§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
Madam Speaker, with permission I should like to make a statement on the violence and disorder associated with the so-called anti-capitalist demonstrations over the bank holiday weekend in London and Manchester.
Yesterday's shameful violence was the culmination of a loosely organised series of events that took place from Friday to Monday. Although all the events were broadly described as protests against capitalism, they were organised by a number of wholly disparate groups.
None of the organisers was willing to discuss preparations in advance with the police, who therefore had to make their plans on the basis of the best information obtained by them. The police response in London was a joint operation conducted by the Metropolitan police service, the City of London police and the British Transport police, using a joint command structure based in New Scotland Yard.
The events held by protesters on Friday, Saturday and Sunday passed off relatively peacefully, both in London and in other centres. As had been expected, however, the main challenge to public order occurred yesterday. In Manchester, up to 400 protesters caused damage to shops and disruption to the tram system. Twenty arrests were made.
The protests in central London began at around 10 am when about 500 cyclists made their way to Parliament square from Hyde Park corner. By 11 am, about 2,000 protesters were in Parliament square, many of them engaged in digging up the turf.
The first incidents of violence were reported at about 12.25 pm, when police and private vehicles were attacked by protesters close to Parliament square. About an hour later, 1,000 or so people moved into Whitehall from Parliament square and demonstrated outside Downing street, when missiles were thrown at police guarding the barriers. It was at around that time, I understand, that vandals desecrated the Cenotaph and defaced the statue of Sir Winston Churchill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."]
Shortly after 2 pm, the Whitehall branch of McDonald's was attacked by a crowd of about 80 people. Some injuries to the police were sustained, as was serious damage to the premises.
At about 3.15 pm, there was serious disorder and violence in Trafalgar square, including the throwing of missiles at the police. At that point, police in riot gear moved to control and to contain the crowds in the square, which they continued to do for the rest of the afternoon.
Separately, about 500 demonstrators crossed the river and congregated in Kennington park, about a mile south, where missile attacks were made on the police. From about 6.20 pm, police began a controlled dispersal of the crowd remaining in Trafalgar square. At around that time, about 150 protesters attacked commercial premises and vehicles, including police vehicles, in the Strand. The crowds in Kennington park were dispersed by 8.30 pm, and a crowd off Waterloo bridge, where protesters in the Strand and Trafalgar square had gone, was held at bay and finally dispersed by the police just before 9 pm.
22 I regret to tell the House that nine police officers were injured, including one who was struck in the face by a brick. He was taken to hospital but, thankfully, there was no need to detain him. I understand that the police are aware of injuries to nine members of the public. Thankfully, those injuries were, I understand, all minor.
I am informed by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that 97 people were arrested in the course of yesterday's events on charges including public order offences and assault. A major investigation by police to detect other offenders—including the perpetrators of the desecration of the Cenotaph and the defacement of the memorial to Sir Winston Churchill—is already under way.
Everyone in our democracy has a right to demonstrate peacefully, but no one has a right to demonstrate violently. Yesterday, there was a peaceful demonstration in London by more than 2,000 people: it was organised by the Trades Union Congress to commemorate international workers day and to campaign for the saving of jobs at Rover's Longbridge plant and elsewhere in the west midlands. However, those entirely peaceful demonstrators were physically denied their right to use Trafalgar square, as they had arranged, because of the mindless violence of the groups that were by then occupying the square.
What was witnessed yesterday in central London was criminality and thuggery masquerading as political protest. In our democracy, there is neither reason nor excuse for such appalling behaviour.
As the House has already indicated, a particularly shocking aspect of yesterday's events was the defacing of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament square, and the desecration of the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Yet without the sacrifice of the millions who gave their lives in the service of this country to defend our freedoms, no one yesterday would have been enjoying any right to protest at all.
