§ 4.3 pm
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the recent disorders. During the past six weeks there have been three serious nots — in the Lozells road area of Birmingham, in Brixton, and Tottenham. Four people have died, one a police constable who was savagely killed. There have also been disorders in Liverpool, Leicester and Peckham in south London. Many police officers and others were injured. There were appalling attacks on the police with petrol bombs and other missiles, and especially in Birmingham and Brixton there was extensive looting of and attacks on shops and cars.
All responsible members of our society will condemn the disgraceful criminal behaviour which has occurred and all responsible members of our society will applaud the courage and dedication of the police in doing their job of maintaining and restoring order on the streets and the housing estates of our major cities. Public order is essential for the maintenance of a civilised way of life and for the safety of individual citizens—on that there can be no compromise. So far 700 people have been charged with offences arising from the disorders.
The riot in Brixton was triggered by the tragic shooting of Mrs. Groce, and the riot in Tottenham followed the death of Mrs. Jarrett after a search had been made at her home. These police operations are being investigated by senior officers from other police forces under the supervision of the independent Police Complaints Authority. These arrangements will ensure that they are fully investigated and that any necessary action is taken. In the case of the Lozells road riot, the chief constable of the west midlands is preparing a report which will be published. Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary is being associated closely with the preparation of that report.
So far as police operations are concerned, although the other disorders were serious enough, the riot at Tottenham stands out for the problems which it presented to the police. In that riot, a police officer was killed, firearms were used and the police had to face a ferocious barrage of petrol bombs and other missiles. The design of housing estates like that at Tottenham poses particular difficulties in such circumstances. The Metropolitan police commissioner is urgently reviewing the tactics of the force on such occasions. There must be no no-go areas in any of our cities.
The riot at Tottenham was the first occasion in Great Britain when the chief officer of police gave authority for plastic baton rounds to be used if necessary, though in fact they were not used. Plastic baton rounds and CS gas were made available to the police in Great Britain for public order use following the riots in 1981. They may be used only in the last resort, where conventional methods of policing have been tried and failed, or must from the nature of the circumstances be unlikely to succeed if tried, and where the chief officer judges such action necessary because of the risk of loss of life, serious injury or widespread destruction of property. That threshold was reached at Tottenham. The commissioner had my full support in making it clear that such weapons would be deployed if similar circumstances arose in the future.
31 Other matters need to be looked at. The defensive equipment introduced in recent years—helmets, shields and protective overalls — proved its worth. Without it there would have been more serious casualties. The Metropolitan police are acquiring more shields and other defensive equipment. We have to consider whether any further equipment is required, and that is being done. There may be lessons to be learnt in relation to police training and deployment. The commissioner is pursuing these matters and I am in close touch with him. I shall ensure that any lessons learnt are disseminated nationally.
This Government have done more to meet the needs of the police than any in recent history. Since 1979 the Metropolitan police have increased in strength by nearly 4,500 officers; and other forces in England and Wales are stronger by a similar number. Including civilians, strength has increased by some 12,000. Even after a welcome intake of recruits, the Metropolitan police still have scope to increase strength by about 300 within its present establishment of 27,165. I support the commissioner in his efforts to make good this shortfall as quickly as possible. The force's reorganisation should, in addition, release 200 officers for operational duties; and I have authorised an increase of nearly 50 in the civil staff ceiling next year for further civilianisation.
Following my predecessor's announcement in July on drugs, I have told the commissioner that I am prepared in principle to agree to an increase of 50 officers in the establishment next year specifically to strengthen his efforts against drug trafficking. Taken together, these steps mean that there will be a substantial strengthening of the Metropolitan police in the months ahead. Beyond that I have set urgent work in hand to assess where there are specific needs for further increases in the Metropolitan police establishment, and I shall consider applications from provincial police authorities on the same basis—namely, that the police should have what they need in the fight against crime.
In recent years, much effort has been put into establishing good liaison and consultation between the police and the community in inner city areas, particularly, for example, in Brixton and Handsworth. These disorders must be—I know that they are—deeply depressing for those community leaders and police officers who have put so much effort into establishing a better understanding. But it would be wrong to assume that these efforts were misplaced. On the contrary, they must be continued and redoubled if the police are to protect and serve the community efficently.
More broadly, the Government will continue their strong commitment to urban regeneration. The urban programme has more than tripled, from £93 million in 1978–79 to £338 million in 1985–86, and there has been substantial expenditure in all the riot areas. The Department of Employment and the Manpower Services Commission are spending more than £100 million in the partnership areas, and my Department plans to spend some £90 million in 1985–86 through section 11 grants.
