The abstract factors involve the family, insecurity in the economy and people's surroundings.
The Home Secretary must be careful about the use of camps, which, rightly or wrongly, will be categorised as 1426 concentration camps. They will create a new type of folklore and legend. There is a great danger of that happening if camps are used.
The time that elapses between arrest and trial is far too long. Many young men and women have to wait between 18 months and two years between the commission of an alleged offence and the date that they come to trial. Their whole social circumstances might change in that time. We do not want instant drumhead court martial. I reject that idea. There must be a reasonably short interval, with adequate time to prepare the defendant's case, between arrest and trial.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)
Is my hon. Friend aware that in Bristol the interval is between nine and 10 months?
§ Mr. Fraser
That is far too long. There must be an increase in training, but I am afraid that the youth opportunities programme is not enough. The large number of "YOP—Rip-off" badges shows the disenchantment and distrust that young people have even for such a well-meant scheme. We must have proper craft training, in particular, and we must create employment.
The Government can help. I was impressed this morning, in another part of my constituency, by a new industrial estate opened by Lambeth Enterprises, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley), where hundreds of jobs have been created as part of the inner city partnership. It is good to see that there is a positive and hopeful side as well as the troubles that we endured last night.
There must be a change in police attitudes. I intend to send the Home Secretary a long and detailed paper on the subject. We must try to change some of our values and to endorse more ideals. If the pursuit of profit and greed and the possession of items of personal ostentation are to be the only values of our society, we shall be sowing the seeds of repeats of the disruptions.
The Government's economic policies must bear a grave responsibility for what has happened. I remember the voices that we heard in 1975 and 1976 from the Conservative Benches when hon. Members talked about the smell of Weimar and the disintegration of our economy and society because we had a regrettably high rate of inflation. It was not a Weimar republic. We did rot collapse; we got things right. But the Government are presiding over the disintegration not only of our industry and employment but of our cities.
A change of policy by the Government—in particular, a change of view by the Prime Minister—would perhaps be one of the most hopeful signs we could see until she leaves the Government Benches for good.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I should like to make some observations on the rioting in Liverpool and explain why I believe that the past level of public intervention has made matters worse rather than better. I should also like to explain the ways in which we can avoid a repeat occurrence of the events of the past few weeks.
There is no doubt that there was an element of party politics in the violence. One does not know how much, but it was there. Inflammatory leaflets were distributed and the police were a deliberate target. There were section commanders who negotiated the evacuation of one of the hospitals.
1427 The targets were clearly selective. A membership club was plundered before it was set on fire. Works of art were looted and removed through the windows. A bank was destroyed, and so was a furniture warehouse owned by a former Tory councillor. The Sefton Park Conservative club, over a mile away, had a petrol bomb thrown at it. Thatcher's tea and coffee house, run by my local Conservative association, had all its windows smashed. It cost £800 to replace them. One does not wish to say what the balance of the party political element was, or what party was involved, but it was present in that trouble.
My second point is how and why public intervention has contributed to the decline of Toxteth. It is an inner city neighbourhood which has had 22,000 dwellings destroyed in the past 10 years. They have been pulled down, families have disappeared and neighbourhood communities have been abandoned. However, the bulldozer continues to drive out small firms and knock down homes. Vacant and derelict land has not been built on or sold.
Since 1968 a whole range of community projects and social organisations have been involved in Toxteth, including the community development project and the educational priority area which covered Toxteth. The urban aid programme has been very active. The inner area 1428 studies, the Inner Urban Areas Act 1978 and the partnership committee have all operated in the district and neither the urban development corporation nor the enterprise zone is far away.
In Upper Parliament Street—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) will know more about this than I do—there are 12 community centres, mostly or wholly financed out of public money. It is worth looking at what they all do and where they all are.
Upper Parliament Street, where the riots took place, is about a mile long. It is a sort of high street. It contains the Harding centre, which is run by the local education authority; the Charles Wroten centre, which is an educational advisory centre; the Chatham Street project, which is unfinished but has already received £¼ million of public money; the Caribbean centre; the Princes Park and Granby community centre; a Pakistan centre; Stanley House; the Rialto centre; the Davis Lewis youth centre; the Rialto neighbourhood centre; and the Chinese community centre. They are all in or near that street.
A great deal of public and private money is wrapped up in those centres, which encourage the growth of rival gangs. They are fiercely independent and, far from helping racial integration of the area, they have caused racial separation.
1429 Each centre has its own members and is fiercely determined to maintain its independence. I believe that the best way of preserving the cultural and social identity of minority groups is for them to work together in a jointly run neighbourhood centre, in which they have their own separate parts but do not develop separate camps and units. Of course, those who get excluded from all the centres are the half-blacks and half-whites whose families have lived in the area for hundreds of years. They are not identified with any of the centres.
I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State goes to Liverpool he will have close regard to how the urban aid programme has been financed and whether it is part of a policy for the area or merely responds to needs as they appear.
Toxteth is another hon. Member's constituency and perhaps the best contribution that I can make is to talk about what could help to resolve the problems of Toxteth and other inner city areas.
Politicians and planners tend to forget that downtown communities like inner Liverpool have an important contribution to make, even though they are in an advanced state of decline. Neighbourhood councils have already demonstrated the extent to which close-knit communities can make social and community provision for themselves.
Liverpool 8 used to be the centre of a vibrant city life, where the cut and thrust of private enterprise once occurred. Neighbourhood renewal must no longer be thought of as the putting in of public funds for social and community work, but of involving people in generating the revitalisation of their areas.
It is a serious condemnation of the Liverpool partnership that it excludes both the private sector and the community groups in the city. It depends solely on the local authority, the Government and health authorities.
I should like to suggest the setting up of a neighbourhood development corporation with the aim of restoring the economic help of the neighbourhood, involving those already living and working there and, through a subsidiary development finance company, raising private money and levering additional finance from the public sector. It would not be another quango; it would be a non-profit making organisation with a board made up of local people elected for that purpose.
Each of those people would have an interest in and a commitment to improving the life of the neighbourhood. They would require the help of a small team of professional consultants to put together what they wanted. Street by street, building by building, they would consult various interest groups and go into considerable detail.
Such corporations might engage in marketing studies and analysing the retail demand to help local businesses. Others could put up general schemes concerning the environment to the local authority. They might suggest to neighbourhood retailers how they could make the shopping precinct more attractive, and they might wish to get involved in giving the area a facelift and generally making the neighbourhood a more vital and successful place in which to live.
The neighbourhood development corporation's sole purposes would be the regeneration of the neighbourhood and the attraction of new money through a subsidiary development finance company, which would be run by 1430 those with a financial interest in the area. It would be the neighbourhood's vehicle for raising money and would act as a conduit for personal and business loans.
The development finance company would be a broker for the people and would be required to raise money to help existing businesses. With no special allegiance to any bank, insurance company or building society, it could effect the best possible terms and have considerable clout stemming from its potential volume of business.
By creating a new focus for neighbourhood regeneration and an opportunity for local people to help themselves, the older inner city districts would start to assume a new life. Never before have those living and working in depressed areas been encouraged, let alone had the chance, to get involved in the economic regeneration and renewal of their areas.
A very important aspect of the older inner areas is the houses and other homes. I am appalled by the number of houses that are still pulled down in the inner areas of my city. An important aspect of neighbourhood renewal is therefore saving from the bulldozer the older houses still standing. Homesteading can do this. It means that local authorities sell for a nominal sum—perhaps only £1—private houses that it has acquired through compulsory purchase to those willing to live in them and repair them to an agreed standard and not to sell them for five years. The important part is that it brings younger people back to the areas that they formerly abandoned. Not everyone will be willing to do his own repairs in the homesteading process, so loan rehabilitation finance would be made available through the neighbourhood development corporation's finance company.
The potential benefit from homesteading is considerable. It can provide homes for first-time buyers, younger people otherwise unable to afford to purchase, and it can bring back life to depopulated inner city neighbourhoods. Homesteaders become home owners; housing stock is saved.
There is also the importance of shopsteading, just like homesteading. The depressing appearance of shops in many of the inner city neighbourhoods contributes to the general rundown feeling of the area. The aim of shopsteading is to do something about this. It works on the principle of levering grants out of the local authority to improve, say, the appearance of the shop frontage. In return, the shop owner would improve the inside. The whole principle of the neighbourhood development corporation is that, by borrowing private money from the neighbourhood bank, whether it be black or white, it can stimulate the local authority to do things that it would not otherwise have done.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has now acted to protect the police and to reassure the community that it is safe. That was the first and the most important step, and it is now being taken. But a great deal of remedial work must follow. Strengthening the police and improving their equipment will put the lid on, but inside the areas are still boiling. Unemployment is certainly a cause. The general malaise of the inner city is another cause, but trouble can also flare up in the outer city council estates. We should not under-estimate the aggravation in the vast, soulless council estates on the edges of the provincial areas.
1431 If we are to reduce the temperature, we need to start a neighbourhood development corporation and neighbourhood councils as fast as we can and to involve the people who live in the areas in something constructive. Only in this way can we hope to save the situation and rebuild the communities that are so depressed and give them new hope.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Brent, East)
There were ingredients in the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) that are worth pursuing. I make only one general criticism of his style. He tended to suggest that there was an instant blue print solution—that, if only we could have a neighbourhood development corporation, the problems of Liverpool 8 and other such areas would all be solved. Not so; but I agree with some of the characteristics of the hon. Gentleman's approach, and I shall return to them later.
First, I state my credentials. I chaired the inner area studies group for three years—most of its life. It had been initiated by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) in 1972, when he was Secretary of State for the Environment. Whilst I do not represent a constituency that has the deep-set problems of Liverpool 8 and such areas in other parts of the country, my constituency is now largely described as an inner city area. What virtually drove me into political activity years ago and eventually into this House was a concern about what we now call inner city problems.
I should like to speak about what was referred to as the gutter and the glitter aspect of the problem. We rightly concentrate on the problems of the inner city, its deprivation—economic, environmental—and so on. We talk from time to time about a more difficult to define social malaise in the inner city. The breakdown of the extended family was referred to, as was the breakdown of the community by the massive movement out that has taken place in the last 30 years.
It is an illusion that most of that movement out was planned. Only about 15 per cent. of it in any of our big cities has been undertaken as a result of new towns or similar programmes. The vast bulk of it has been the spontaneous movement of industry, commerce, the movement of the population into decent housing on the outskirts, down-market owner-occupation and so on. That has led to the stresses and strains of the declining community. We should not be over-sentimental about it. Most of those overcrowded conditions should have gone, and I am glad that they have gone. The population should have declined, and I am glad that it has. That in itself is not a problem, but there are problems associated with it.
One of the biggest problems has been our failure to undertake in the old inner city areas, over the past 30 years, the approach that we began to develop in the new and expanding town developments. That would have given a community dimension to inner city renewal, a better environment, and a greater variety of housing, job opportunities, education and training such as we have seen taking place at its best in some of the new towns and better planned suburbs. There are also plenty that are not so well planned.
I come back to the question of the glitter and the gutter. We speak of the malaise of the inner city as well as the 1432 specific deprivations, but it is the malaise in our society as a whole that must be faced if we want to develop or renew our inner cities. Ending this social malaise and getting resources into these areas has major implications for our society, for the way in which we apply our resources and for the extent to which we wish to increase our personal consumption as individuals at the expense of what is loosely called a social wage—that is, public, community expenditure. I wish to use phrases that do not conjure up pejorative ideas in people's minds.
Many years ago, Galbraith, the well-known American economist, shook the world by his book on the affluent society. It influenced many people of all colours of the political spectrum—more so those on the Left, but others also. One of the important themes of his book, and of much that followed from it in the debates in the 1950s and 1960s, was the continuance of public squalor amidst private affluence and the fact that we were chasing after constant growth of personal consumption, inequitably spread, at the expense of our community life and environment. Much has been done in the years since to try to counteract that, but no one can say with hand on heart that we have really achieved success.
Everyone seems to think that if only the standards of the inner cities could be raised to the standards of consumption in what we loosely call the affluent suburbs all would be well. I do not believe that this is so. Just as it is impossible to achieve the resources required in these areas and in many other aspects of our economy without restraining expenditure elsewhere, so we cannot rely on growth to break down the barrier and narrow the gap between inner areas, where poverty of various kinds is concentrated, and suburban life, with its much higher standard of living, both environmentally and in terms of personal consumption.
There are deep-seated questions involving the nature of our economy and society, which will not be easy to resolve unless we face the basic dilemma. One cannot constantly have growth of personal consumption and also achieve decent community standards in declining areas. The divisions between the highly developed industrial societies and the poorer countries of the world are even sharper. There is a community and social malaise that spreads in different ways far beyond the inner cities.
I wish, however, to concentrate on the inner cities and to say how much I welcome the two Front Bench speeches, which complemented each other. I cannot endorse all the details. I am anxious and worried about the genuflexions, if that is not an unkind expression, of the Home Secretary towards aggressive policing, although he did not use the phrase, I am glad to say. I am still worried about where we may be driven if we pursue that road.
The tumbler standing on the Table of the House, which I shall be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) will pass to me, is smaller than a plastic bullet. I do not know how many hon. Members have seen a plastic bullet. I saw one for the first time only about a week ago. Does any hon. Member really want to see this sort of thing used in the cause of law and order? We have to be wary even of genuflecting in that direction.
I return to the more positive aspects. The Home Secretary referred to the fact that the Secretary of State for the Environment, along with some other colleagues, is to visit Liverpool to look at the situation, to study it, to consult the local authority, private interests and 1433 community leaders, and to report, if I understood his words correctly, to the Cabinet on the conclusions to be drawn. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), I welcome that proposal. It is a good move—so far as it goes. I have to say, however, that this will not be the first time that Ministers and others have been to Liverpool 8 and to Lambeth. The first port of call of every Minister for housing shortly after his appointment was Lambeth, to study the problems. Yet now, 10, 15 and 20 years later, we have the riots in Brixton. I am not trying to knock the initiatives that have been taken. I do not intend even gently, to sneer at all the things that have been done for Liverpool 8 and elsewhere over the years.
I believe that further research, examination and study should be a constant process in these areas. However, we must not wait any longer before we do something more effective, in national and local government terms, about the renewal and the better management of the public services, the economy and the environment of these areas. I do not say that in the belief that the problems can be resolved quickly. We have failed for too many decades to take the opportunity to renew areas of declining population. The solution will not be easy or rapid. We cannot be certain that we shall succeed. We should continue to monitor, to research and to consult as frequently as we wish, but the need to organise more effectively is long overdue.