The fact that the statue of Sir Winston Churchill has already been cleaned up and, I am told, no lasting damage has been caused to the Cenotaph is of little comfort to the public for the huge affront caused by that vandalism. It will be of little comfort especially, but by no means exclusively, to those ex-service people who served and saw comrades killed in those wars.
Planning by police for the weekend's events occurred over many months and took account of all the contingencies that they could identify. The planning also took into account the lessons learned from the very serious violence that occurred in the City of London in June 1999.
The police devoted greater resources—5,500 officers—to yesterday's situation than they have done for any comparable situation in the past 30 years. Knowing the determination of some of those involved to perpetrate serious violence and disorder, the police had to make the fine judgment that it was better to contain the trouble—as they did—in confined areas than seek to bar people from those areas, with a high risk of wholly unpredictable outbreaks of even more serious violence affecting the public as well as the police and property virtually anywhere else in central London. Police had to make equally fine judgments on precisely when and where to deploy officers in riot gear.
In our system of policing, those decisions are properly ones made by chief officers of police. For the avoidance of any doubt, I make it clear that that will continue to 23 be the situation in Greater London after the mayor, the Assembly and the Metropolitan Police Authority have come into office on 2 July.
I should like, however, to tell the House that the Commissioner had and has my full support and confidence in respect of the very difficult decisions that he and his colleagues had to take. As with any large policing operation, the Commissioner will be reviewing what happened yesterday and will be discussing those matters with me. I shall of course be ready to respond to any recommendations that he or his fellow chief officers make to me.
I am sure that I speak for the whole House in offering our thanks and gratitude to all those police officers in Greater Manchester and in London who dealt so professionally, diligently and courageously with the entirely inexcusable violence that occurred yesterday.
§ Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for his customary courtesy in letting me see it in advance. I should also like to associate the Opposition with his tribute to the police involved. I also add our best wishes to those innocent members of the public who were injured in yesterday's demonstrations.
I remind the Home Secretary of the letter that I wrote to him at the end of last week. In the second paragraph, I said:I would he most grateful if you would state categorically that the Metropolitan Police will actively seek to protect both people and property once the protests begin and not, as some have suggested, allow illegal acts to be committed in order to contain the situation.I acknowledge that fine judgments have to be made, but the Home Secretary will be aware that there is considerable public concern about the amount of activity and disorder that was allowed to take place before the police decided that it was the proper time for intervention. Did he have any discussions with the police about the proposed policing methods, including, for example, at his regular meetings with the head of the Metropolitan police? Many people will be perturbed by the contrast between the policing methods used during the visit of the Chinese President, when the mildest demonstration was restrained, and what happened yesterday, when there was considerable restraint before intervention took place.
Did English Heritage make any proposals to safeguard the Cenotaph before the demonstrations? If so, what consideration was given to those proposals? If they were rejected, why and on whose advice and authority?
Does the Home Secretary agree that all those who are charged with offences arising from yesterday's activity should face exemplary sentences? Does he agree with the proposal of the Conservative candidate for the London mayoralty, Steve Norris, who has called for a ban on that assembly in future years, given its record this year and last year; or does he incline more towards the views of the other candidate for the mayoralty and think that the reaction of the Livingstone camp to last year's City riots is nearer the mark? It is a straightforward question: does the Home Secretary agree with the Conservatives and Steve Norris that the demonstration should be banned in future?
When will the Home Secretary be ready to give us an assessment of the cost of yesterday's operation? Has he made any provisional estimates? Does he agree that any 24 information held by anyone that would assist with the identification of persons not yet arrested, including film taken by broadcasters and members of the press who were present, should be made available to the police immediately? Would the groups concerned with yesterday's disorder be covered by his new definition of terrorists under his new terrorism legislation?