We must ensure that the very substantial sums that now go, and will continue to go, to inner city areas are spent to the best advantage and directed to the real needs of the people who live there. The city action teams have been set up to improve the co-ordination and targeting of 32 Government programmes in the partnership areas. We shall do everything to ensure that our objectives in the inner city areas are achieved.
These disorders are shocking events. It is of paramount interest of us all, young and old, people of all ethnic backgrounds, that public order should be maintained. I acknowledge—we all acknowledge—the social problems which exist in these areas, but it is no solution to loot and burn shops which serve the area or to attack the police. Mob violence must be dealt with firmly and effectively and criminal acts punished according to the criminal law. The police should have the support of all of us in striving to maintain order and uphold the law. It is their first priority. It is the Government's also.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment to his high office and I regret, as I am sure he does, that his first duty in that new office is to come to the House on such a wretched occasion.
Five people have died in sad and savage circumstances, and the first duty of the House today is to send sympathy to those who are mourning Mr. Kammalia Moliedina, Mr. Amir Moliedina, Mrs. Cynthia Jarrett, Police Constable Keith Blakelock and Mr. David Hodge. We send our concern and best wishes for a speedy and full recovery to Mrs. Cherry Groce, a tragic victim of these dreadful events, and to all others—police, firemen, ambulancemen and ordinary innocent citizens—who have suffered injury in disturbances which have included arson, looting and the dreadful crime of rape.
Many have undergone serious financial loss, and I must first ask the Home Secretary what action can be taken to speed up the payment of compensation under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 and to expand that Act's scope to take account of loss of income after the riots.
The House will be debating these matters on Wednesday, and I must repeat the anger that is felt on this side at the failure of the Government to provide time, which has meant that the House will have only half a day on each occasion to debate this profound issue and the crisis in southern Africa.
Grave questions arise from these disorders and it is essential that the country receives answers on matters which have caused profound national concern. These relate to the nature of policing during riots, and such questions come from the populations of the affected areas and from the police themselves. What the Home Secretary said today will not allay any of these anxieties. They relate to the relationship between the police and the community, in the inner cities and elsewhere. They include disquiet over the spreading use of firearms by the police, the background to the riots, mass unemployment, especially among teenagers, bad housing, environmental decay and dereliction and racial discrimination.
The Home Secretary boasted today about funds provided under the urban programme, but such sums are only a fraction of the money that has been taken away from these areas in abolished housing subsidy, reduced rate support grant and rate support grant penalties. It is an absurdity that the Home Secretary boasted at Handsworth of the money going to Handsworth when in this financial year alone more money is being taken away from the city of Birmingham in rate support grant penalty than all those sums given over a period of years.
33 Only two days after the Brixton disorders, in April 1981, Lord Whitelaw, as Home Secretary, announced to the House an inquiry under Lord Scarman to start right away. After the latest riots, however, the Government stubbornly refuse an inquiry. The Police Complaints Authority inquiries do not begin to be a substitute because, as Lord Scarman in his report insisted,It is necessary before attempting an answer to the policing problem to understand the social problem.It is all very well for the Home Secretary to boast of the increase in police resources under the Conservatives, but he said nothing about the terrifying crime wave from which the county is suffering and which the clear-up rate shows the police are increasingly unable to combat.
The social problem referred to by Lord Scarman has broadened and deepened. in the four years since his report, and the need for action is that much greater. Lord Scarman warned in his report thatto ignore the complex political, social and economic factors … is …to put the nation in peril.Our fear is that, unless the Governments response is much more far-seeing than has so far been demonstrated, Lord Scarman will have been right in his grim warning thatdisorder will become a disease endemic in our society.Those are the dimensions of the challenge which we face and which the nation expects us to meet.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) for his opening remarks. I share his desire, on the question of compensation, that the 1886 Act should be implemented in such a way as to bring as effective and prompt relief as possible. I am in touch with the receiver of the Metropolitan police, who is responsible in London, and my hon. Friend and I had a meeting with the West Midlands county council, which is responsible in Birmingham.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the use of police arms and I agree that if there are lessons to be learnt from the two incidents that are now being investigated we should not be afraid to learn them. The latest available figures show a reduction in the issue and use of arms by the police. In 1983, firearms were issued to police officers in England and Wales in 3,180 operations, while in 1984 the figure fell to 2,667.