I ask the House to believe that it is not conceit that prompts me to mention the fact that the first part of the speech that I had intended to make, but which I shall not make, contains a fairly long quotation from a memorandum—I kept a copy—that I submitted to the then Minister of Housing and Local Government in May 1970, shortly before the Labour Government lost office. At the time I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I had carried out a tour of 25 authorities, studying housing and related problems.
The memorandum called for a more concerted effort in Government and for new types of organisation in local authorities and the Government to achieve more collective and more integral planning and management of inner city areas. I did not use the phrase "inner city" in the document. It is only in recent years that that label has come to be used. I spoke of urban renewal. I referred to the education priority areas, to the housing improvement areas and to the initiatives that had been taken, stating that there was a need to build on those initiatives, developed over the previous 10 years.
My memorandum went on to say:we must ensure that Government and local government organise more effectively to deal with the problems of decay and obsolescence. Large parts of our cities are in a mess and we have got to act more speedily, consistently and comprehensively to make them really worth living in. Unless the Government and local government organise more effectively to deal with these problems, they will be as great in a decade's time as they are today". .That was in May 1970. It is now July 1981, 11 years later.
I also stated in the memorandum:New methods for national and local government are needed to tackle priority areas in a comprehensive and continuing programmme of action on housing, community services and planning. This will require close co-ordination and integration of national and local government departments, both in policy and in executive action—in housing, planning, health, welfare, social security, employment, education, training and research".
It is diff cult to get that sort of thing done in Government. Anyone who has served in national or local 1434 government will recognise the difficulties of breaking down barriers between departments, whether at ministerial or town clerk level. Nevertheless, it has to be done. That is why I welcome a ministerial presence although not on the basis of a report back and a chat in Cabinet and perhaps, if a certain lady allows it, another few trillion pounds put into special projects, much as I would welcome that, or an addition to the rate support grant, much as I would welcome that too.
We must be prepared to organise in Government and in local government an across-the-board approach on budgeting and on team work at neighbourhood level within the larger areas. I advocate strongly, as I did when in Government, with only partial success, as the Labour Government moved down the road towards partnerships and the programme authorities, the need for a Minister of Cabinet rank, responsible to the Prime Minister, whose duties would cover urban renewal as a whole.
I also advocate, which I did not propose in Government but which experience has taught me, that that Cabinet Minister should have working with him a senior Minister from the Treasury, whose job should not he simply controlling other people's expenditure but rather that of a strategist, who would get expenditure undertaken to achieve objectives. His role should not be to tell people not to do this or to do that because it costs too much. A senior Treasury Minister should work alongside a Cabinet Minister responsible to the Prime Minister for urban renewal policies and action. His job should be part of a unit in Government that crosses the boundaries between education, employment, and housing—I do not say that this should happen overnight—to get concerted urban renewal programmes undertaken in designated areas. Those programmes should not be interfered with overmuch by separate Departments under separate Ministers. It should also be his job to require, persuade and enable the local authorities concerned to reorganise themselves in a similar way.
There were two big failings in the inner urban studies. The first was that they started out simply as Department of the Environment studies, although I sought to extend them into other Departments while I was in charge of them. Secondly, they were just studies. In the early 1970s, when they were put in hand, we should have concentrated on the creation of central and local government machinery in which they could operate so that they could proceed to undertake coherent planning and management of the areas concerned and renew them with the help of the communities.
Unless we get that kind of approach started and stuck to consistently for years to come, there will not be genuine urban renewal and we shall have the same problems in 10 years or so, although they may not show themselves in the same way. We need variety of tenure. We need town development trust agencies, for example. In some parts of the country, such schemes are in hand already. We need a variety of methods under ministerial guidance and direction and a similar form of organisation in the town halls. Unless we get it, we shall not succeed.
If we could undertake that kind of reorganisation in the inner areas and get it rolling, two results might flow from it. First, by the very fact of local authorities and the Government acting in this concerted neighbourhood approach—a total across-the-board approach—we might begin to induce in our community a collective and communal approach to the problems. We could create 1435 neighbourhood relationships, because physically and organisationally we should be doing it in Government and in local government. If we could achieve that we should, secondly, learn lessons that could be of assistance to some of the suburbs, because they will have their own problems to come as the years go by.
Unless something is done along those lines, I am convinced that we shall be worried about and arguing about the problems 10 years from now. The sooner such action is taken, by whichever Government are in power, with the necessary resources available, the better it will be for the whole of our society, and not just the deprived inner areas.
§ Mr. John Ward (Poole)
As I listened to the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), I was reminded that 35 years ago I started work in the borough of Lambeth. Even then we had our fair share of inner city deprivation. Looking back, I see that many material improvements have been made but that the heart has gone out of large areas of the place. It seems to me that we should be a little cautious about simply moving in with more taxpayers' money without looking at the fundamental problems which may lie behind many of the matters that we are discussing.
Before developing that theme, I wish to add my tribute to what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said. In my view, he grasped the mood of the nation—undoubtedly he grasped the mood of my constituents—in what he proposed.
Perhaps the most over-used word in the Chamber today has been the word "but". We have heard hon. Members time and again say "I support the police, but…" I make it clear that I support the police, full stop. They are our last refuge between the civilisation that we enjoy, despite all the rude remarks made about it, and total anarchy. Any measure that the police need to defend themselves and to enforce the law is acceptable to me.
The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) asked a number of pertinent questions of the Home Secretary, and I am sure that he will receive answers. But if we support the police, we have to realise that we are not talking of individuals who are calm, mature "Dixon of Dock Green" figures. Many of them today are in their early twenties and are inexperienced. I suggest that many of them are even more scared than the people they stop when going about their business. Given the expansion that we have seen in the police force, this lack of experience is inevitable. However, I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will join me in paying tribute to those young policemen who have gained a lot of experience in the past 10 days. The will have learnt a great deal from it and will be better and more efficient police officers from now on.
Although some of our police are very young, that in some ways should be an asset, bearing in mind that they are trying to deal with young people. However, some of these young policemen are probably facing riots for the first time in their lives. The right hon. Member for Brent, East was seen just now to hold up a tumbler and compare it with the diameter of a plastic bullet. I must point out that it is considerably smaller than a half-brick, considerably less dangerous than pointed pieces of metal which are 1436 flung about, and most certainly less dangerous than a glass container of similar size that is filled with petrol and has a lighted match applied to it.
We deliberate these matters calmly in the House, but I think that once in a while we ought to try to put ourselves in the shoes of the man on the beat who may face this problem at any time of the day or night. In that connection, little has been said about the mental and physical suffering of the families of policemen in recent times. We ought to pay tribute to them, too.
I welcome the snnouncement that Ministers are to go to Liverpool. However, I hope that the people of Liverpool and other cities will not be led to believe "I am from the Government. I have come to sort it all out for you." That will take a change of attitude not only from what might be described as the official side but from the people who are allegedly to receive help.
For a few years before I came to the House I tried to employ young people from inner city areas. I made no distinction between black and white. But I found that it paid me to employ older people with a sense of responsibility who were willing to accept that, although they might not like the system, by making the system worked in that firm more efficient we would all profit. I found that attitude lacking in many young people. It may be that we should look at what we have done to educate and to set an example to young people over recent years.
I find my views much in tune with the suggestions for a form of youth service. Until a youngster has learnt to serve other people, it is difficult for him to be put in a position where he can control their lives. If the Government feel that this suggestion should be pursued, I hope that they will go for volunteers. One of the difficulties in most youth movements, of which I have some experience, is a lack not of youngsters willing to participate but of adults willing to give their time to help, organise activities and to use their experience and skills in training youngsters.
It is very much a two-way problem. If we have not the time for the youngsters, should we be surprised if they have not very much time for those of us who know it all, have seen it all and look back and think "What a mess we have made of it?" Some humility in dealing with the younger generation might be better than lecturing them too often and for too long.
Some comments have been made about the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I pay tribute to the fact that she realises that if one attempts to solve the problem by using money to produce false jobs and false expectations, there will be more trouble than there has already been. We must not build up expectations which are then dashed when more unemployment results from the fact that we have not created real jobs.
Finally, I want to say a word about inner city planning. We all now condemn tower blocks, and some of us condemn council estates of a certain type. Yet, people were queueing to get into those places. With hindsight, the policy was wrong. We should have learnt that an effective community cannot be planned from a town hall or from a Government Department. Areas where people cease to move after dark become areas of fear where vandalism can occur.
I make a plea that we should give private industry which knows best what the customer wants, the chance to plan those areas and show what it can do. We must stop placing constraints on private industry. Wherever private 1437 enterprise has been given its head—whether it involves the small corner shop or renovating an old property—a community has started to emerge. When an authority moves in with bulldozers, concrete mixers and mass production, the area becomes derelict. In most cases, it becomes almost a prefabricated slum. The activities and buildings in our inner cities should be planned by the people who will use them, not by the men in Whitehall or the town hall.
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
I shall take up one or two of the matters mentioned by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) later. First, I want to stress that nothing that has been said about the reasons for the riots in Liverpool can justify the violence that took place there. I am sure that almost everyone in Liverpool would echo that sentiment.
We were glad that the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary came to Liverpool. I am only sorry that since the advent of "rent a mob" it is not always possible for Ministers to visit such areas. That should be rectified, because people must see for themselves, in conditions that allow them to do so. The Secretary of State for the Environment nods, and I know that he had an unfortunate incident in the area.
In cases of civil disorder, the priority should be to protect law-abiding citizens and to restore order. I sometimes wonder whether we in the House live in a real world. We say that we must not do this and that we must not do that in case a rioter gets hurt. I accept that, but I do not understand how anyone can wish to deny the police the ability to put down a riot.
The right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) said that the consent of the Home Secretary should be sought in such cases. I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman has ever seen a riot, where the situation changes from minute to minute, and where the police line can be driven back 100 yards or 200 yards down the road. How is it possible to get the consent of the Home Secretary to use CS gas in such circumstances?
In Liverpool, Lodge Lane, with a shopping centre that is about half a mile long, was given over to the mob because the police could not get there. There are dwellings over the shops, and the people living there did not dare to come out because of the violence of the mob below. One shop after another was set on fire below where they were living. Is that the kind of instance when one rings the Home Secretary and asks for permission to use CS gas? People should see these things happening before they give glib answers about how to rectify the situation.
Then there is the matter of police casualties. In a riot, everyone is suspect. Police officers were taken away, one after the other, with battered faces and broken limbs. I am amazed that the young police officers stood up to it. Hour after hour they had to face the riot and were unable to respond to it.
I wish to say a word about what I think were the causes of the riot on Saturday night. It is important because, in my opinion, what happened in Liverpool triggered off what happened in the other areas, where the riots seemed to be riots of opportunity, rather than anything else. That is what happened eventually in Liverpool in the Dingle area, where it was a case of "Which shops have the best 1438 takings?" When that stage is reached, the situation has little to do with unemployment. It is a case of "What can I get for myself?"
I pay tribute to the police, as I have done on many occasions. However, we must accept that things are wrong and that they must be changed. It has been suggested that the riot on Saturday was a black riot. That is not true. There are people who wish that it were true. I had not intended to go into this matter, but, having heard the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), I think that I should give my view of the situation.
The riot in Toxteth on Saturday night was a black and white riot. The impression that I got of a press conference was that the intention was to conceal the fact that white youths had been involved. The conversation was along these lines: "They were nearly all black, but there were white people there later. 'Question: How many were there originally?' Answer: 'We could not see, because it was too dark.'" I do not know how one can say that they were all black when it was too dark to see. It was then suggested that they came just before it got light. I am not making that up. That is what was said at a press conference, and it hardly inspires confidence or credibility.
On the Sunday morning I was walking through the debris and met two lads, aged 11. They said to me "It will be 10 times as bad tonight, mate. They are coming from all over the place. The cops will really get it tonight." That was said by two respectably dressed white boys. So this was not a race riot, and I am glad that it was not.
Unemployment is, of course, an important factor. When people do not have a job, they are bound to talk about how bad society is, so unemployment is one of the factors involved, but how often are we responsible for making the position even worse than it is? We have interchanges across the Floor of the House, during which hon. Members on each side suggest that someone is getting satisfaction from throwing people out of work. The policies may be wrong, but that is a different matter. I an certain that the Secretary of State for Employment spends as many sleepless nights over the unemployment figures as the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) ever did when the figures doubled during his period of office. Unemployment is not a party matter. We are living in times when some of these problems are thrust upon us, and often they are made worse by politics.
I believe that the Government's policies—carried through, as they are, without any refinements—are aggravating the problem, but that criticism can be applied to all Governments, of whatever party, and we do no good by pretending that anyone gets pleasure from throwing people on to the dole queue.
The environmental factor is also important, yet the first riot in Liverpool was in an area containing two new housing estates. Of course housing is important, but however much money we put into housing, we shall not cure the problem if we tackle it on the basis of party dogma. Why should we always seek to build in an area a complete council estate, putting people into ghettos in the way that we have done? Hon. Members from Liverpool might like to work out how many millions of pounds it will cost Liverpool in the next 50 years to pay for the dwellings that have been built in recent years and then had to be demolished. We must rethink our ideas on housing and the environment. Unless we can achieve a completely mixed development we shall produce only ghettoes and slums, however much money we spend.
1439 Money has been spent on social projects, and it has brought about various improvements, but there is obviously a great need for the environment to be cleared up and made presentable. Thousands of houses have been demolished, leaving only a few bricks. But when the Government provide money to clear up the area, some hon. Members criticise them for doing so. They cannot have it both ways. It is important to improve the environment.
We have witnessed the breakdown of moral sanctions in all aspects of our society. Indeed, I am not certain that some of the conduct in this Chamber encourages people outside to believe that we are a responsible body. Some young people see films about the troubles in Northern Ireland and get involved in doing the same sort of thing themselves. But they also hear or read of the behaviour in this House and may think that that is the way in which people should conduct themselves. If the day arrives when argument no longer decides issues, our democracy will have gone. All too often I have seen instances, inside and outside the House, when free speech seems to be denied to anyone who disagrees with others.