§ Mr. Straw
I thank the right hon. Lady for her good wishes to those who were injured and to the police officers who policed such a difficult demonstration. She acknowledges in passing that fine judgments have to be made about the policing of demonstrations, but she then suggests that, with the benefit of hindsight, she is in a better position to make judgments than the chief officer of police was. [Interruption.] I shall answer all the right hon. Lady's questions, as I always do, but I must tell her that if she acknowledges that it was a very difficult situation and that fine judgments had to be made, she has to acknowledge it after the event as well as before and to back the judgment of the chief officer of police and his colleagues, as I do.
The police did not allow illegal acts to take place. They had to make fine judgments to prevent worse disorder and violence taking place. No permission was sought for this demonstration; indeed, so far as Trafalgar square was concerned, permission had already been granted to the TUC for a demonstration, and those peaceful protesters were kept out of Trafalgar square by what amounted to a wholly unlawful occupation of the square by the violent protesters.
It would have been a matter for the police's judgment—they would have had to seek my permission in certain circumstances—but the police might have decided to bar the whole of Parliament square, Whitehall and Trafalgar square to the protesters. If they had done so, the information available to the police was that those protesters would still have come into central London. This was a day on which the shops were open across the west end. The judgment made by the police, which I backed fully, was that the risks of uncontrolled violence right across the west end to shoppers, tourists and children, as well as to the police and to property, were much greater than what actually occurred yesterday in an event that the police were able properly and effectively to police, despite the serious damage and violence that was done.
The right hon. Lady asked whether there were meetings with the Commissioner. Of course there were. The issue of the policing of the demonstration was raised by the Commissioner and me at a series of regular bilaterals, and at a special meeting about three weeks ago. I was concerned to ensure that the Commissioner had the full resources and powers available to him. I did not wish to second-guess his judgments, but I wanted to satisfy myself that proper preparations were in place and, in particular, that—as far as it was possible to learn them—lessons had been learned from the events that took place mainly within the City of London on 18 June last year. Many of those lessons had been learned, including the need for there to be a combined control. That combined control operated at New Scotland Yard, as I saw when I visited there yesterday afternoon.
The right hon. Lady referred to the visit of the Chinese head of state. That was a demeaning comment. There is no parallel between the difficulty of policing what happened yesterday and the visit of the Chinese head of state, 25 nor is there a parallel in terms of methods. Yesterday, the police had to use riot gear which, happily, they did not in respect of the visit of the Chinese head of state. Moreover, the right hon. Lady knows that lessons have been learned from the Chinese demonstrations.
The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament square is the responsibility of the Royal Parks Agency, and the Cenotaph is the responsibility of English Heritage. I understand that the police asked for both of those monuments to be boarded up, and decisions not to board them up were made by the agencies. I was not aware that those decisions were made, and the House will wish there to be more details about how they came to be made. However, the police told me this morning, in terms, that they had advised English Heritage and the Royal Parks Agency that the monuments should be boarded up.
The right hon. Lady referred to comments by the Conservative mayoral candidate. In the light of yesterday's events, this is not the occasion for swapping stories about candidates. That can be done outside the House. However, since the matter has been raised, I repeat that decisions of this kind will remain the responsibility of the chief officer of police. Whatever may have been said by candidates, the decisions of this House and the other place on the establishment of the MPA were clear. That is to say, the mayor's only power lies in proposing the budget—which has to go up, not down—for the Metropolitan police service. The MPA will replace my functions as the police authority for the Metropolitan police service, and it will operate in the same way as any other police authority.
Provision already exists in the law to ban processions, and other powers may be taken by the police. As for Greater London, the law makes it clear that a decision to initiate a request for any such ban lies with the Commissioner and the request goes, and will continue to go, direct to the Home Secretary. As with other requests for bans, if the Commissioner makes a request, I shall consider it with care.
§ Sir John Morris (Aberavon)
As a former soldier, I deprecate the damage done to the Cenotaph and the Churchill statue. I recognise the fine distinction between the powers of my right hon. Friend as Home Secretary and those of the Commissioner, but I wonder whether, with hindsight, the right decisions were taken by the police. Will the matter now be further considered so that future difficulties may be avoided?