The right hon. Gentleman said that I should have gone beyond quoting the figures in the urban programme, by which I stand, and he referred in particular to the question of penalty under the block grant. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is in his place.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the basic arrangements for block grant distribution redistribute resources substantially in favour of areas, such as the inner cities where needs are high. The inner city authorities—not all of them, but too many of them—are opting to throw some of this potential benefit away by spending at levels which they know will reduce their grant entitlement and impose extra burdens —[Interruption.]—on their local police and businesses.
Regarding an inquiry, about which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have tabled a motion for Wednesday, it is clear that when things go wrong, we must inquire into what went wrong and what can be done to put matters right. That is happening through the criminal investigations by the police, through the investigation, under independent supervision, of complaints against the police, through the review of tactics in London, through 34 the review of manpower, about which I have spoken, and through the review of spending, which I also mentioned, to make sure that it is effective. These are all inquiries or reviews which are going on among those responsible so that they can get on with doing their job effectively.
I do not accept the case for a long judicial inquiry overshadowing the efforts that are now being made to learn the lessons which must be learnt. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, such an inquiry would prejudice the possibility of criminal proceedings in some instances. Apart from that, it would impede the effective follow-up action at which we are aiming.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind the House that there is to be a debate on this issue. I ask hon. Members to address their questions to it directly rather than make the speeches that they may make on Wednesday.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I believe he has, as the new Home Secretary, the wholehearted support of all of my right hon. and hon. Friends in his wholesale and unreserved condemnation of the appalling acts of violence, arson and criminal damage that have taken place, which cannot be justified even on the grounds mentioned by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)? Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will, by the provision of men and equipment, ensure that the police have, and continue to have, all the equipment that they need to deal with any similar incidents in future?
§ Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
In view of the Home Secretary's statement that all responsible members of our society will condemn the disgraceful behaviour that has occurred, will he agree that it was especially sad that not everyone in elected positions in local and national politics did so at the time? We must start by uniting in condemning such behaviour. Will he agree also that our prime responsibility as politicians at local or national level is to cure the bitterness and deprivation on which, unfortunately, criminality feeds in our inner cities? In that connection, I shall ask the right hon. Gentleman a couple of questions that arose from my visit to Handsworth last week.
Does he accept that there is much criticism that in the past the action that has been taken through self-help schemes and the urban aid programme has been directed to outside contractors, who use outside employees and take away the profits that could be earned by local people? Does he agree that we should be looking for schemes that are designed to continue employment and business in the inner city areas? Will he undertake to talk to his colleagues in the Departments that are concerned to ensure that that is done in future?
Secondly, is it the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the 1886 Act that the insurance cover there provided does not include consequential loss of business and loss of vehicles? People are waiting for answers to these questions.
§ Mr. Hurd
The extent of the insurance cover provided under the 1886 Act needs looking into. I had a preliminary 35 discussion with the West Midlands county council and the council touched on that issue and a number of others. I should like to consider the matter. Having done so, I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman's point about local labour is important. It was made to me as well while I was in Handsworth. As we examine the effectiveness of the spending of the moneys that we are putting into inner city areas, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is especially anxious that the spending should be directed towards people and not only physical conditions. The point about local labour falls very much into that category.
Unfortunately, it is true that not all the relevant locally elected representatives have condemned violence. I did not go into that in my statement and we may have to inquire rather more carefully into the issue during the Supply day debate.
§ Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
When considering these serious matters, will my right hon. Friend not forget the areas in which there are large ethnic minority communities where the citizens are well behaved and extremely responsible? Will he consult his colleagues to ensure that the necessary financial aid that these areas receive is not cut merely because those who live in them do not cause trouble?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
The Home Secretary has been firm from the beginning that there is no need for an inquiry, suggesting that he and his advisers have sufficient information. If that is so, what is the reason for the vast increase in crime since 1979 and the regular rioting in the streets, which was not a feature of life in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s?
§ Mr. Hurd
I rejected the idea of an over-arching judicial inquiry partly on the ground that there have been a host of inquiries by those who have responsibilities in these matters to ensure that they can carry out their responsibilities more effectively. That process is continuing, and rightly so, as part of the general pattern of our response to the problem that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned, which is that of an increasing rate of reported crime. Many different authorities are in this business. We must build a coalition of partners against crime. I do not see that that will be helped by the Opposition's proposal for an over-arching judicial inquiry.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I agree with my right hon. Friend about the efficacy of the shields and other defensive equipment that is provided to the police, but may I suggest that it might be dangerous to promote a defensive mentality on the part of police commanders, and that the sight of policemen cowering behind their shields under a rain of missiles from hooligans in the street was an offensive and humiliating spectacle? Will he bear in mind that the proper function of the police is to enforce the law and arrest wrongdoers at the time, and that that should be more vigorously pursued?