I thought that I was imagining things when I read about what had happened in Brixton. If anyone had been trying to sabotage the work of the Home Secretary, he could not have done it more effectively.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
I do not know the facts, and I do not intend to go into any details, but if it be true that the police found drugs when they raided premises in Brixton, would this country have gone under if the presence of those drugs had been ignored for a few weeks? I thought that the police action in Brixton must at least have been designed to prevent an insurrection against the Government, but all that we find at the end of it is that some people have been arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs, and that one person has been arrested on suspicion of making explosives. But when the type of explosive was examined, the police saw fit to release the person concerned.
If one-tenth of the suggested damage has been done in that police raid, I should like to see an impartial inquiry held into it. We do not get impartial inquiries in these matters. The police should not be involved. The inquiry should be impartial. If, at the end of the inquiry, it is found that high-handed methods were used, I hope that the people responsible will not be allowed to be in the position to do the same thing again, because it has caused untold trouble throughout the country.
With regard to the breakdown of relationships between the police and the community, it should be understood that in the area of Toxteth where the trouble occurred it is not just a matter of the blacks versus the police; it is the whites versus the police as well. The young policemen in the force are not responsible for the problem. They have come in at the sharp end. It has been going on year after year, gradually getting worse and worse.
There used to be policemen on the beat, but, because of violence, they were taken off and put into panda cars, so that they became even more remote from the rest of the population. The only time that they are seen by the people is when they jump out of a panda car, get hold of a man and start searching him.
1440 That is not imagination. Last Sunday morning, after the service, I spoke to a complete church assembly. I was appalled at the number of white people who were talking about the harassment that is taking place in the area. Night after night, people—black and white—are being stopped as they go along the streets. Sometimes they are coming home from work in the middle of the night. It goes on night after night and week after week. On many occasions it is accompanied by violence. Is it to be wondered, therefore, that there is a breakdown of relationships between the police and the community?
It is one thing to pinpoint what is wrong; it is another to try to put it right. Some people in the black community now have such a big chip on their shoulder that it will never be possible to put things right for them. One of the chips on their shoulder concerns joining the police force. In Liverpool, coloured girls cannot even be persuaded to go into the shops to serve as assistants. That attitude is wrong, and they must be shown that it is wrong. Until we can have black policemen on the beat, and black inspectors in the inner city areas, we shall not cure the problem. We shall spend more and more money and still end up with the same problem.
I think that it is true to say that more institutions and establishments are destroyed by their supporters than by their opponents, because their supporters always try to pretend that everything is right. I want to see our society continue, because I believe in it. I believe that it is the best in the world. But unless we are prepared to be critical and put our finger on the trigger points that are causing the trouble, the riots will have been of no use whatever. If we fail to take proper notice of them, it will be at our peril.
§ 7.8 pm
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
In following the admirable speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), I start by noting that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), in his speech, attributed the riots mainly to social and economic factors—poverty, unemployment and deprivation. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) attributed the riots mainly to immigration and race factors. I believe that there is something in all these things. But there is another factor—criminality.
In 1978—not a year when the Conservative Government were in office—the courts convicted more than 27,000 burglars and nearly 45,000 muggers and thieves under the age of 16, and a further 25,000 such offenders under the age of 14. They were not all poor, unemployed or deprived, and most certainly they were not all black.
There is, in my view, an element of criminality as well as other factors in the riots we have seen in recent weeks. Whatever the cause of the violence, three things are certain. First, the police did not create it. Secondly, the police more than anyone else, unhappily, are involved in the consequences. Thirdly, the police cannot and should not be asked to handle the problem alone.
I speak on behalf of the Police Federation and I shall make five main points. The first point is one of perspective. Despite the Home Secretary's decision, which I welcome, to issue protective clothing and the riot suppression equipment that the police need, the British police are not about to abandon overnight their traditional 1441 image or traditional methods. There is no question of their suddenly becoming a paramilitary British equivalent of the CRS.
I believe, and the police service believes, that 99 per cent. of the policing in Britain will continue to be as it has always been. It will be operated on the basis of consent, trust and confidence. We are dealing with a problem, though a violent one, that is the equivalent of the remaining 1 per cent. It would be wrong if we allowed the violence to give the impression that we have changed the entire order of policing. The fact is that we have not.
Secondly, some sections of the media seem almost to be wanting to see the water cannons used and the plastic bullets flying. But these are instruments of last resort. It is right that they should be available, but no police officer in this land will ever seek to use them unless there is no alternative. It is a hopelessly wrong perspective to suggest that our police service has suddenly become an armoured and aggressive force.
My third point—it is the hard one—is that in the circumstances that have been described there must none the less be occasions when the iron fist is needed. When the mob tastes blood, which it has, the police must use whatever force is needed to prevail. I agree very much with the Police Federation that the time for "softly, softly" has ended when dealing with mobs.
Fourthly, along with the iron fist there needs to be offered, above all by policemen themselves, the velvet glove of friendship. I give a pledge on behalf of the federation that the police service holds out the hand of friendship to young people and to the immigrant community. Long before the House began to debate these matters, the police service had been conducting, at every level, meetings and discussions with representatives of the immigrant community. It is manifest that there were not enough meetings and discussions and that those that took place were not successful enough. But the effort has been made. It will continue to be made.
The constituency of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) has seen some of the worst of the violence, and only last night it experienced that unfortunate raid. The federation and the members of the Metropolitan Police joint branch board are just as upset as the hon. Gentleman by any setback to relations between the police service and the immigrant community that may have arisen.
As I do not have the facts as yet, I prefer not to make any judgments until they are in my possession, but if there has arisen, as seems probable, a new friction between police and public arising from the raid, the federation will want to see the fullest possible inquiry. It will want to see the Home Secretary, as the police authority, seeking to discipline those who may have been responsible for any error that may have been made. It is the members of the federation who have to pay with their limbs for the consequences of bad decisions by their own commander. So if a serious error was made, the police service is big enough to offer an apology to those in the area of Brixton who last night it may well have discomforted.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I turn briefly to the need of the police for certain items of equipment. A request was made for protective helmets and fire-proof clothing, and these items are now being issued. I ask my right hon. Friend whether 1442 the new helmets will include earpieces that are capable not only of receiving information and commands but of transmitting back some indication that the individual officer has actually received that information and/or command. There needs to be two-way communication, especially during a riot.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will also indicate at some stage that the police vehicles that are used to bring up reinforcements will have sufficient armouring so that police officers do not get sprayed with broken glass in the bus before they go into action.
When the right sorts of CS gas are provided to forces, not for use but so that they are available if their use becomes unavoidable, will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that the police will have enough gas masks? It is my understanding that when it became necessary in Liverpool to use a particular brand of CS gas, which might not have been the best in all the circumstances, there was a shortage of gas masks for the police.
I regret the necessity for making water cannon available. I believe that there will be comparatively few of them. I hope that we shall not go for the enormous cannons that have been seen in some pages of the press. I prefer that we adopt the smaller and more effective cannons that are to be seen overseas.
I hope that there will be a change from the procedure whereby police officers are stationed as sitting ducks, as it were, across narrow streets. That is the wrong way in which to proceed. It is of some significance that the Royal Ulster Constabulary suffered fewer injuries over the past two years, despite the violence in Northern Ireland, than the Metropolitan Police suffered in Brixton alone. Thai: is largely because the tactics and the training of the English police have not been brought up to date. I am sure that they should be changed.
My right hon. Friend has rightly decided that it would be wrong for him to attempt to remove from chief officers their discretion to decide, alone, how much force should be used, when it should be used and in what circumstances it should be used. It follows that a great weight of responsibility is now placed on the shoulders of some 15 or 20 chief officers of police in our principal urban areas. On them rests, particularly now that the new equipment is available, some deadly serious decisions. I believe that it is of the utmost importance that the Home Secretary and his successors most carefully scrutinise the appointments that are made to chief officer rank. I do not want to make any invidious comparison, but I am bound to say, of our chief officers as a whole, that a number are first-class bat that some are less than first-class. It is of great importance, when so much is resting on them, that the Home Office should think carefully about some of the appointments that it makes.
My last point simply concerns legislation. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to say something about the immunities which the police may need to have if they are forced into circumstances where they have to use riot suppression equipment. I should like to know what is to happen about the Riot (Damages) Act, the Public Order Acts, the Children and Young Persons Acts and the Police Act. It may be that all those matters are being studied—I am sure that they are—but if the police are to be asked to take on those onerous and difficult additional responsibilities it is essential that the immunities and responsibilities which they bear under those Acts of Parliament should be understood plainly.
1443 A number of my hon. Friends and some people outside the House have criticised my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary over the manner in which he has responded to the recent emergency. At first there were those who said that he was not doing enough. Now there are some who say that he is doing too much. In this matter, I can speak only for the police service and for my constituents, but, having worked in my present capacity with the Police Federation alongside five Home Secretaries of both political complexions, I can say that we have enjoyed a useful and generally constructive relationship with them all but that none has won the affection and loyalty of the federation so much as my right hon. Friend.
To those who criticise my right hon. Friend I would simply say that the police value the way in which he has supported them on numbers and pay and in their difficulties. They have every confidence in both him and the Prime Minister. I thank him on their behalf for the manner in which he has handled this immensely difficult problem.
§ Miss Sheila Wright (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I speak today for the multiracial community of Handsworth in Birmingham, a community in which there were civil disturbances last Friday and Saturday, but fortunately not the most severe in the country. We have not heard so much about those disturbances.
I am saying deliberately and after considerable thought that those disturbances were planned and orchestrated because, as far as I can judge, race and community relations in Handsworth have been and are still today—not last week—a great deal better than in many other parts of the country where there is equally great deprivation and high unemployment.
On Monday and Tuesday in the week before the riot I had been told by more than a dozen totally unrelated people, who by and large did not know each other, that there would be bad trouble in Handsworth on Friday and Saturday. I was told by constituents of all colours that Soho Road would be hit on Friday night and Lozells Road and Villa Road on Saturday, and that everyone knew that. The local police told me that they knew the same thing. Large numbers of the immigrant community leaders knew it. By Friday it was common knowledge in parts of Birmingham five and six miles away. Basic common sense tells us that spontaneous demonstrations are not known and are not pinpointed to the streets in which they occur five or six days beforehand. No one can justify or condone hooliganism and violence of the type and on the scale that we have seen in the last two weeks.
Handsworth, for which I speak mainly, had a bad start with police-community relations some years ago. There was a time when I and most local councillors were acutely critical of police attitudes and activity to the extent of having formal meetings with and making complaints to the then chief constable. Since then a great deal has been done and a vast improvement has taken place. I am not saying any more than the local superintendent, who was quoted in the local press last week as saying that there are not cases of unnecessary and undue provocation by the police. Those I take up and other people take up. Whatever people may think is police policy in the rest of the country, senior police officers in Handsworth consciously and actively 1444 promote good community relations. The community leaders work with each other and with the police to keep it that way.
It was all the more of a tragedy that last Friday and Saturday I saw in Soho Road, Lozells Road and Villa Road youngsters of all races—black, brown and white—breaking up community property, stoning and petrol bombing police, fire engines and even the local schools. It does not help any of us, and it certainly does not help them, to produce greater devastation in the area in which they live than we have already produced as a result of years of neglect and misunderstanding of the difficulties, problems and tragedies of the inner cities. Throwing bricks at each other or petrol bombs at the police will not produce one rehabilitated house, one new amenity or one offer of employment. That is what all my constituents are saying to me. It is not a question of race or colour. That is the unanimous opinion of despair in Handsworth. We thought that we were producing a better community. We were putting pressure on for the amenities and employment that we do not have. It is a tragedy that this trouble should have happened.
That is one side of the picture. I am sure that no one in the House will advocate or justify the violence that we have seen or any violence which, unfortunately, may yet come. How we deal with it and how we deal with the underlying cause is the other side of the picture. A spark will not ignite a tinder box if the tinder box is not there for the spark to fall into it. We must stamp on the sparks. No one in the House is saying that we should allow people to be terrorised by violence or that they should not be protected, but let us not be so preoccupied with dousing the sparks that we forget to remove the tinder box.
I am talking particularly about Handsworth, but I believe that this applies to other areas. There are appalling conditions in the inner cities not only because there is bad housing, poorly provided schools and big cuts in social services, but, above all, because there is increasing hopelessness. No one can envisage employment for the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands who are on the dole. There is no date or hope for them. The thousands of youngsters leaving school this summer are cynical about work experience schemes, youth opportunities programmes and the sops that they are offered instead of employment and a future.
The one clear message that I have been asked to bring to the House by my constituents in the past week is "Will all you politicians in your ivory towers in Westminster"—that is how they see us—"stop arguing and realise that there is disaster on your doorsteps—human disaster for the people rotting away in poor conditions and unemployment with no foreseeable end?" There is a potential major disaster for society if it ignores the problems of so many of its citizens.
The problems will not go away, whether we ameliorate them with the community involvement that we are trying to build up in Handsworth and other places or whether we try to drown them with water cannons. It is nonsense, when our industrial centres face the deepest recession since the 1930s, that the same areas are singled out for higher than average cuts in Government grants to local services. Many of my ex-local government Conservative colleagues say the same as Labour Members.
In 1980–81, Birmingham had a grant entitlement of £180 million. It is estimated that in 1981–82, after clawback and holdback, there will be a reduction of nearly 1445 one-fifth to £151 million—and that in a period of rising unemployment, rapidly deteriorating services and inflation.
It is the economics of Bedlam to pay out ever-increasing vast sums to keep people unemployed, while at the same time ensuring that the conditions in which they live get worse by the day. Looked at objectively, there is no quicker way to wreck what is left of the economy and, in the process, promote the maximum civil disturbance, where even further costs will fall on local authorities to make good the effects of the riot or to compensate industry. Incidentally, we have heard nothing about whether the Government intend to help with compensation.
Speaking for my constituency again, the one bright spark is that, whatever may have been said by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), in Handsworth there has been no inter-community rioting. Black, brown and white are united in their condemnation of the violence. Individual policemen are still welcomed on the streets and in the shops. However, the message to us all is clear. It is "Stop the violence and deal with its cause." From whichever party we come, we ignore that message at our peril.
§ Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)
As in all terrible events, a number of strands are involved. A bad car accident is seldom caused by one mistake; it is caused by a number. As has been said, the events in Lambeth and other parts of the country spring from a number of different causes, intertwined together. Had one element been missing, they probably would not have happened.