Ample statutory powers exist, but in well-organised demonstrations—I have taken part in some of them—proper liaison occurs between the organisers, the stewards and the police. It is not simply a question of damage in the west end, which my right hon. Friend mentioned, as opposed to damage in Parliament square and Trafalgar square. Demonstrations are successfully held in other places in London, such as Hyde park, with a minimum of damage, if any. With hindsight, does my right hon. Friend think that everything was done for the best yesterday?
§ Mr. Straw
It is my belief that the Commissioner and his colleagues had some extremely difficult judgments to make, and I back them fully on the decisions they made and continue to make in respect of the demonstrations. With respect, the sort of demonstrations that my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned are those run by people 26 who want a peaceful demonstration and who have made stewards available. In such circumstances, it is easy, as it was yesterday with the event organised by the TUC, to persuade organisers who have control over their demonstration to move elsewhere in the interests of public order. Yesterday's gathering was called a demonstration, but we were dealing with people who were intent on rioting in London. They were organised, but the police were the last people those involved would tell of their plans.
I defer to, and back, the judgments made by senior police officers who had to make some extraordinarily difficult decisions. All such judgments would be much easier with the benefit of hindsight, but that is a luxury never available to the police in the heat of the operational moment. The way in which they policed the events yesterday was exemplary and a huge credit to the professionalism of the British police service. I might add that yesterday's events were better policed than similar events have been elsewhere in the world.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
I thank the Home Secretary for his statement, and through him I thank the police and the other public services which did a good job in difficult circumstances yesterday.
Is the Home Secretary's information and analysis that the majority of people at events in both London and Manchester were peaceful, whatever the motives of organisers may have been, and that only a minority of people were set on being disruptive and criminal? As Home Secretary and as the police authority for London, has he had any success in identifying the troublemakers since June? In the case of football, the minority of thugs are targeted by the police and dealt with. Has there been success since last year?
The Home Secretary, again in his role as police authority for London, also endorsed and supported in advance the non-confrontational strategy. Are the right hon. Gentleman and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis satisfied that sufficient police officers were on duty in London adequately to police all the other May day events in the city's boroughs, as well as to cover what happened in the centre of the capital?
Finally, one matter is still troubling. The damage to the Cenotaph caused great affront to many people, especially to those to whom the monument is a tribute. Was the Cenotaph policed specifically, in an attempt to protect it?
§ Mr. Straw
I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's questions in turn, and I shall also respond to the question from the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) about the cost of yesterday's events, which I omitted to answer earlier.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether a minority of people who took part in the demonstration were involved in the violence. The numbers of people arrested show that only a minority of people were violent, but I am sorry to say that a significant proportion of those who turned up in Trafalgar square understood what was likely to happen. Given that they knew people who were going to be involved in violence, those people should not have gone to Trafalgar square to engage in unlawful activities. However, the same does not appear to have been true about those who went to Parliament square.
27 The hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not go into detail about the work of the police service in detection. I will say only that the police have arrested about 100 people already—significantly more than were arrested after the much more serious events of 18 June last year—and that they are engaged in a serious crime investigation into many of the offences committed yesterday.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether enough police were available. The answer is yes: 5,500 police officers were directly available to Gold command in New Scotland Yard for the operation, and sufficient officers were available elsewhere in greater London.
I am afraid that I cannot recall the other question that the hon. Gentleman raised.
§ Mr. Hughes
It was about the Cenotaph.
§ Mr. Straw
A great deal of effort was put into policing Whitehall. The House will know that, in certain areas, it was decided initially—and quite properly, in my judgment—not to use officers in riot gear. The hope was that protesters would act peacefully as a result, and to some extent that expectation was fulfilled. However, the events in Whitehall that I have already described meant that officers in riot gear had to be brought forward. I have already explained the police recommendation that the Cenotaph and the statue of Sir Winston Churchill should be boarded up. It is for the Royal Parks Agency and English Heritage to explain why they judged that neither monument should be so protected.