§ Mr. Hurd
It is difficult to generalise in advance about the operational decisions that a police commander will have to make. We must leave operational decisions to those who are in charge of operations. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that the spectacle that we witnessed at Tottenham on the Sunday night was intolerable. I believe that the commissioner said so in his statement.
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham. Perry Barr)
Does the Home Secretary appreciate that my constituents, employed or unemployed, black. Asian or white, have everything to gain from the maintenance of law and order and everything to lose by the rioting that took place recently? That was also the position in 1981. What is in his statement to assure my constituents that the Government are seized of the need to ascertain what has happened so that we can take the necessary steps across all areas of policy to ensure that it does not happen again?
Is the Home Secretary aware that in June there were still about a dozen claims outstanding under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 in respect of the events that took place at Toxteth in 1981? Can my constituents expect a more speedy response in the implementation of that Act than the Toxteth people have experienced?
Can the Home Secretary identify any misuse of spending by the Birmingham city council, which it seems is implied in his statement? What is the council spending money on improperly and what has it taken away from the inner city? If the right hon. Gentleman does not understand what I am saying, will he obtain the relevant figures from the Department of the Environment before Wednesday to ascertain the level of net expenditure in the inner cities, taking into account the cuts in rate support grant over the past two or three years?
§ Mr. Hurd
I am not making any accusation against Birmingham city council. I am merely saying that all responsible authorities, including Government Departments and local authorities, need to look again at the way in which substantial sums have been spent, to ensure that the moneys help those who are affected. I found in Birmingham that there was a ready acceptance of the need to look again at the way in which money is spent.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that there has been delay in dealing with compensation claims under the 1886 Act following the Toxteth riots in 1981. I am anxious that on this occasion the proceedings should be more promptly carried through. Of course, the relevant authority — in the hon. Gentleman's case the West Midlands county council—has to check claims to ensure that there is not abuse. The projections that the West Midlands county council gave me last week show that a substantial sum will be paid out in this financial year.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my right hon. and hon. Friends that we have seen our police force behave with considerable restraint and courage? I doubt whether any police force anywhere else in the world would have been able to behave in such a manner. Does he agree that the cause of inner city calm is not helped by certain Left-wing councillors? Neither is it helped by the one or two rotten apples, or inadequately trained policemen, who sometimes harass blacks in parts of Britain in the inner cities. May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a television programme entitled "Do They Mean Us?", which showed a West Indian being 37 harassed by police unnecessarily? I ask that my right hon. Friend looks at that particular film clip and considers having it shown at the police college to show others what should not happen.
§ Mr. Hurd
I agree with my hon. Friend. The selection and training of police officers is enormously important. Since the Scarman report both aspects have been transformed. The change in the complaints procedure which Parliament made last year is enormously important. We have brought forward to the first stage the independent supervision of investigation. I hope that as that major reform sinks into people's consciousness they will have more confidence in the procedure for investigating complaints. Those are two ways in which we are meeting my hon. Friend's point. I should like to look at the film to which my hon. Friend referred.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, whereas the people in Toxteth complain about insensitive policemen and a heavy police presence, my constituents in Bootle complain that they do not see sufficient policemen. Surely the Merseyside chief constable has got it wrong if one area complains of too many police and another is under-policed. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that heavy drug pushers have moved from parts of Liverpool to Bootle knowing that, because of the heavy police presence in Toxteth, there are insufficient police to do the job and that they can get away with their activities? Will the right hon. Gentleman review the policing policy with the chief constables in the metropolitan counties and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis? Will he for once accept that insensitive policing in areas where there have been riots, disturbances, violence and looting—we all condemn this —has something to do with the problem? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Government are to some extent responsible for this because of their policies for urban Britain? If the Government can do nothing about the problem, why do Conservative candidates always fight elections on the issue of law and order?
§ Mr. Hurd
My experience is that, after events of this type, some people say that too few police were involved and others say of the same incident that too many were present. I do not think that one could generalise or step into the shoes of the chief constables or the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis who have to decide how to deploy the forces that are available to them. We authorise the forces. Merseyside, like London, has had a substantial increase in numbers. I do not think that a Home Secretary or the House can tell chief officers how to deploy their resources town by town.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)
If alienation between young blacks, young Asians and the police is part of the trouble, cannot a good deal of the blame be attributed to those local authorities which will not allow police into schools to explain to young people their rights and responsibilities in society? Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to convince those local authorities of the error of their ways?