It is easy to identify some of the elements. Inner city deprivation has been mentioned, which involves housing, amenities and cash shortages. However, I remind the House that Brixton is one of only two inner London boroughs that has funds from the inner city partnership. It also has the largest HIP programme for this year, and it came off best from the grant-related expenditure procedure. I understand that Toxteth has also had additional funds. If the problem could be solved by throwing money at it, I am sure that the Government would do so. Unhappily, that is not the answer, as it would be an easy way to solve the problem.
Incidentally, Lambeth is deeply envious of Toxteth. No Ministers have been thrown at us, and we should have liked Ministers to help us in Lambeth, as I am sure that they will in Toxteth.
Another strand is unemployment. However, we are seeing children rioting, and unemployment is not their problem. They should be at home or at school. That is another difficulty.
Policing methods are yet another strand. Two or three years ago, together with the other three Lambeth Members, I went to see the Lambeth [...]olice after an incident in which they had been [...]ult. I concerned the council for community relat[...] However I remind the House that the crime level, Lambeth is the highest in the country.
Forgive me. I [...]ean street crime—[...]gs and street violence.
At [...]n my constituency the police presence in the street[...] very much welcomed. They are highly respected. 1446 The only criticism is that there are not more of them. I believe the vast majority of Lambeth citizens share that view. We cannot mention the police without praising their courage and long suffering. They put in long hours to defend people and property.
Another strand concerns ethnic minorities. We are not talking about race riots, except in Southall. We are seeing black and white on the streets. Last Friday in Lambeth there was a slightly less serious riot. A witness told me that a large crowd of coloured youngsters turned over a car and a white man unscrewed the petrol cap and put a match in the tank. That is not the sort of racial co-operation that we are looking for.
Another strand is the influences at work, deliberately or inadvertently, increasing tension between the police and the community. I do not know the answer to the problem, but we must give the matter more attention. A little while ago I referred to the leaflets that had been flooding into Brixton for some time from all sorts of extraordinary organisations employing all sorts of seditious methods. However, when I send the leaflets to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, he usually tells me that those organisations are not breaking the law.
The aim of those people appears to be to stir up hatred and suspicion of the police. To what extent are the riots spontaneous and to what extent are they organised? I do not support the great conspiracy theory—a man in the East End planning the riots and pulling strings. That is nonsense, but people who intend ill to our society cake advantage of the wretched people in these wretched areas, such as certain parts of Lambeth. They are organising them to their advantage and will no doubt to some extent continue to do so. They tried to organise students and the peace movements. They believe that in our inner cities they have found the Achilles heel of our society. We must show them that they are wrong.
I am prompted to make my remarks by an incident in Lambeth last week. I mentioned the rioting on Friday. On Friday morning, the Streatham chamber of commerce picked up rumours of a riot in Brixton on Friday evening. It called the police, who confirmed that there were rumours but said that they knew nothing definite. The chamber of commerce rang round its traders scattered throughout Lambeth. It received a specific report from one that there had been a great influx of hooligans—his phrase—into the Acre Lane area on Thursday night. The chamber of commerce therefore advised the police and advised all its traders that there might be trouble on Friday night. The traders removed stock from the shop windows and began to board them up.
On Friday night, as I have said, there was indeed trouble. About 30 or 40 windows were smashed and goods looted. Thanks to the presence of mind of the chamber of commerce, the damage was slight. Burton's, which had lost £40,000 worth of goods in the first Brixton riot, lost practically nothing, because it had removed its window displays. The same hooded and masked men, and the same motor cycle riders, were seen then as were seen again yesterday evening. The incident was well contained by the police and passed over as riot a major riot.
Extraordinarily enough, there was a similar case in Chelsea and Kensington. I have here a leaflet, which was pushed through the door by the very respectable Kensington and Chelsea chamber of trade and commerce on 7 July, headed "Important notice to members", which said: 1447it has been brought to the notice of your Chamber that there is the possibility of a threat to premises in our area this week…Following our enquiries, it appears that these may be directed at the King's Road—World's End area, in particular.If hon. Members go to those areas, they will see that the shops are boarded up. In fact, nothing happened.
How does a chamber of commerce have that information if there is not some form of planning? How did Streatham chamber of commerce have correct information if someone somewhere is not indulging in forward planning to some extent? Streatham chamber of commerce believes that it is extreme Right-wing, rather than Left-wing, organisations that are stirring up most of the trouble in Brixton at the moment. I think that it is probably a bit of everyone, but I must tell the House that that is the belief of the Streatham chamber of commerce.
We must look to the police and to police intelligence forces to provide the answers. One cannot simply let it lie. This gives added importance to the organisation of "snatch squads"—I find that a horrible expression and prefer to call them "arrest squads"—because I believe that if some of the ringleaders were arrested and identified that would help to calm the situation.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there were rumours about possible trouble last weekend in all parts of London? The rumours were flying around everywhere, so it is not surprising that some proved correct and others did not.
§ Mr. Shelton
I understand that. But if one were organising and planning something, one might deliberately set out to create rumours in a number of different places. I am sure that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will agree with that.
There are, however, some clues as to who might be behind the trouble or inadvertently making the situation worse. In Southall, it was clearly the Right-wing skinheads. Where did they come from? Who paid for the buses that took them to the pub that was later burned down? Elsewhere, it is the Workers Revolutionary Party. I wonder to what extent it is pure coincidence that the first of their youth training centres happened to be in Brixton. A second, I believe, was in Toxteth—certainly it was in Liverpool—a third in Manchester, and another in Nottingham. Moreover, I understand that it is planned to extend them to 25 in all. Its 1981 manifesto refers to the struggle for workers' revolutionary government. I wonder to what extent that is pure coincidence.
Even Labour Members' colleagues outside the Chamber are not entirely immune from criticism. I exempt hon. Members from that, as I very much appreciated the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) today. I refer to the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton), who attacked a leaflet printed by the Labour Party Young Socialists and which appeared during or after the riots in Liverpool. I have a similar inflammatory and unpleasant leaflet published by the Labour Party Young Socialists, headed "Defend Brixton", which was published during or after the first Brixton riots.
I shall not weary the House by reading the leaflet, but it is a fairly savage attack on the police, with a call toDrop all charges. Disband the SPG. Democratic control of the policeand 1448An end to police repression".There is phrase after phrase of that type. The leaflet further states:The riot was spontaneous. It was sparked by provocative police action…Responsibility for what happened lies squarely on the shoulders of the police",and so on. Leaflets of that kind printed by a branch of the Labour Party can only, inadvertently or deliberately, increase pressure, tension and hostility between the police and the community and must indeed be damaging.
Secondly, I must refer to the duo of agitators currently plaguing parts of London. They seem to pop up wherever there is trouble. This can hardly be explained as the exuberance of youth, as it might be in the case of the Young Socialists. Both are important people in the Labour Party who hold responsible positions as a result of their Labour Party membership. I refer to Mr. Kenneth Livingstone, the leader of the GLC, and councillor Ted Knight, the leader of Lambeth council.
The House will be aware of their recent notoriety. I merely say that Mr. Livingstone happened to be addressing an Anti-Nazi League meeting at Brixton town hall during Friday's riot. Councillor Knight was holding a press conference in Railton Road yesterday morning and addressing the crowds. I was not present, but I understand that he was attacking the police, blaming them for the raid and what happened in the raid. I am not saying whether he was right or wrong. I am only saying that the words that he used can only have increased tension in the community.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland
I was there yesterday morning. Councillor Knight said that the action of the police and the way in which they raided premises and destroyed property in them was itself unwarranted. Indeed, the Home Secretary himself has today expressed grave concern about it. Is the hon. Gentleman implying guilt by association in some way in the case of Ken Livingstone's addressing the Anti-Nazi League in an area which then happened to have difficulty? Does he attribute no blame or responsibility for this to, for example, the National Front?
§ Mr. Shelton
First, I said that whether Councillor Knight was right or wrong, he should not have made the remarks that he did to a crowd of 400 or 500 youths, which developed into a riot in which 10 policemen were injured, one seriously. Those remarks must have contributed, however slightly, to what happened later in the evening. I contrast with that the remarks of Lord Scarman, who also visited the area and whose presence and remarks helped to cool the situation. I refer the hon. Gentleman, although I know that it is not his favourite reading, to today's editorial in the Daily Mail, which makes the same point. I was not present, but I cannot believe that it was helpful to have a press conference of that style with a crowd of 400 or 500 people who felt that they had a grievance anyway, and a riot indeed followed later that evening.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland
On a point of information, there were not 400 or 500 people at the time of the press conference. There were some 40 or 50 people around Councillor Knight when he was speaking. It is important to put it on record that he and others who were there, including my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and myself, were urging restraint in the community, despite what has been seen even by the Government Front Bench as provocative action.
§ Mr. Shelton
It does not surprise me at all that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend were urging restraint. The 1449 reports that I have had of the remarks of Councillor Knight, however, certainly do not imply that he was urging restraint on the crowd. I wish very much that people of that ilk could keep quiet just for a few months until the winter comes. If any Opposition Members have any influence with them, will they please quietly take them aside and ask them to shut up for a while? It would be a great boon to the community in London.
I welcome the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I disagree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). As a result of my right hon. Friend's common sense and determination, coupled with the growing awareness of all those associated with these wretched problems of the real issues involved and the courage of the long-suffering police, I believe that we are now witnessing the beginning of the end.
Mr. Eric S. Hefter (Liverpool, Walton)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) down some of his stranger paths. The events that we have recently witnessed are serious and a danger to democracy.
A short while ago, in Warrington, I attended a public meeting addressed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. During questions at the end of his speech, a young man said, "It now appears as if we shall get some money to start settling some of our problems". A shiver went down my spine, because it meant that Ministers have not sufficiently listened to elected representatives who for a long time have warned what would happen unless action was taken in the inner cities.
Some of our youth now believe that the only way to solve the problem is to throw petrol bombs. That is the most serious and dangerous thing that I have heard for a long time. For a number of years, Labour Members have stressed the importance of dealing with the inner city problem, particularly in areas such as Toxteth and Birmingham.
The Liverpool playwright, Alan Bleasdale, summed up what I feel about the situation in Liverpool when he said:But I'll tell you this much. I love this city and its people and I still don't want to live anywhere else. But like anyone else with some semblance of sensibilities, I've been waiting, with total foreboding, for this time to come … however much I may disagree with the results of this weekend, and while I refuse to condone anyone carrying a petrol bomb and a brick, we must look further that Toxteth and the reservations some of us may have about the policing of Merseyside. The causes lie elsewhere. And I believe that the major cause is a society, and the Government that represents that society, which is throwing out onto the streets like rubbish to be collected, more and more young people with little prospect of a future".
Apart from the looting aspects that came afterwards, what we saw originally was youth against society. Wally Brown, a community leader in Liverpool, who happens to be a coloured man, made the point that the police were picking up the bills for the failure of society. That means Ministers, myself and all of us, particularly those elected to the House of Commons and to local authorities, because we have not done enough. We have not looked at the problem properly and we have not acted properly.
I draw the attention of the House to an article written by Professor Fred Ridley of Liverpool university. He was chairman of the job creation programme in Merseyside and vice-chairman of the MSC's special programmes board for 1450 the area. This article appeared in Political Quarterly and part of it was reproduced in The Guardian on 24 January. He said:What is happening in Liverpool now has not been grasped by our masters in the South either. Knowing the facts, of course, is not enough. The politicians and civil servants who come up for the day to attend meetings or even to 'meet the people' return without any real understanding of life by the Mersey".
I hope that when the Secretary of State for the Environment and other Ministers go to Liverpool they will not just meet the people, go back and produce another report. We have had many reports on the problems on Merseyside, particularly in the inner city. We know what is wrong, but we have failed to take action to deal with the problems. Incidentally, the article to which I have just referred is extremely interesting and the Government would do well to study it.
It gives figures about educational achievement. It states:Half of those registered as unemployed with the Liverpool Careers Offices in October 1979 had no qualifications whatsoever and a further 20 per cent. only had CSE at grades 4/5—thus 70 per cent. did not reach the level required for craft apprenticeships".Is not that an absolute failure? Why have we also allowed 40 per cent. of our children not to go to school, to play truant in certain areas of our cities? I was amazed when I saw that figure.
It is perfectly true that there are two modern housing estates on either side of Parliament Street, where the riot took place on the first night:. However, if one walks into North Hill Street, one sees piles of rubbish and houses that have been knocked down. What sort of environment is that for young people to grow up in?
In Lodge Lane, many of the shops have been boarded up for years and left derelict. They have not merely been boarded up because of the riots. There is an atmosphere of total dereliction. What do we expect when youngsters with no opportunities for work, whose fathers have been out of work for two or three years, live in that sort of environment? We hope that they will not throw petrol bombs, but the frustration and violence is understandable.
In many respects, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) has been a friend of mine for many years, even though we have disagreed on many political issues. Nevertheless, we have always worked reasonably well together. He made the interesting point that bad relationships had developed between some pace and the local community. Unfortunately, that has been true for quite some time. Incidentally, it has at times been stirred up. For example, in the constituency of the hen. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton), a Right-wing organisation and others have been in operation for some time. There is no doubt that such stirring up has been going on. That must also be dealt with.
I should like the police to come again under the control of a police committee.—[Interruption.] I know that some hon. Members do not like that, but it is important. Big is not always beautiful, or best. When local authorities had greater control over the police, the situation was much better. There has been a trend in the opposite direction. Some chief constables have argued for a type of national police force. Once that is accepted, there will Ix paramilitary units and so on. That is not the direction to take.
The police must have proper protection. It is clear from what happened to the police in Liverpool that they did not 1451 have proper protection. They need it. However, there is no need to go a stage further and to allow the argument for proper protection to develop into the beginnings of a repressive police force. That path ends in concentration camps. The very idea of putting people into ex-Army camps sends a shudder down my spine. The mention of "camps" is not something that I like. We should not take that direction.
I shall not make a long speech. The Liverpool Labour group produced a document containing 16 proposals which it hoped would be carried by Liverpool city council. Most of the proposals that deal with the problems could well be accepted. When the Secretary of State goes to Liverpool I hope that he will look at them carefully. I understand that they were not carried by the city council but they could help to solve the problem.
On a minor scale, there have been difficulties and racial tensions in Liverpool 8. It is no good denying that. They have not been helped by the type of speech that has been made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). The right hon. Gentleman cannot understand why some of us get very upset and angry with him. I shall explain why I get angry and I shall do so as nicely as possible.