As to the cost of the operation, I understand that police overtime cost about £3 million. I shall give details of other costs as soon as they become available.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the people of Manchester condemn to the utmost degree the disgraceful disfigurement of their city? In addition, they are appalled that police resources and manpower should have been distracted from the genuine law and order issues that I was discussing with my constituents only yesterday afternoon.
With regard to London, is my right hon. Friend aware that what took place is exactly the sort of direct action against capitalism that the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) has advocated and supported? Is he also aware that the Livingstone brand of approval would be given to such activities if the people of London were conned into voting for that smarmy charlatan?
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw his last remark.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I do so, Madam Speaker, at your instruction.
§ Mr. Straw
I had better not follow my right hon. Friend's latter remarks. I, of course, share his deep anger and concern at the disfigurement of his great city of Manchester by those who took part in the unlawful series of protests and the violence committed yesterday—and, I 28 am sure, the anger of the residents and business people of Manchester about the diversion of police resources as well.
§ Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)
I join in congratulating the police on their impressive conduct of yesterday's affairs in London. Pursuant to the Home Secretary's answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Sir J. Morris), if no plans have been submitted and no permission sought for a protest or demonstration, is an offence committed under the Public Order Acts by that very protest and demonstration taking place unplanned, unco-ordinated and with no permission sought? If there has been a forewarning of trouble, what principles govern the police in their plans, actions and decisions in response to the potential threat?
§ Mr. Straw
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the impressive conduct of the police. He asks me to speculate about whether certain offences might have been committed by virtue of the fact that there was no permission for the demonstration. The position on bans and permissions is complicated. There is a power, which I have used on two separate occasions—upon application by the chief officer of police in West Mercia and in Norfolk in the past two weeks—to ban processions in certain circumstances. There is no power to ban assemblies which take place in public areas, although there are laws relating to obstruction if assemblies take place in the public highway. The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not speculate about whether particular offences may or may not have been committed yesterday.
The right hon. Gentleman also asks me what principles guided the police in their decisions as there was forewarning of trouble—of that there is no doubt. The principles that guided the police were the safety of the public, the safety of the police and the safety and security of the property of this great city—and, in particular, given the right hon. Gentleman's concerns following the events of 18 June last year, ensuring that the business life of this city could continue. The police made their judgments in the light of those principles and, as I have told the House, I think that they made the correct judgments.
§ Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)
As a veteran of many demonstrations in the 1960s, some of which my right hon. Friend will remember with great affection, may I say that what is happening now is characterised by a new brutality and ugliness that we never saw then? The use of balaclavas, helmets and masks shows that some people attend these rallies and demonstrations with only malice in mind. I hope that we never ban demonstrations, but the police must have the powers to deal with people who are basically criminals.
§ Mr. Straw
Like my hon. Friend, I went on many demonstrations in the 1960s—too many to name—and on many more recently, including those against the high levels of unemployment caused by the previous Government. Every demonstration that I went on was peaceful. We celebrated that fact, and ensured that we co-operated fully with the police, because such right of peaceful process is the essence of a democratic society.
29 My hon. Friend is entirely right about the new brutality, which none of us is used to, or wishes to become used to. It is wholly unacceptable—it includes using balaclavas and seeing the police as enemies. One of the many things that we were able to do in response to police requests as the Crime and Disorder Bill went through Parliament in 1998 was to give the police powers to require the removal of balaclavas and other face coverings in unlawful and violent demonstrations such as took place yesterday, and those powers have been used.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
Like the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), I am a veteran of the demonstrations of the 1960s—except that I was on the opposite side. In the anti-Vietnam demonstrations of both 1967 and 1968, police officers, of whom I was one, prevented desecration of property.