§ Mr. Hurd
The vendetta that some Labour London boroughs—aided in the past few weeks by some local branches of the NUT— pursue against the police has been carried to the lengths of preventing schoolchildren under their charge from knowing what a policeman looks 38 like, what he does and why he is on the same side as they are. So long as the main Opposition party tolerates such activities it cannot be taken seriously in these matters.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I am sure that the Home Secretary will recognise that, for Socialists in a democratic society, rioting, burning, looting and murder play no part in our political life, not least because they intensify, as has happened in Brixton, the vortex of unemployment and despair. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that in the inner city riots are becoming the standard response to deprivation and to the consequences of the Government's economic and social policies? We want an open inquiry following on Scarman because there is an inevitable and inescapable link between areas of rioting, catastrophic unemployment, cuts in housing investment, especially on problem housing estates, and the Government's conduct on law and order. Those links—even if they do not justify what has happened— are inescapable. Because we do not want the Government to hide behind secret reports, such as the repressed report on housing expenditure, we ask for a reforming of a Scarman-type inquiry to try to understand the volcanic forces that are increasing the fragility of our social harmony. Will the Home Secretary have the courage of his predecessor, Lord Whitelaw, and set up a public judicial inquiry?
§ Mr. Hurd
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) for their stance in public on these matters. Undoubtedly that stance has been helpful on the ground. However, I do not accept the generalisations of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). I do not accept that the standard response in Lambeth to deprivation is a riot. That does not square with any accurate description of what happened the other day in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The looting, attacks on people and the terrible crimes committed cannot in any way be justified or explained by talking about deprivation. I do not, therefore, accept the hon. Gentleman's generalised explanation. There are many areas of deprivation where there have not been riots. There are many areas with large concentrations of ethnic minorities where there have not been riots. That type of generalised explanation simply will not do.
§ Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)
I thank my right hon. Friend for his welcome statement. Is he satisfied that the massive support which we have already given in the past five years to the police force is being used most effectively? Is more money really the answer?
§ Mr. Hurd
When we assess the need for additional resources for the police we must at the same time assess whether they are making efficient and effective use of the resources that they already have. During the past year or so a great deal of progress has been made in that direction by all police forces in England and Wales. I am anxious that that progress should be maintained.
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
While no Socialist or Marxist would condone the rioting or deaths in recent weeks, is it not a fact that massive youth unemployment, deteriorating housing conditions, falling living standards and the racist attitudes of many police officers are the political petrol that the Government have 39 poured on Brixton, Toxteth, Tottenham and many other areas in recent years? That is the real reason why the youth of Britain are exploding in anger.
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
Will my right hon. Friend condemn absolutely any person who suggests that the standard reaction to anything is a riot? That suggestion is not only wrong, but condones and encourages that action. This must be stopped. Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that any attack on the police, whether physical or verbal, must be condemned? The police need all the support that we can give them. Will my right hon. Friend recognise that the vast majority of the people expect the precepts of Anglo-Saxon behaviour and of law and order to be maintained? These standards must be maintained. despite what other ethnic minorities want. [Interruption.] That needs to be said, and it is not racist to say so.
§ Mr. Hurd
I agree with the first two points. On the third point, I think that the position is clear. People who have legally settled here and made their homes here are entitled to the full protection of the law, including the law against any form of discrimination on grounds of colour. In return, it is right and reasonable to expect not only that they and those whom they influence obey the law but that they co-operate with the institutions that are designed to protect them, including the police.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
In the face of these grave criminal challenges to effective policing in our desolate urban areas, will the Home Secretary take steps to extend and improve the quality of initial and in-service police training? Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that, following the 1981 riots, it was recommended that the initial training period should be doubled? The Government have not acted on that proposal. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the importance of this aspect, especially if there is to be any question in the future of using plastic bullets or CS gas? What steps can the right hon. Gentleman take in consultation with the chief constables and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to improve the ethnic balance of the police?
§ Mr. Hurd
The period of initial training has been substantially increased, and it is not too much to say that its content has been transformed since the Scarman report. partly because of Lord Scarman's recommendations. If the hon. Gentleman goes, as perhaps he already has done, to Hendon or any of the other main training centres, he will see that training in action, and he will see members of the ethnic minorities talking to young police officers. A major effort is being made in the direction that he mentioned. There has been some progress in increasing the numbers of black and Asian police officers, but it is tiny compared to the need. Police forces understand the need and will do that they can to recruit without lowering the standards on which they rightly insist.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members 40 consider the remarks made by Opposition Members about riots being the stock reply now to inner city deprivation as insulting to many inner city areas that face what could be described as deprivation and that contain many ethnic minority groups but whose law and order record is excellent? Does he also acknowledge that the antidote to fire is water? Will he, therefore, confirm that one of the items of equipment that his Department will be considering introducing to police forces is water cannon, which can have the effect — no matter how difficult deployment may be on some occasions — of not just damping down tempers but damping down fires?