I have black relatives who lived in Liverpool 8. They have been members of my family for years. One of my relatives married a Nigerian and now lives in Nigeria. She has not written to me to say that she is unhappy, but I get the impression that she would rather live in England where she was born, because she is not a Nigerian but a Liverpudlian and a Scouser. It is suggested that blacks should be sent home, but where are they to go home to? My relatives would go home to Liverpool 8.
The right hon. Gentleman might not understand, but I feel somewhat emotional when I think about those whom I know and love, who are a part of my family. I do not like the implication that because somebody has a different colour, they will be responsible for all sorts of problems. Most of another part of my family are Liverpudlian, and happen to be of Irish descent. If the argument is taken to its logical conclusion, the next step will be to suggest sending them home. However, they have been here for generations. It is time that such nonsense was stopped.
The right hon. Gentleman's speech did not make one serious contribution towards helping the problem. Indeed, it made it much worse. It is a good idea that the Secretary of State should come to Liverpool, but I hope that the visit will be followed by positive action. The first thing to be done is to get those youngsters into employment. We must get them off the streets and give them jobs and educational opportunities. We must give them an opportunity to live in decent homes, so that they feel part of the community and not alienated from it. That is the direction that we must take.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
The world has been amazed and the nation shocked by the sudden upsurge of violence in so many of our cities with anti-police rioting and widespread looting and vandalism. I wholeheartedly agree with the point made my the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), and by many other hon. Members, that, with rare exceptions, we have not, in recent weeks, seen race riots in any sense of the word.
1452 There have been many elements at work, but the theme has not been one of community against community. I agree also with what has been said about the dangerous and insidious influence of television and the mass media. At the weekend I spoke in Moss Side to many black mothers and to mothers of Irish origin. Moss Side borders on my constituency. The Irish mothers in particular had no doubt that there was a direct link between the way in which, week after week television pumped out reports on petrol bombs being thrown at the police and on other acts of violence in Northern Ireland and the events in the past few weeks on this side of the water. I hope that those responsible for the media's policy will look again at their guidelines for covering such acts of violence within the British Isles.
Citizens and hundreds of police have been injured. Property has been stolen and vandalised. Family businesses, which have taken a generation or more to build up, have been burnt to the ground in an hour or two. Hundreds of jobs have been destroyed. The police have done their job with the courage and dedication that we have come to expect of them. The nation owes them a debt of gratitude. However, if they are to do their job, they must be given the right orders, the right training, the right equipment and, above all, the right personal protective equipment.
No doubt many of the injuries sustained by the police force in Liverpool, which included many policemen who have been drafted in from the Greater Manchester area, arose because the police were taken by surprise. They were wholly unprepared in terms of equipment and tactics and adopted defensive tactics that made them static targets for those throwing bricks, bottles, iron bars and petrol bombs. By the time that the rioting flared up in Manchester, specifically in Moss Side—which is immediately adjacent to my constituency—the police had been forewarned and forearmed in terms of their tactics. I much applaud their far more aggressive tactics, They went in during the riot with snatch squads to arrest those responsible for the violence. As a result, the violence was brought under control with the minimum number of police casualties. We should all welcome that.
It is now of the first importance that the courts should impose exemplary sentences on those who have been responsible for the violence and looting, and above all on those who have sought to organise and orchestrate such violence. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Miss Wright) said, it does no good to have people dashing around the country throwing lighted matches about. That does not create a conflagration unless, as she put it, the tinder is dry. It must be our duty to recognise just how dry the tinder is in so many inner city areas. No amount of organisation could, of itself, have produced the conflagrations that we have seen. Now that order has been restored, priority must be given to reconciliation. If there is a common strand linking Southall, Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side, it is that all of them are ghettoes of deprivation.
The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) eloquently referred to the glitter and the gutter. That problem confronts us as a nation today. There is poor housing, poor education, poor prospects for jobs—in short, no hope. Many of those to whom I have spoken in Moss Side have not had jobs since the mid-1970s. Some have never had jobs since they left school. One might add, following the point made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton 1453 (Mr. Heffer), that some have left school with such poor qualifications and such poor capacities that even if they lived in a boom economy they would find it difficult to command a job.
These people have become the forgotten ones of Britain. While 90 per cent. of the nation have good jobs, a reasonable education and a decent home and—although they do not want to be reminded of it—a living standard that is higher than any that this country has known in living memory, 10 per cent. are left in these islands of deprivation among a great sea of general prosperity. The problems of deprivation and of the two nations that are being created in our society must be addressed. It will take many years to deal with them.
In the few minutes that remain I shall confine myself to three points that require immediate attention. The first is that now that law and order have been re-established in most of the areas affected, the next priority must be to restore trust. Aggressive police tactics must cease the second that they are not absolutely necessary. My right hon. Friend Me Home Secretary is correct to say that the police will be provided with all the necessary equipment to fulfil their task, on which the whole fabric of democracy depends. He is also correct to insist that water cannon, plastic bullets and other weapons will be used only as weapons of last resort, because it will reflect the failure of our society if we have to turn to those means.
As a reporter, I have been on the receiving end of CS gas and police baton charges. I am all too aware of the sense of hatred and alienation that excessive police force can produce. I should hate to see that happen in this country.
As several hon. Members have said, there must be a return to the policeman on the beat, but not just to any old policeman on any old beat, which is what has happened in recent years. That is what the policeman on the beat has come to mean today. What I understand by the policeman on the beat is the same policeman on the same beat. It is his beat. He gets to know the local people. He is welcomed into the shops and the different clubs to have a cup of tea. He knows the children and the problems in the area. He has an understanding and a sense of belonging to the community. If he does not, all too often, and all too easily, he can be an outsider. He can feel insecure and, as a result, his feeling of insecurity can lead to the brushing-off in a most offhand manner of innocent youngsters who undoubtedly feel resentment at even small slights when there is no justification for them. I saw an example of that at the weekend.
I am behind the police and the Home Secretary when they have to use all necessary force to deal with riots, but that must be the exception to the rule. The rule must be community and friendly policing. That is such a hallmark of our society that it would be a tragedy if it were ever lost.
There can be no doubt that there are vicious and malignant influences at work in our society today. Some are the work, as my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton:, mentioned, of the extreme Left and revolutionary groups, which seek to create hostility and promote violence against the police, but some are clearly the work of Fascist organisations, which seek to incite racial hatred and violence against the immigrant community.
I represent a constituency with more than 10,000 immigrants. I am gravely concerned about the sort of literature that is being put about. Last week, in the 1454 evening, after the rioting in the Moss Side shopping area, a document was picked up within a mile of the riots by one of my constituents, who accepted it at its face value. It purports to be a leaflet advocating black power. It uses the most vicious and emotive language:The battle for Black Liberation continues in towns and cities all over Britain … Like lambs to the slaughter, they are the white sheep, and we are the black wolves.It says thatwhites will be induced to enter the gates of the racial slaughterhouse to become an extinct species to move aside for the ultimate Conquerors—the Black People of Britain.
That document had on it the name and telephone number of an individual. I took steps to contact that person, and she turns out to be one of my constituents. She is the secretary of the Manchester Jamaica Society, a nurse at Withington hospital and a magistrate. The document has been put about by some Fascist organisation to discredit decent upstanding members of the community, prominent within the immigrant community, deliberately to provoke and incite racial hatred.
I have passed that document to the Home Secretary. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that everything is done to trace those responsible and to see that they are brought to justice. I hope that exemplary sentences will be passed on them.
We must face the gravity of the problems that we have created in our society over the past quarter of a century. We would be deluding ourselves if we failed to recognise the gravity of the problems that we have invented—they did not exist before—by the folly and misjudgment with which the House and successive Governments of every persuasion have failed to deal effectively—the problems of mass immigration.
We must recognise that, whatever our view, by no stretch of the imagination can we resolve the problems of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean by a policy of migration to Britain. Indeed, no policy could be more calculated to destroy the genuinely good relations that exist in Britain today, despite the recent riots, than by continuing to allow the introduction of new generations of potentially deprived people into Britain at the rate, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, equivalent to the population of Grantham each year.
I believe that we can resolve the problems and reconcile the tensions that exist in our society, but only if we show a determination to uplift the deprived and the disadvantaged, black as well as white, to an equal status and, at the same time, set our face against adding further to the problem. Only then can we give hope to those who have none today and achieve a just and harmonious society for our children and grandchildren to inherit.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
I wondered how long we would have to wait for immigration to raise its head from the Government Benches. Perhaps I do the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) a disservice, but the last part of his speech pandered to the very element that he condemned earlier. That is the type of insidious rubbish and nonsense that the National Front and other Fascist organisations express.
The hon. Gentleman claims to represent a constituency with a high immigrant population. I assume that he means Asians. He must be aware, if only from the cases with which he has to deal as a Member of Parliament, that migrating to Britain, if one happens to be an Asian wishing 1455 to come from East Africa, India or Pakistan, is extremely difficult. It was difficult under the previous Labour Government. It is even more difficult now. To pander to the racialist elements, which the hon. Gentleman condemned earlier, by making passing reference to migration does a great disservice to his arguments.
Only one person in the House derives any satisfaction from the events of the past two weeks and today's debate. It will come as no surprise to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to hear that I think that he derives satisfaction from the events of the past few weeks. He is a highly intelligent man. Therefore, I am surprised at the way in which he is prepared to misconstrue arguments and perhaps deliberately to use false premises to fulfil the prophecy that he made 10 or 11 years ago. That does a great disservice to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House.
The right hon. Gentleman made more than a passing reference to the immigrant populations in our large cities. He referred to the fertility rates of —
§ Mr. Marshall
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will listen to what I have to say. The right hon. Gentleman said that the immigrant communities in our inner cities tend to breed at a faster rate than the indigenous population.
§ Mr. Marshall
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that, if the rates continued into the foreseeable future, one could tell what the population would be in generations to come. The right hon. Gentleman has obviously failed to take account of the point that my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) made on a number of occasions when we were discussing the British Nationality Bill in Committee. My hon. Friend said that if the right hon. Gentleman does the calculations—and I should be surprised if he has actually done them—and takes into account the age composition of the immigrant community, he will see that the future that he points to as an actuality in generations to come is fallacious. The right hon. Gentleman also fails to take into account the death rate in the immigrant community. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is the only Member who takes any satisfaction from the events of the past few weeks and today's debate.
It certainly gave me no satisfaction to witness the events of the past few weeks. It gave me no satisfaction to witness what happened in Leicester over the weekend. Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights were nights of violence. Petrol bombs and bricks were thrown, shop windows were broken, cars were turned over and set on fire. A large number of arrests took place and, unfortunately, a number of policemen were injured.
On Tuesday last week, when the question was asked "Where will it be next?", the right hon. Gentleman in a soft voice said "Leicester."
§ Mr. Marshall
I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it was not a race riot. It was not blacks versus whites. 1456 It was not a queston of the white community feeling threatened and challenged by the immigrant community and taking up arms against the immigrant community, as the right hon.Gentleman said would happen unless steps were taken to reduce the immigrant communities in the inner cities.
There might have been an element of copying events in other cities. The similarity between the inner city of Leicester and places such as Brixton and Toxteth is so close that the problems that we experienced in the Highfield area of Leicester have causes in common with those of Brixton and Toxteth. It is an inner city area with a high immigrant population and a high youth unemployment rate. Allegations of police harassment have been made, particularly by youngsters.
Despite the three-line Whip in the House last night, the intervention of my friendly neighbourhood Whip enabled me to attend a meeting in my constituency organised by the Leicester Council for Community Relations. The council called the meeting at short notice so that young people in the area could give their views on the situation and say what they thought had caused the problems in Leicester.
Between 100 and 150 young people attended the meeting, and there was considerable criticism of the police. Despite the efforts of the police to bridge the gap between them and the ethnic groups, there was criticism of the way that they have allegedly harassed black and white members of the population.
The violence in Leicester at the weekend involved the mob—black, brown and white—united against the police. Unfortunately, the violence was directed against the police. I condemn violence. We cannot condone the sort of violence that we have seen in Leicester and other cities.
If the police are to be subjected to such attacks they must have adequate protection—helmets, fire-proof clothing and riot shields. I understand that the shields currently in use cannot resist fire. If I have been misinformed about that, the newspapers in which I read that claim have also been misinformed.
It would be a grave error to see the events of the past few days solely in terms of law and order. In those circumstances, it would be too easy to do only two things—to meet violence on the streets with even greater legalised violence and to urge, as did the hon. Member for Stretford, that the courts should hand out exemplary sentences.
It would be wrong for society to assuage its fears by wreaking vengeance in hastily convened courts handing out stiffer sentences. Offenders must be brought to justice. But if we do that in the heat of the moment and believe that we must hand out exemplary sentences, we shall find that, when those people are released from prisons or detention centres, they will go back to the inner city areas and breed even more distrust of the police and the authorities. We must be fair, we must seek justice, but we must not think that we have to make an example of individuals.
The police are able to operate in this country only by the consent of the population. We have to be extremely careful how we define that consent. I guess that in Great Britain one would find a majority consenting to the use of water cannon, CS gas and plastic bullets. The public have been frightened by what they have seen on television and 1457 in newspapers over the past 10 days. However, the vast majority of our people would not expect to see those weapons used in their localities.
If it became generally accepted that such weapons should be used, we would see two types of police—the friendly neighbourhood copper in the suburbs and the paramilitary police in the inner cities. If that happened, it would lead to explosive situations which would inevitably spill over periodically into open violence against the police. Generalised consent is meaningless. We should be aiming for the consent of the local community that is policed. That means that we must have increased community policing, as has been urged by many hon. Members.
We must remember that community policing is not just a daytime task. The community copper is on the streets from 9 am to 6 pm or 7 pm, when he goes off duty and the local police station is closed. If trouble starts in the neighbourhood after that time, strangers are sent into the area and they have no knowledge of the district or its particular sensitivities. If we are to have community policing, it must be on a 24-hour basis.
This is not just a question of law and order and of trying to resolve the problems that the country faces in that way. If we simply looked at it on that level, we would be treating the symptoms rather than the causes of the problem. The Government must recognise that there is an increasing feeling of hoplessness and alienation among young people generally, but more particularly in our inner city areas. They feel that society has rejected them and is giving them no hope of a job and that they are condemned to live in the worst social environment.