§ Mr. Hurd
I agree with my hon. Friend's first point. As to his second point, yes. we are considering water cannon. There is a debate within the police forces about them. On the whole, I believe that the debate is rather turning against water cannon, partly because they are difficult to manoeuvre and partly because I do not believe that many people supposed that water cannon would have been much use in the conditions prevailing at Tottenham on that Sunday night. We must conclude the debate and reach a decision.
§ Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
Will the Minister not rely on water cannon, plastic bullets, tear gas, flat-nosed bullets and flails to solve the problems to which he has referred. and instead remove the obstacles that he has placed in the way of the local police in Hackney, Tottenham and such places meeting the borough council police committees to achieve the kind of co-operation that he wants? The fact that he has objected to police having any meetings with publicly elected representatives helps cause the problems that he says he is worried about.
§ Mr. Hurd
That is obfuscation. The London borough police committees do not have, and have not been given by Parliament, a role in this matter. I object strongly to the implication that they are entitled to obstruct police efforts to reach a friendly understanding and a better level of agreement with the people who live in those areas. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, with whom I have discussed these matters in earlier years, should continue to take such a hostile line.
§ Mr. Alex Fletcher (Edinburgh, Central)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is strong evidence that the best way to direct the public funds that he mentioned to help inner city deprivation is through a Government-sponsored development agency, not least because such an organisation can attract a great deal of private sector funds? I am not raising a theoretical matter. There is ample evidence to show that Glasgow is miles better, thanks to Government policies, than cities such as Liverpool and Birmingham which, despite the funds that they have had, have not made the same good use of them.
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)
Is the Home Secretary aware of the growing anger and anxiety felt among our Asian communities about another type of inner city disturbance, which was not mentioned in his statement but which should have been—the growing amount of racial harassment and the number of attacks on Asian 41 families in the streets and in their homes, especially in north-east London and perhaps in some of the areas that he has mentioned? Is he aware that there was a spate of such attacks in my constituency this summer? It is a miracle that no one has been killed through having petrol poured through the letter box and set alight at one o'clock in the morning. If we go on in that way, we shall shortly have mass murder on our hands. Will he give the House an assurance that strong action will be taken to protect Asian families in the street and in their homes from the evil racists in our midsts?
§ Mr. Hurd
Yes, Sir. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is justified in using such language to draw the attention of the House to that matter. It is one of the subjects that has grown strongly in importance during the time that I was in Northern Ireland. It has been drawn vividly to my attention since I returned. I have discussed the matter with my advisory committee on race relations and with the police. He will be aware that the Association of Chief Police Officers is issuing some strong and effective guidelines. We must ensure that those guidelines are reflected in action on the spot. With the help of people such as the hon. Gentleman. I believe that we can do that.
§ Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)
I represent part of the city of Leicester which has one of the largest ethnic communities in the country. The people of Leicester do not want more money put into the urban aid programme. They want many more police, the certainty that once detected accused people will be prosecuted successfully, stiffer sentences and more people imprisoned. That will bring about the peace that the people of Leicester want and expect.
§ Mr. Hurd
I note what my hon. Friend said about the police force in Leicestershire. He would not expect me to comment on sentences imposed by the courts. It is the job of this House to provide the courts with what we believe to be adequate and effective maximum sentences. We still have some ground to make up in that respect.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
Is the Home Secretary aware that those of us who represent inner cities very much share his feelings? We deeply deplore recent events. I beg him to listen to the comments that black and Asian residents often make to us when they criticise police methods of searching property, when front doors are kicked in and property is destroyed. That is what causes such bitterness within black and Asian communities. They do not object to the police searching. Unfortunately, it is the method of searching that the police so often use that causes such bitterness. I beg him to consider that.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we in the Home Office should spend a great deal of time listening to authentic points of view on those matters. I am aware of the worry about police methods that he has mentioned. It is difficult to pin down, as he is aware. I hope that his constituents and others will take sensible advantage of the new complaints procedures that Parliament has approved. They will provide a way of sorting out what is nonsense from what is true and I hope that they will gradually gain public confidence.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
When my right hon. Friend talks to senior police officers, will he make just two points? The first is that the House expects the police, when they are carrying out their search and arrest policy, to 42 exercise every possible restraint and to show due regard for the rights of the community in which they are moving. Secondly, will he also make the point that, not withstanding the fact of the riots, the House and the community as a whole expect a policy of vigorous policing to be continued and, where necessary, a vigorous search and arrest policy to be used to apprehend drug pushers and those other people responsible for serious criminal offences?
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Does the Home Secretary accept that his statement points to much greater suppressive action by the police and a serious lack of understanding of the problems that lie behind the riots? Will he tell the House whether, further to his statement, the issuing of water cannon and plastic bullets is now standard practice for the police force and Home Office policy? Secondly, have any police officers been suspended following the events surrounding the death of Mrs. Cynthia Jarrett in Tottenham, and what inquiries have been made about that? Thirdly, is he prepared now to visit Tottenham seriously to examine that area's social problems, the background surrounding Mrs. Jarrett's death and other matters that led to the tragic events two weeks ago?
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend the Minister of State has visited Tottenham and discussed these matters insofar as they lie within the responsibility of the Home Office. That responsibility does not go as wide as the hon. Member's question. There is an investigation into how the tragic death of Mrs. Jarrett occurred and, as I have already said several times, that investigation is under the immediate and independent supervision of the Police Complaints Authority.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
I welcome the firm tone of today's statement and its commitment to increased police training and resources, but will my right hon. Friend take care to include in those improvements the special constabulary, which can be such a useful bridge builder between the police and the communities they serve?
§ Mr. Reg Freeson (Brent, East)
Will the Secretary of State accept that while none of us wishes to give any kind of sympathy to a practice in some quarters of police bashing, at the same time just strengthening the police force and altering tactics will not resolve the problems that have to be dealt with? It would be asking the police to do things they cannot possibly do to solve the problems of these areas. The Secretary of State will not accept a further inquiry. Will he then please re-read the many reports which have been published since the '70s and possibly earlier? There have been inner city studies, the Scarman report, the Select Committee reports and many others, and they have not been acted upon by Government. Will he please re-read them and get action to bring about proper integration of Government policy? Will he get more resources into these areas and see what can be done to 43 reorganise methods of local government to tackle inner city renewal on the scale that is required if we are to avoid any further developments down this path of riot?
§ Mr. Hurd
The day after the Handsworth riot I re-read the Scarman report, which I read at the time it was published, and I commissioned a study about how far it had been implemented. The policing side is the particular responsibility of my Department. In many cases, the police forces and the Home Office have carried through the spirit and in many cases the letter of what Lord Scarman recommended.
The vaguer, non-policing sections of this report, which are also important, are the responsibility of my other colleagues, but there again I would argue, as I have today, that the rapid expansion of the urban programme and the efforts which have been made in the employment field are within our responses to the spirit of Lord Scarman's report. Certainly, let us take down these reports, look at them again and consider them in the light of modern circumstances and update our policies. That is the line which my colleagues and I are taking.
§ Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)
Will my right hon. Friend continue to emphasise that, while it is imperative that we do not fail to provide the Government resources necessary for the sustaining of peaceful and decent conditions in our cities, it is also our duty to ensure the best value for money from the substantial additional resources the Government have already committed for this purpose?
§ Mr. Hurd
I quite agree with my hon. Friend. We have to make sure that throughout the public sector the taxpayer is getting value for money and that applies to the police. They are a priority in our minds. They were a priority before and that continues to be so. We have to assess on an up-to-date basis after the riots the nature of police needs and that has to be looked at alongside the effectiveness in use of the resources they already have.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
Does the Home Secretary recall that when he was in Handsworth he rejected an inquiry into the events there for the reason —I think I quote him properly—that the ground had been well ploughed by Lord Scarman? Can he please tell the House whether a majority or a minority of the recommendations of Lord Scarman have been implemented by the Government?
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
Will my right hon. Friend accept congratulations, first, on his assumption of office and, secondly, on his obvious determination to enforce the rule of law which must be a precondition for progress in this matter? After investigation, will my right hon. Friend be bringing forward the overall proposals of the Government for dealing with this situation? If he is, will he bear in mind there is serious educational under-achievement in the sector of West Indians living in those areas and that, of course, is the tinder from which violent protest is generated?
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
Is the Home Secretary aware that his comments about recruitment to the police from the ethnic minorities will appear rather complacent? Does he accept that there is a lack of confidence between substantial numbers of people in the ethnic minorities and the police? Will he accept that the recruitment of more people from the ethnic communities to the police would considerably help confidence, and will he take determined action to increase recruitment from the ethnic minorities?