I cannot help feeling that the Government are reaping the whirlwind of their divisive economic policies, which are piling strain upon strain upon the weakest parts of our society. Unless they realise that and are prepared to change their economic policies, violence will become endemic in our society. If it does become endemic and if the Government persist with their economic policies, which are condemning a whole generation of young people to unemployment and hopelessness, the Conservative Party, which claims to cherish our democratic institutions above any other party, could be sowing the seeds of destruction for those democratic institutions. No Government could do a greater disservice than that to the country.
§ Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)
The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) and I are near neighbours. Our constituencies are approximately 25 to 30 minutes apart by road, and we have similar incidents and experiences of the last few weeks to report.
I should like to refer to the recent history of Coventry's disorder, as we now call it, in the hope that what we learnt perhaps two and three months ago may be of some assistance to the House in defining what we must do in the immediate aftermath of the latest bout of rioting in our urban areas.
I begin by postulating that we in this Chamber are fortunate, because we all have one thing in common. We are without exception, I think, all over the age of 30. I should like to refer to a generation which does not share many of the advantages that we all shared in our youth and in our maturity. It is not my intention to offer homilies on values or to offer value judgments. I wish to refer to the 1458 speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir Hugh Fraser), who put much emphasis on values.
I should like to think that every hon. Member in this Chamber had three advantages. First, there is the advantage, presumably, of a stable home life and the loyalties that that gave us within the family unit. Secondly, good schooling equipped us all with at least the basic skills, whether for the highest of occupations and academia or for the more artisan areas. Thirdly, most of us may be the last generation for whom the Church had a significant influence on large numbers of our age group. It may be that the 30-year-olds of today were the last generation to consider Sunday school part of their way of life in their childhood.
I warned the House that. I did not wish my speech to develop into a number of homilies on the basic decencies of our society, but let us think now of the 16-year-olds who have been on the streets over the past two or three weekends. A very large number of them did not have, and do not have, the sort of family life that we had. Many of them belong to what we now call one-parent families. Many of them are latchkey children. Whether they are Liverpudlians or Coventrians, they are probably the children who came home to find a 50p piece from mother and a message telling them to get a bag of chips.
Similarly, that generation is the generation of the neighbourhood comprehensive. I speak as one who served for six years on the second largest education authority in the country, and an urban one at that, and as one who represented a multiracial ward. In their zeal for reform, two or three previous Governments may have created ghetto schools. They may have locked the proletariat—if I may use that word—into certain parts of our cities. They may have preserved them, as I have heard said in education committee meetings elsewhere, from the contamination of middle-class ideas, and in so doing they may have done them a great disservice.
I mentioned the Church. I suppose that we could solve all our problems if we could wave a magic wand and go back to the days when everyone attended church. At present the Church seems to be providing discos and table tennis rather than values or any form of self-discipline. So all that is left to the large numbers of 16-year-olds on the streets over the past two or three weekends has been a loyalty to the local gang, to their own generation, and to what I can only call the herd instinct. They certainly have their demands. They have grown up with their desires for consumer goods. Unfortunately, they have not been equipped with the means to satisfy those demands.
The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) drew perhaps a tongue-in-cheek parallel with some of the symptoms of the French revolution. The French revolutionaries were most interested in securing bread; they were asked whether they could not eat cake, but they wanted bread. They are surely strange revolutionaries on our streets today whose first motivation is to steal the products of a capitalist consumer society. I do not see those people as the traditional vanguards of the proletariat. I see them as people who have a liking for television sots and rather less of a need for bread.
For the extreme Left and the extreme Right, these have been heady days. They have great hopes that the present unfortunate circumstances can be used to their advantage. I ask hon. Members to cast their minds back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. In those days one of my 1459 occupations was to go to Digbeth civic hall in Birmingham, which some hon. Members may have seen in a bad light two or three years ago. I used to go to the open meetings of the Workers' Revolutionary Party, the Socialist Workers Party and the International Marxist Group. These parties have now spawned splinter groups and reorganised, as the extreme Left always does, under new banners and new titles.
§ Mr. Butcher
I did spend some Saturday afternoons there. I was at a public meeting held in the aftermath of a stabbing at Dale End in Birmingham about seven years ago. A young policeman had been stabbed to death, and at the public meeting that followed there was an attempt to encourage the predominantly black audience to believe that only black people had been hauled off the buses going out to Handsworth on the night that the policeman was stabbed, because they were black. The fact is that all the witnesses had seen a West Indian boy stab that policeman.
If you could have seen the IMG at work that night seven years ago, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would have seen many of the methods that have been employed almost constantly since then. The reason was simple. After the swinging sixties and the early seventies, the extreme Left simply ran out of aggrieved minorities to work on. New ones had to be found. The targets were the racial minorities. Their grievances could be identified in the most vivid way possible and their social awareness could be identified by the colour of their skin, and played upon.
The tactics, in those early days, were clear. Unfortunately, in Coventry, two Asians have been murdered by whites. In the aftermath of those murders, the same tactics were employed by the successors of the extreme Left-wing groups. The agitators came out of the woodwork and distributed the kind of literature that I have in my possession but which I do not have time to read into the debate. This literature represents something like six weeks' poison that has been dropped around the streets of Coventry. None of us is safe from its accusations. We should be on our guard against those who come from outside our communities.
I have argued on a previous occasion that we should identify, isolate and ostracise these people. I do not claim that some well-organised group has been fomenting rebellion in some concerted and sequential fashion in our cities. I say only that those to whom I refer have already done their work. They have already used the language of deprivation and race to make some recent activity seem inevitable and understandable. Solzhenitsyn once said:The dogma can always excuse the evil. It can rationalise it.
Behind all this, there is encouragement. I should like to record my thanks to two excellent policemen, Chief Superintendent Cubby, of the Coventry force, and Sir Philip Knights, of the West Midlands force. They are sophisticated and clever policemen. They have made large numbers of what they call good arrests in the aftermath of the last two weekends.
I should like to put two suggestions to the Minister. I believe that there is an overwhelming desire in the House for a return to what some have called community policing and what I would prefer to call traditional policing. To achieve that, one needs numbers of moving uniforms on 1460 the streets. One needs large numbers. One needs them to get through this summer, and hopefully this summer only, so that the summer of 1981 may be recorded as an ephemeral phenomenon—something to be put on the same plane as the days of the mods and rockers and the seaside riots, as opposed to a breakthrough, the time when politics was changed irrevocably in our country. We need the numbers now. We need special measures now. That may involve funding.
My two suggestions appertain to the better use of special constables and to the examination of a selective call-up system for those who have retired from the force in the last 15 years. The specials are trained and can take a background role in order to release front-line policemen in greater numbers. I hope that arrangements can be made to fund the special constables as if they were full-time policemen, but only to get us through this summer—say, to 15 September.
Many policemen have left the force in the last 10 years. Some are still under 55. Would it not be possible to compensate the employers of retired policemen, who have been checked as desirable to become temporary members of the force by their local superintendent, so that they can serve again this summer in the police force? This would also be a means of releasing full-time professional policemen for front-line duties.
It is possible that the expression "front line" is too evocative. I mean community policing duties operated in a civilised manner. If one thing emerges, I hope that it will be that those policemen who have experienced a harassing time will at least be able to obtain a good night's sleep, should this harassment continue, if there are those in the background who can take over the more mundane roles. Every chief constable knows that there is nothing worse than a tired, overworked policeman in a tense and difficult situation.
I hope that my two proposals—albeit minor, they are put forward in a helpful way—will be considered by my hon. Friend. I hope that we shall regard this debate as the moment when we all decided to calm down and decided that it was possible to get back to traditional policing. I am sure that we should all see it as a massive defeat for our way of life if CS gas ever became part of the scene and if water cannon were deployed in our streets. We would view it with contempt if we saw it on our television screens happening in France or South America. If we see it here, I fear that yet another breakthrough will have been made in the watershed of our perception of law and order.
§ Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)
The House has arrived at a moment of truth when at last we are giving recognition to a very serious problem. However, it is fair to say that Opposition Members have made prophecies over many months about the growing unrest and trouble developing up and down the country.
In recent months, several of us have had experience of public marches and protests. They have been made up of more people than I ever dreamt possible. I took part in the unemployment march in Liverpool. It took my breath away. It practically seized up the city. There have been marches in Glasgow, London and Cardiff—all of them demonstrating the wrongs in our society. So obviously I say that unemployment and its accompanying poverty is 1461 one of the most serious factors facing us today. The underprivileged look at the privileged and see what the rich are getting and what they themselves are missing.
I was most shocked last week by the eruption of extreme violence that we all witnessed. I am sure that none of us really anticipated the viciousness and ferocity that occurred once we had the explosion.
But Opposition Members have been pleading with the Government to listen to opinions. Instead, we have seen the problems compounded and continued. It must be said, too, that the problems are not black versus white. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have helped to put that one to rest.
The eruption has occurred. There has been some genuine anger, and—let us be honest for once—some of it has been justifiable. But that is not to justify the violence. It is to justify the resentment felt by people who are losing their dignity and self-respect. They want jobs, and they are entitled to them.
When there are riots, of course, we are bound to get the mindless ones, the villains and the criminals following in their wake. I remember when we used to have foggy nights in Manchester. Those were the nights when burglars came out and made hay. There were villains about in those days, too. The circumstances encouraged the villains in those days. The circumstances of today encourage hoodlums to join rioters, and they bring great misery and devastation to whole communities.
The Home Secretary made a statement today about giving additional means of protection to the police, and I am sure that all hon. Members will support measures of that kind. The police have a very arduous job, and there cannot be many people who have not witnessed their extreme difficulties.
It is right, of course, to provide for the protection of the police so that they can do their job. However, in doing that, I add a word of caution to the Home Secretary, because I am extremely anxious about the use of CS gas. The use of CS gas may be attractive for the purpose of quelling rioters, but it is possible that law-abiding people living in adjacent properties will suffer in their own homes. Therefore, I hope that we shall exercise extreme caution in the use of CS gas because of the consequences to other people.
My constituency suffered from some of the effects of sheer villainy in the wake of the riots and unrest. The Moston library, which is in the Manchester inner city area, was set on fire with a petrol bomb, and it is estimated that about £80,000 worth of damage was done. About 8,000 books were damaged. It was a mindless act. An amenity, which had been provided through the inner city programme, was devastated. Last weekend I visited the staff, and I pay tribute to them.
On numerous occasions we have debated Manchester's direct works organisation. We were fortunate because it immediately came into action in an attempt to replenish and repair some of the damage and misery. The direct works organisation has been a valuable aid to the city. I hope that the culprits in that petrol bomb attack will be apprehended. I might add that there are virtually no coloureds in the community. It is a wholly white residential area. Yet it suffered in the same way as other areas that have been mentioned today.
Part of my constituency is within the boundary of the Manchester inner city area. I remind the Government that, as soon as they came to power, they said that they would 1462 not fulfil the commitments made under previous policies. Hardly anything has been done during the past two years. Indeed, the assisted area status was cancelled, with all the consequences for jobs that that entailed. About three or four weeks ago in the House I pointed out the folly of having enterprise zones several miles from Manchester's inner city programme. I said that aid was being pumped into the enterprise zones, but that aid could have gone to the inner city. However, for some strange reason the Government decided that the enterprise zones should have preference.
I shall illustrate the scale of the problems in Manchester's inner city. Some 63 per cent of the overcrowded houses are within this area; 89 per cent. of its dwellings lack one or more basic amenities; 40 per cent. of the population are over 60 years of age; 59 per cent. of the single-parent families are there; and 55 per cent. of the unemployed are within the inner city area of Manchester.
Two hon. Members, one from each side, referred to the low standards of education. I thought that was ironic, for some time last year, in an Adjournment debate, I raised with the Minister the question of the closure of a centre for the disadvantaged within the Manchester inner city area. The staff in that centre were trying to improve the standards about which hon. Members have complained. A mere £200,000 could have kept it going. But, because of the Government's determination to make cuts, it had to be one of the casualties.
The Secretary of State for the Environment may be tempted to justify present policies. I have heard him on numerous occasions say that he is pouring money into the inner city areas and that often the help is not utilised. Before I was elected to this House I had considerable experience of the inner city programme in Manchester. I can tell the Minister that, in regard to land and industrial development, there was more activity last year in Manchester's inner city than anywhere else in Greater Manchester. Eight building sites were released for the building of private houses for sale. One of them was in the Moss side area. It is not true to say that there is any desire to form ghettoes, with only a certain class or social group within them.
Manchester is trying to cope with a great range of problems, and it is reasonable to expect more aid from the Government, especially when we think of the debts which have been incurred in ridding the area of slums. Yet, this year the Secretary of State has made further savage cuts in the rate support grant. Manchester was given nearly £9 million less for the very areas with which we are concerned tonight. Obviously, those cuts will have consequences.
Yesterday morning I flew back to Manchester with come colleagues to attend a high-powered meeting with interested groups to discuss the problems arising from the recent disturbances. There were not only politicians, but clergymen, youth workers, social workers and representatives of ethnic minority groups. We had a most successful discussion. They all said that they supported law and order but that it had to be remembered that citizens had rights, too, and were entitled to their dignity. It was sad to listen to some of the remarks by minority groups in Manchester—people who no longer lodge complaints with the police because they have no confidence in them.
1463 It would be unfortunate if that trend were to be repeated throughout the country. I am not attacking the police; I am simply stating the problem. If we recognise the problem, perhaps we can solve it.
The view has been expressed that all we have to do is to get over this summer and everything will be all right. I am not so optimistic. What happens in the future may depend on the actions and the determination of the House. Only by being positive and showing that we intend to take immediate action will we be able to hope that next year things may be better.
At the meeting to which I referred, some of the minority groups paid tribute to community contact by the police. They said that it was a great success. However, they said that when other police forces were brought into the area, the relationships that had been built up by community contact collapsed immediately. I accept that community contact can be extremely successful. I merely say that efforts must be made to retain those who are involved in the exercise so that confidence and trust may be built up and maintained. As we have all said, we must build our society on trust.
The Prime Minister often talks about people's greed. My right hon. and hon. Friends have despaired at some of the Government's actions. If there are those of good will on the Government Benches, I should like to see some more positive indications. I should like to see fewer tax handouts to the rich. The looting of national assets must stop. We must stop clobbering the poor. We must give more help to the low earners. Those who have mortgages have certainly suffered since the Government took office. Housing, which is one of the most serious problems, often leads to terrible financial burdens.
When people become desperate, they feel that they have no hope. When they are without hope, they feel that they have nothing to lose. That is the consequence of some of the outbreaks of lawlessness that we have witnessed. We must not say "We shall get this right by cracking a few skulls." That sort of action will provide no solution; it will produce only difficulties for the future.