§ Mr. Hurd
Yes, indeed. I am glad to correct the impression which I gave the hon. Member. I am not in the least complacent about this: I am simply using the figures to show that there has been an increase, but it is not nearly strong enough. I hope we will have the support of the hon. Member and people like him in Bradford in bringing about this increase, which is in the interests of everybody.
§ Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)
Is it not wholly hypocritical of the Opposition to pose as the defenders of law and order when they continue to give support to Labour-controlled police committees throughout the country who bash and criticise the police at every conceivable opportunity?
§ Mr. Hurd
I entirely agree. Opposition right hon. and hon. Members will have to sort this out if they are to be listened to with any kind of respect or understanding on these matters. There are far too many police authorities and committees in London who have no responsibility whatever for policing under the law, and those bodies are doing their best to complicate and frustrate the work of the police.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
I, of course, deplore the riots, the deaths and the injuries, but is not the Home Secretary's earlier description of the riots as being due to greed and criminality a cover-up for the principal causes, poor police community relations and what Lord Scarman called the tinder box of urban deprivation? Is not the real answer to the first to have proper police accountability to the local community, community policing, and to the second for the Government to reverse their disastrous policies of cuts, housing decline and unemployment?
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)
Whatever may be our response to recent events, can my right hon. Friend assure the House that we will not be seen in any way to reward riot, arson and murder with additional attention or resources lavished on just that sort of area, because that would surely lead to greater trouble in future?
§ Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)
Does the Home Secretary agree that the widespread police view that they should distance themselves from a legitimate role in the development of public policy is one of the reasons why they are sometimes seen as an alien group? Would he recommend chief constables to involve themselves in 45 ideas about housing and particularly planning that are designed to develop a secure and stable community? That is the only way in which we can develop self policing and enable local communities to develop their own secure relationships rather than having to rely on an outside force coming in to pick up the mistakes that have gone before.
§ Mr. Hurd
The first job of the police is to uphold the law and maintain the Queen's peace. Those are their twin priorities. It may well be that chief officers or chief superintendents in carrying out those responsibilities find themselves, quite sensibly, drawn into other activities of the kind the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. That must be a matter for local judgment. Such activities underpin but are not a replacement for the two jobs I have mentioned.
§ Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)
I am sure my right hon. Friend will be the first to agree that the vast majority of ordinary, decent citizens, black and white, will support entirely what he has said about giving resources to the police. Will he not agree as well that it would certainly help to clear the air and help to reassure communities of all ethnic origins if investigations into police complaints were dealt with thoroughly and speedily.
§ Mr. Hurd
I quite agree with my hon. Friend and direct his attention to the new PCA, the Police Complaints Authority, under the former Ombudsman, Sir Cecil Clothier. Mr. Roland Moyle, who is known to Opposition Members, is the deputy chairman. The brisk way in which they are setting about their new job is encouraging.
§ Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on announcing the setting up of the special units to co-ordinate various Government agencies and assistance in urban renewal. He declined to be drawn on the subject by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Fletcher), but will he confirm that the agencies will have within their remit not only the co-ordination of assistance, but the targeting 46 of that assistance and whether any further statutory powers will be necessary to ensure that Government aid is more effective?
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend and The Times today are galloping well ahead of events. I have set up no new units; it is not within my competence to do so. I have said that I am sure that we must bend our minds to whether the resources that we are devoting to the inner cities are well targeted. That certainly includes the question of the machinery.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Can my right hon. Friend tell us approximately when the newly announced offence of disorderly conduct will become law? Does he agree that it will have a valuable effect in controlling the sort of wickedness that we have seen?
Does my right hon. Friend also agree that if the Labour party were genuine and serious in wishing to do something to help law and order Labour Members would press their crazy colleagues at the GLC to withdraw the viciously anti-police video that they have been pushing in schools and everywhere else?
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend is right on that last point. It is a clear illustration of one of the themes that I have been making.
On my hon. Friend's first point, I cannot prejudge the decisions of the House or of another place. The proposal for an offence of disorderly conduct will be included in the public order Bill about which, I dare say, we shall hear more fairly soon. However, it is not connected with riot control or the serious disorders that we have been discussing today. We see the offence, as discussed in the White Paper on public order, as essentially a necessary weapon against hooliganism and minor kinds of violence which, although minor, seriously offend, distress and alarm our fellow citizens, particularly, perhaps, old people living alone.