The Government constantly talk about law and order, but they have not been very successful in achieving it. Since they have been in office, there has been nothing to report but disaster. There is more and more confrontation. This will be the Government's last chance. If they wish to overcome the crisis, they will have to produce some real money and provide positive assistance.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
The hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) said that all of us in the Chamber are over 30 years of age. That is true. Another feature that unites us all is that we all have a job. That is one of the themes to which I shall return.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) spoke of the number of consultants who have been coming into Liverpool over the years. He said that when Ministers come to Liverpool they should understand that the city needs not more reports or papers from consultants but positive assistance. That is a remark that I endorse wholeheartedly. The greatest growth industry on Merseyside over the past few years—perhaps the only one—has been that of consultants coming to the city to 1464 feed off its problems without offering it any real hope for the future. It is Government action and action by all hon. Members that is required.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the blame that we must all bear. He struck a true chord. He referred to the initiatives that the council is taking. The council is right to embark on a major consultation exercise by asking those in the area what they want before trying to put right the damage and destruction that has been caused in Liverpool over recent weeks.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) talked about self-help and neighbourhood councils. I agree with him. I hope that he will persuade some of his Liverpool colleagues that the establishment of directly elected neighbourhood councils will be one way of tackling some of the problem of alienation in the community. However, I repudiate what he said about the gangs which he claimed were being established in some of the centres in the Upper Parliament Street area, an area which I represent in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw).
That area has a large number of community centres, but they are not all the breeding grounds for the terrorist groups and gangs which the hon. Member for Wavertree described. He mentioned the Harding centre in my constituency which provides many activities for local people, whatever colour or class they may be. Many people use that centre to great advantage, as do people using the Pakistan centre. It must be said that the Afro-Asian-Caribbean council in Liverpool has tried to bring together the different rival groups so that they can work with one another. Therefore, it is not fair to say that those centres are being used purely so that young people can go on a rampage of looting and rioting or to establish gangs which are in conflict with one another.
§ Mr. Steen
I apologise for missing the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech. It has been suggested that it would be better to use all the public money which has been pumped into the separate units in one neighbourhood community centre, which would be managed by all the separate groups, and where they would have their separate identity. If we want to develop a multi-racial society, we must not separate groups from one another.
§ Mr. Alton
That is precisely what is happening in Liverpool. Many groups are coming together to try to work in the interests of that community. I said before the hon. Member came into the Chamber that the establishment of directly elected neighbourhood councils and the corporate management to which he and the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) referred is the way to proceed.
We cannot escape the fact that money will be required. I hope that the Minister will deal with this point. Whilst I am not in favour of simply throwing money at problems, it is imperative that money is provided by central Government towards the cost of rebuilding many of the businesses which have been decimated during the riots. To expect the hard-pressed ratepayers of Liverpool to bear the burden of the Riot (Damages) Act is expecting too much in a city which has suffered from reductions in its rate support grant and in its aid from the central Exchequer.
The one common line of agreement and consent which has run through the whole debate in looking at the disturbances which have swept the country over the past few weeks is that none of those things has been attributable 1465 to one cause. We cannot link what may appear to have been a racially inspired disturbance in one area to disturbances in other areas where race is not a factor, particularly in the case of the riots in Liverpool, which is a city prized for its racial tolerance and successful integration and assimilation of ethnic communities. Therefore, I must repudiate what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said earlier. His self-fulfilling prophecies over the years have not made any contribution to bringing about integration or the creation of a multi-racial society, which is something which I believe in.
Race is not the cause, nor, taken separately, are unemployment, inadequate housing or bad police relations with the public. Taken together, however, those issues provide the ingredients necessary for the conflagrations which have occurred throughout Britain. They are also weapons in the hands of those whose only aim is to destroy and disrupt. The House must take notice of the intrinsic roles which extreme Left-wing as well as Right-wing groups have been playing in fomenting the disturbances. They have been using the problems of race, unemployment, inadequate housing and poor police relations with the community as the fuel to feed their fire.
Liverpool boasts a multi-racial society which has demonstrated a remarkable tolerance towards the assimilation of different ethnic groups into its community structure, yet it is no secret that Liverpool is considered one of the most depressed urban areas in Europe and that 40 per cent. of the population are unemployed in central Liverpool, while for young blacks the figure is over 50 per cent. While unemployment doubled for white persons between 1973 and 1977, it quadrupled for the black population. At the Leece Street employment office in central Liverpool, 18,000 people are registered as unemployed—one-third of the number for the whole city. The House must set a target of reducing by at least 10,000 the number registered at that office.
As I have said, no one factor alone can be blamed, but alienation of the black community and passage of legislation such as the British Nationality Bill has not helped to bring black and white together. We must also include overcrowding, poor housing conditions and houses that lack basic amenities. Only last week a Bill was printed that I introduced called the Minimum Housing Standards Bill, which seeks to introduce standards that today should be an accepted right in Britain. People should have running hot water, inside toilets and a bathroom. Hundreds of thousands of construction workers are standing idle in the dole queues, so how can we justify leaving over 1 million people rotting in such conditions, when we have the means to improve the quality of their lives?
There is an even bigger problem—the paranoic hatred of the community towards some police officers in Liverpool, the cause of which can partly be attributed to police methods, such as the over-use of stop and search and the "sus" laws to detain innocent persons. It can also be attributed partly to the fact that there are no longer sufficient policemen on the beat, as so many hon. Members have pointed out. As the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) said, many policemen travel around at night in panda cars and jeeps and become alienated from the local community.
It is no coincidence that virtually at the centre of the conflagration, on the borders of Edge Hill and Toxteth, there used to be a neighbourhood community police station 1466 at Kingsley Road, and there was another one just down the road in Lawrence Road. It is nonsense to spend £12 million building a new police headquarters in the centre of Liverpool, where nobody lives, and to close down neighbourhood police stations—it is said, for economic reasons—in areas where people live and where there are many tensions. I hope that the chief constable and the police committee will reconsider the strategy.
The Merseyside chief constable faces a major challenge in restoring confidence in the police. He must earn the respect of the whole community. If he is unwilling to do that, I am afraid that he must go. It will be a difficult task, especially when chief constables are imposed on a community instead of being chosen from within the community in which they should work and reside.
There are about 500,000 young people unemployed in Britain, and it should be possible to take some of them into the police force. It is a sad indictment of the Merseyside police force it contains only six black faces. It is the 150th anniversary of the special police, and in this year it should be possible to recruit more black special constables, which would be a good way to get black people involved in policing their own communities. At present they see the police as the enemy.
It would also be wise to listen to pleas for community policing from people such as Chief Constable John Alderson of Devon and Cornwall, who also has experience of the City of London, so he is talking not only from a rural background. To dismiss his pleas for more community police stations and policemen on the beat, as many chief constables have done, is not the way to proceed.
I turn to what happens when law and order breaks down. Great courage was shown by many of our Liverpool police officers during the two nights of rioting that I witnessed over a week ago. When law and order breaks down, as it has during the past two weeks, we must consider carefully how to handle that situation. I do not support the use of plastic and rubber bullets against rioters. Inevitably, such methods are dangerous and serve only to escalate the gravity of retaliation by rioters. I am also dubious about the use of water cannons, having seen hoses turned on the police on the streets of Liverpool just 10 days ago.
While I understand the reason why the chief constable ordered the use of CS gas, I must tell the House that about an hour before it was used, at about 3 o'clock in the morning, I heard a message on the Liverpool police radio sets asking police officers who knew how to handle CS gas to report to police headquarters. That demonstrates how unprepared our police force was for the use of that gas.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for saying earlier today that there would be an inquiry into how the wrong kind of CS gas could have been used on the streets of Liverpool. I understand that the canisters were clearly marked to the effect that they should not be used against people but only for the penetration of buildings. The use of that gas in such a situation should deeply concern us all.
To put police into a riot situation without adequate shields or proper uniforms and without the skills to handle riots—until now, they have been trained only in crowd control—is like sending a farmer to plough a field with a child's spade. The police must never again be exposed to the brutal onslaught which they suffered in central Liverpool. While the Home Secretary is undoubtedly right 1467 to improve riot equipment, far more training in riot control is necessary. The Government must address themselves to far more fundamental matters than asbestos gloves.
Not only was the police response inadequate and ineffective to deal with what happened in Liverpool, as my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth said earlier. The political response in the aftermath has been appalling. Effective remedies should come from the top. Unfortunately, the Government have proved incapable of showing appropriate sensitivity. For example, when 44 young dancers died in a Dublin discotheque in February this year, the Prime Minister at once sent her kind wishes to her Irish colleague Mr. Charles Haughey, but when 13 young black people died in a fire at a party in South-East London no official person said a compassionate word about it.
As this week's edition of The Economist says:Mrs. Thatcher's compassion, or at least her worry, is now aroused—her television address on Wednesday was that of someone who had fretted over every word. About time. Her friends and Cabinet colleagues should play through to her a television videotape of her speech to a farmers's show on the worst morning after the riots and get her to see why that more characteristic earlier reaction was a national calamity".
I must also point out to the Home Secretary that spending 15 minutes travelling through the streets of Liverpool looking at a riot-torn area from a bullet-proof car is not the way to restore confidence in the political process or political leaders. As a constituent put it to me, "Even the Queen gets out and shakes a few hands and talks to people". I am pleased that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister came to Liverpool. I am sorry that they came in such circumstances. I hope that they will come again and that the circumstances will be happier for them and for my city.
I hope that the Liberal Party's response will be helpful to the whole House. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party was in Liverpool yesterday. He toured the area and met many people in the centres mentioned earlier by the hon. Member for Wavertree, talking to people in the streets and to shopkeepers and residents who had been affected. He also announced yesterday that he had established a special commission, to be headed by Mark Bonham Carter, assisted by Lord Evans and Lord Winstanley. It is our hope that an examination of the wider political issues involved will be of assistance to Lord Scarman who is undertaking a very useful inquiry into Brixton. I hope, however, that when Lord Scarman's report is finally concluded it will not be just another set of documents to gather dust on Government shelves.
Parliament itself must also learn how to respond better to the immigrant and native black community. If the prophecies of the right hon. Member for Down, South are not to come true, we must put our own house in order. That surely means that there ought to be some black faces in this Chamber. That is one reason why I support an electoral system which would ensure that minorities are properly represented in the House.
Unemployment, housing, racial tension and policing have all played their part, but the House must also look at those who fan the flames. The chief constable of Manchester spoke of a conspiracy. It is certainly true that on the nights when riots flared in Liverpool every lunatic from the extreme wings of politics seemed to be on the streets of Liverpool.
1468 Someone was organising the petrol bombs. There were people in hoods overturning cars, causing disruption and deliberately helping those who wanted to fan the flames of the violence. People were also distributing leaflets. Other hon. Members have already referred to leaflets that were distributed in their own constituencies.
The House will recall that immediately after the riots I brought to the attention of the Home Secretary a leaflet that was deliberately designed to incite and inflame the situation in central Liverpool. It was put out at the height of the rioting.
No hon. Member can forgive the orgy of violence, looting and destruction which took place, yet on the night of the riots a leaflet was delivered by the Labour Party Young Socialists which says that they defendall those arrested during these events, and call for their immediate release and the dropping of all charges against them.The leaflet was printed and published at 70 Victoria Street, which is the headquarters of the Labour Party in Liverpool, and it bore the telephone number of a prospective Labour Party candidate.
The hon. Member for Walton disavowed that leaflet immediately afterwards and like most hon. Members—I would hope all—said that he could not condone the looting and rioting that took place. Yet those wolves in sheep's clothing who distributed that sort of wicked literature—it can only be described as such—deliberately incited people in that area to go on looting, burning and pillaging in the expectation that all charges against them would be dropped, whatever the nature of their offences.
§ Mr. Heffer
I have made it quite clear that I disagree with a number of points in that leaflet. However, the hon. Gentleman must also be fair. He should point out that it also stated quite clearly that in no way did the people responsible for it condone rioting, looting and violence. I appreciate that there are parts of the leaflet with which I disagree. In fact, the general secretary of the party issued a statement to the effect that it had nothing to do with the Labour Party. But in order to be fair to these youngsters, who I believe were misguided in respect of some of the points they made, the hon. Gentleman should point out that they made it clear that they were not in favour of looting, violence or rioting to solve political problems.
§ Mr. Alton
That leaflet said that, whatever the crimes committed, all charges should be dropped. That can only be seen by any fair-minded person as an act of incitement and a deliberate act of provocation at a time when the rioting and looting were at their worst. I received a copy of the leaflet in the middle of Sunday night's riots.
Only last week, I wrote to the hon. Member for Walton. I appreciate that he has been as busy as I have and that probably he has not had a chance to reply. However, I put to the hon. Gentleman a statement by Mr. Jim Hollinshead, the chairman of the Labour Party Young Socialists in Liverpool, who said on television that the leaflet was endorsed by the constituency parties in Edge Hill, Toxteth and Scotland Exchange. He even claimed, although I understand the hon. Gentleman has repudiated this, that the hon. Gentleman's own agent saw the text of the leaflet before it was distributed.
Such leaflets have been distributed throughout the country. According to an article in one of the Sunday newspapers,Militant Left-Wingers have drawn up plans to organise street rioters and looters into a highly disciplined revolutionary force1469to topple the Government. 'Red' Andy Bevan, organiser of the Labour Party Young Socialists, said: 'We must bring the Tories down at the earliest opportunity—we can't wait two years for an election.' And he revealed that he knew well in advance that Britain's streets were about to be ripped apart by an explosion of violence".
§ Mr. Heffer
Is the hon. Gentleman quoting what Andy Bevan said or what the writer of the article said that Andy Bevan said? There is a distinction. I have sent many letters to various newspapers and statements have been attributed to me that I never made but which people said that I made. Had Andy Bevan said anything like that, there would undoubtedly be some inquiry in the Party. However, to quote what some newspaper writer said that Andy Bevan said is not necessarily the same as quoting what he actually said.
This is a quite unnecessary discussion. As I said on the radio, it would be much better if the hon. Gentleman came forward with some positive proposals to deal with the problem instead of coming forward with a silly leaflet that was issued by youngsters who though that they were helping to solve a problem. There was no malice nor was there any intention to incite violence. In fact, they were against violence.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. Long interventions make long speeches even longer, and There are many hon. Members waiting to speak.
Everyone knows that the youth of the area were on the streets of Liverpool, looting and rioting—
§ Mr. Alton
People were deliberately trying to foment the riot and to orchestrate events. It is not only the wolves in sheep's clothing that are involved but the wolves themselves. The following report appeared in a Sunday newspaper:Mr. Tony Cliff,…a member of the Central Committee of the SWP, said yesterday that the party must try now to coordinate young rioters in all parts of the country. His call was made at a…meeting held in the Liverpool offices of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers. … Mr. Cliff.…said. The riots and looting have been fantastic, but they have not gone far enough. …We must teach them to take the bakery, not just the bread.Others referred to youth training centres, as they are euphemistically called. Four days before the Brixton riots I spoke in a debate in this House on youth unemployment. I said:the government must wrestle with the problem. If they do not, others will prey on the disadvantages of the young."—[Official Report, 7 April 1981; Vol. 2, c. 839.]I quoted from News Line. Miss Claire Dixon, speaking at the Young Socialists' conference. said:There is no peaceful road to socialism—we are building a revolutionary socialist youth movement to lead the struggle." Those are the people who have established youth training centres in London and in my constituency.I do not subscribe to the sheer conspiracy theory. Many things are involved, and have led to this conflagration. However, such events require people to come into a community, to organise, to provide petrol bombs and to 1470 manipulate people in a way that will destroy the peace. We cannot forgive the bully boys either. They travel by bus into areas such as Southall with one aim in mind—to disrupt life and violate the citizens who live there.
These arsonists of the psychotic Right—often associated with the National Front and other similar organizations—wear their insignia and incite racial hatred with apparent impunity. Freedom of expression is an important right, but when it amounts to the incitement of racial violence and other civil disturbances it flies in the face of the precious rights of those whom a democratic society has pledged itself to protect. These Right-wing Fascist groups should be put on criminal charges right away.
A chemistry of events came together to create the type of explosion that we saw in the city of Liverpool. I hope that there will be an attempt by the politicians of that city to work with one another in common cause to try to rebuild the city. I want to see an end to the bickering among politicians in the city of Liverpool. I desperately want to see the city that I represent being rebuilt by our people. I hope that we can build on the confrontation that we have seen. Then we may see some good from this evil.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) spoke about a chemistry of events in Liverpool that have some exotic ingredients. That seems to prove that the only thing wilder than a Young Liberal is a Young Socialist distributing leaflets when a riot is on.
Two fundamental themes have run through many of the speeches in the debate. One is that we need improved and better community policing. The other is that we need to give more aid to inner cities, because therein lie the fundamental causes of the present troubles and discontent. I have reservations about both those themes, and some of the consequences of them, which have not been as well thought through as they might have been.
We all welcome more community policing and better relationships with the police. Traditional British policing has been successful because the police have been the face of the community. That contrasts with the French police, who are recognised to be the face of the State and are much more unpopular. There is no doubt that, in recent years, in many communities the police have become the face of the State because they are unknown, they are not local and they are not seen on the beat. Instead, they are strangers who leap out of panda cars, paddywagons and vans and are a different breed from the well-known bobby on the beat who was so welcome in communities in the past.
How do we overcome that and reverse the trend? The answer must be more policemen on the beat on foot and on a 24 hours-a-day basis. That is essential so that the police can be seen to be a police service and not a State police force. However, that brings into consideration the question of future police manpower.
The Government have been praised because they have managed to augment the strength of the regular police by 7,000 officers since they came into office. That figure is probably only a quarter of what is necessary, given the new problems that have arisen in the recent disturbances. At least another 20,000 to 30,000 police men and women will be needed if we are to have proper community policing, which so many hon. Members on both sides agree is desirable.
1471 In many areas, would-be police officers with apparently suitable qualifications are on waiting lists to join the police force because the establishment is up to strength. Many senior police officers believe that the establishments of police forces have been gravely underestimated. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Home Office to review all establishments, especially those in urban areas, to discover whether they can be increased in the light of the tragic recent events.
I urge on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the need to upgrade, expand and strengthen the Special Constabulary into a proper police reserve, run along Territorial Army lines. All Governments pay lip-service to the Special Constabulary and the need to improve it, but since I entered Parliament no Government have taken a constructive step to do that.
A political initiative is needed to resolve some of the bickerings and squabblings between the Police Federation and the Special Constabulary. That can be done in present circumstances, where most people recognise that a police reserve would have an invaluable part to play, not as a front-line force in the riots, but in taking over some of the duties at police stations, so that exhausted men can sleep. It would be a proper back-up reserve force. I suggest that the voluntary element in the Special Constabulary should be rewarded by a Territorial Army-style bounty and that regular police who have taken early retirement should be encouraged to go back into the police reserve, again on the Territorial Army retirement basis.
A subject that has been mentioned by many speakers is that of complaints and grievances against the police. One of the last great examples of woolly Social Democrat thinking—admittedly made when the gentleman concerned was a Social Democrat still in Socialist clothing—was the Police Act introduced by Roy Jenkins when he was Home Secretary. That set up the Police Complaints Board and its attendant machinery in its present form.
Almost everybody now agrees that that machinery has proved unsatisfactory to both sides. Complainants do not feel that their complaints are being adequately investigated or independently reviewed. The police feel that they are spending wasted hours, often having to prove their innocence against a background of trivial and vexatious complaints. In the next Session the Government should made it an urgent priority to introduce—as they have said they might—a proper, independent review system.
In view of the great respect shown for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, perhaps we should appoint a police ombudsman, who would be responsible and accountable to the House. That would go a long way towards restoring confidence. The ultimate indictment of the present set-up is that when there is a suspicious—to use a polite word—incident, such as that in Brixton last night, the present machinery for investigation and review is unsatisfactory. We must move to a better system. A police ombudsman would be the right way.
I deal next with the role of the media in the disturbances. Undoubtedly there is a copy-cat element. Youngsters see in one city all the tricks which they think it is profitable to emulate in another. Looting is the prime example. It is well known that the presence of television cameras in a disturbance can be inflammatory and add greatly to that disturbance.
1472 In the United States, the famous Kerner report after the Chicago riots laid down guidelines for the media to follow, and on the whole they have been well observed and helpful. The Home Secretary should convene a conference of senior executives from the BBC, the IBA and television companies to see what guidelines can be worked out voluntarily in Britain. We have worked out guidelines for the media for terrorist and kidnap incidents. It is now a priority to work out similar guidelines for civil disturbances.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
Perhaps my hon. Friend's suggestion should be adopted by the Home Secretary. However, I should not like him to give the impression that guidelines are not already at work for both ITN and the BBC.
§ Mr. Aitken
I am glad to hear that. Perhaps when I say something about recent events in Kent and comments about the police on them, it might be seen that the guidelines are not working as well as my hon. Friend believes.
I turn to the fundamental causes and remedies of our present discontent. One should beware of instant solutions and undue pessimism. In the past, as a journalist I was sent to report riots in other parts of the world, particularly in Watts in Los Angeles and Chicago. Last year, although not a reporter, I was in Switzerland, when prosperous, comfortable, middle-class Zurich erupted into rioting. From those perspectives it is worth remembering, first, that Britain's disturbances have been on a far smaller scale than equivalent disruptions overseas. Relations here between the police and the local community are still far better than they were in the cities overseas where riots and troubles erupted. We sometimes deride ourselves too much in these respects. One of the great difficulties of assessing the conditions in our towns and cities that might be contributing towards the tinder-box atmosphere in which a riot starts is that the conditions vary enormously. I ask the House to consider for a moment what happened in Kent last weekend. There was a serious outbreak of violence, which went largely unreported in the national press. Hundreds of teenagers ran amok in the streets. A number of petrol bombs were thrown and a number of shop windows were smashed. About 35 arrests were made. That took place in the prosperous and peaceful towns of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells. I do not think that any objective observer could see there any of the symptoms of decay, deprivation and degradation that we have heard so much about in inner cities in other parts of the country.
Is there any direct link between Maidstone and Toxteth or between Bristol and Southall? It certainly does not seem to be some of the things highlighted in many of the speeches by Opposition Members. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that the common link is a mysterious cycle of aggression which erupts amidst a generation too young to have known the horrors of war and perhaps not disciplined enough in their schools and homes in recent years.
Channelling that aggression into energy for positive ideas and projects is the challenge facing politicians, particularly the Ministers who are going as emissaries to Merseyside and other parts of the country. Just going there will not be enough; making a report will not be enough; by their deeds they will be known.
It is important to note how remarkably quickly action was taken after the Watts riots in California a few years 1473 ago to rebuild vast areas of the city. The community built the Watts towers out of the debris, particularly the broken bottles and the ironwork of the city. With the zeal of the Messiah, rather than the politician, leaders instilled a sense of hope and a feeling that there would be some rebuilding of that terrible scene.
Of all the speeches that I have heard in the first six hours of the debate, I have been most attracted by the ideas championed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser) and echoed in another debate by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), which aim for some form of national scheme of community service. That would be far better than what is called the Prior plan for expanding the youth opportunities programme. Having sat on the Select Committee on Employment for many months listening to representatives of the Manpower Services Commission, I think that any expansion by the dead hand of that organisation will hardly offer meaningful hope for the young people of this country.
A community corps, fired by the sort of idealism and energy that attracted so much support for President Kennedy's Peace Corps in the United States in the 1960s, could be an important new step of hope along the road to finding a solution to the problems that worry us all.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I appeal for very brief speeches. A number of hon. Members have strong claims to be called and time is racing along.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)
I shall do my best, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to follow your advice about the brevity of speeches.
There have been one or two consistent themes running through the debate, hut, geographically, it has moved around. I hope that the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) will forgive me if I move from the South-East to Bristol in the South-West.
The first inner city riot took place in Bristol in April last year. I was on the scene within a few hours and saw the burnt buildings still smouldering, the broken windows and the looted shops. I felt the sullen air of resentment and the tension among the knots of police still standing about on the streets.
Part of St. Paul's ward is in my constituency and a small part is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave). I have been in the ward many times in the past 15 months. Two Saturdays ago I was there with my wife for the St. Paul's festival, which is an annual event. It was a happy occasion. The weather was fine and everyone seemed to be out on the streets. Small children of all races were everywhere. There were plenty of policemen, not with riot shields, but in shirt sleeves, relaxed and talking amiably to people on all sides. It was hard to believe that the St. Paul's riot had ever taken place. Equally, knowing the progress that we thought we had made before, it was hard to believe it at the time.
Since the St. Paul's riot, we hope that we have made further progress in Bristol. The chief constable of Avon and Somerset, Mr. Brian Weigh, to whose work I pay tribute, has been pursuing successfully—this seems to be in great contrast to London—a policy of having only 1474 volunteer policemen in St. Paul's. They are fully trained and experienced, and they are always over 30 years of age. That has been a great step forward in police practice.
The community relations bodies have been very active. At the request of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Bristol city council and the Avon county council have produced a joint report to the right hon. Gentleman on the better provision of education facilities, employment and community facilities. It can be said, I think, that in Bristol we have tried locally to do a great deal.
I still hold the view, which I have repeated several times in the House, that it was a great mistake not to hold a public inquiry on the lines of the Scarman inquiry immediately after the events in Bristol. With my Bristol parliamentary colleagues, I pursued the matter in the House, and there were various deputations to the Home Secretary on the matter. Some of us warned that Bristol would set a pattern that other large cities with similar social characteristics might follow. Unfortunately, we have been proved right. We must now wait for the Scarman report, but we may make our own judgments in the meantime.
There are differences between one area and another, but there seems to be general agreement in the debate about the nature of the recent happenings. First, they were not racial, except perhaps at Southall. I shall not enter into the question whether Thanet is a rundown area. Generally such happenings take place in deprived parts of cities, where, even though the recent disturbances are not in themselves racial, immigrants are usually settled.
Secondly, the riots have coincided with a time of ever-rising unemployment. That is much more than a coincidence.
Thirdly, the rioters are in the main young men, unemployed, restless, frustrated and bored. They bind unwanted time on their hands. In such circumstances, adolescents can be dangerous people. We have passed through adolescence ourselves, and know what a restless time it is.
. It is also true that, although criminal elements join in disturbances of this kind, people will always do in the mass what they would never do individually.
I give full support to the police in their difficult task. My constituents of all races and origins agree with me that every support must be given to the police in preserving law and order on the streets. That is common ground.
What, then, are the remedies? This is not easy. It would be a mistake for any hon. Member to suggest that there is a simple solution to what is a very complex situation. We may have to learn from bitter experience as the Americans have had to learn in their northern cities.
I believe that, in the House, there is always a clash of philosophy and outlook involving two different views of human nature. One view is that of those who believe that human beings are naturally bad and have to be restrained by force to behave well. On the other hand, there are those who think that people are, at heart, good but are dragged down to evil by circumstances and surroundings imposed on them. I shall not attempt here to offer any opinion. It is always best, in these circumstances, to look round and to turn to work that can be done in the immediate time.
What has happened to the Bristol proposals sent to the Home Secretary in April this year? The Minister of State may recall that Bristol and Avon together were asked to prepare the report as a matter of urgency. All in Bristol and 1475 Avon would like now to know what the Home Office proposes to do about the report. I should like to direct the attention of the House to what the director of administration and county solicitors wrote to the Home Secretary. He said that these mattershave been investigated jointly by the Avon County Council, the Bristol City Council and the Bristol Council for Racial Equality with particular reference to three major elements in the complex St. Pauls situation, namely, Education, Employment and Community facilities…The recommendations in those reports set out a range of proposals which it is felt will make a significant contribution to resolving the problem of St. Pauls. These recommendations recognise that certain action can be taken which will not require expenditure but"—I invite the House to listen to this—it is clear that substantial additional expenditure beyond the resources of the local authorities will still be required.I hope that the Home Office and the Secretary of State for the Environment will pay heed to those words. It seems that the Secretary of State is going on a mission to the North-West to find out what is needed there. I should like to put to him a point about which many hon. Members are puzzled and to which they would like an answer. The right hon. Gentleman, as the Minister responsible for local government, has been extremely active in restraining local authorities from spending money on necessary social services. How does he intend to reconcile that restraint with the need for special action to be taken by local authorities in deprived city centres? It seems to me that the Secretary of State for the Environment and Home Office Ministers must answer that question. It is a question that will be increasingly asked by cities such as Bristol over the next few months.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.