I agree with the Home Secretary that the current threat is completely different from those of the 1960s and others. The circumstances are difficult for the police, and I am willing to accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation of what happened yesterday. However, the people of this country will never again accept the desecration of the Cenotaph. Following the right hon. Gentleman's confirmation that the mayor of London will not have powers to interfere, and that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis will have freedom of operation, does he agree that in the face of a similar threat in future, everything will be done to prevent such desecration?
§ Mr. Straw
The police service will be grateful for the hon. Gentleman's unequivocal support, not least because it is based on his service as a police officer. I should pick him up on one point; he said that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) were on different sides in the past, but I must say, with respect, that the point has often been made to me by police officers that in an entirely peaceful protest, the police and protesters are, in one sense, on the same side—that of democracy.
I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about the Cenotaph. Lessons must be learned from the experience of all these events. What happened was a deep and awful affront to the whole of our society and the public. We must make sure that the possibility of such desecration does not arise again.
§ Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that anarchist behaviour of the type that we saw yesterday is nothing new? Anarchists throughout history have tried to prevent Labour movement peaceful marches such as that organised yesterday by the TUC. Does he agree that anyone—candidate for mayor of London or anyone else—who gives sustenance to anti-democratic behaviour by anarchists is not fit to hold public office?
§ Mr. Straw
I agree with my hon. Friend. This is the last occasion on which it is possible to equivocate. We either favour democracy and law and order, or we do not. Those who equivocate place themselves on the side of people such as the anarchists to whom my hon. Friend has referred.
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
Does the Home Secretary share my concern at the reported remarks of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mike Todd that:Our plan was to make arrests only for the more serious offences. We had to ask ourselves whether it would be worth putting the public or our officers at risk by arresting protesters for minor crimes. We didn't want to be accused of inflaming the situation. The change in our tactics was forced on us by the demonstrators after the McDonalds incident.
If those reported remarks are correct, will the Home Secretary tell the deputy assistant commissioner that many millions of his fellow citizens—particularly ex-service men—will not regard the desecration of the Cenotaph as a minor crime? I visited the Cenotaph today, and have been told by officials of English Heritage that they wanted to board up the site, but did not do so on the advice of the police. Will the Home Secretary investigate the conflicting stories about the Cenotaph that are circulating? Is it not a sad fact that a demoralised police force felt unable to put in place a proper policing plan to protect Parliament square and the Cenotaph?
§ Mr. Straw
I am aware of the remarks of DAC Mike Todd. I do not have the record before me, but I do not believe that he was referring to the desecration of the Cenotaph as a minor crime. I have explained that the police take that desecration extremely seriously, as they do the despoiling of monuments in Parliament square, including the statue of Sir Winston Churchill. Those incidents are being fully investigated.
Policing is a discretionary matter. Every day we receive demands—not least from Conservative Members of Parliament and from newspapers—that the police should not fully enforce one aspect of the law in order better to enforce another; for example, with what are regarded as minor speeding infractions and so on. The matter is one of considerable discretion, as it is bound to be.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to say exactly which decisions should have been taken—just as it is easy to win any battle when one knows what happened. We were dealing with an extremely fast-moving situation involving some anarchists, but also some extraordinarily well organised and determined criminal people who call themselves anarchists, who were not going to disclose their criminal plans to the police. I say again—without the equivocation that, regrettably, we hear from some Conservative Members as well as from some people outside this place—that I believe that, in Sir John Stevens and his colleagues, we have some of the finest and most professional police officers, not just in this country but in the world. We should back their judgment.
I completely refute the hon. Gentleman's comments on demoralisation. It is extremely silly for him to imply some sort of competition in the policing of such demonstrations. If he went through the record of disorder that occurred under Governments whom he supported, including serious rioting in several cities and the poll tax riots, to create a score sheet—I hope that he does not want to do so—he would find that the Conservative party was at the wrong end of it.
I am indeed aware of conflicting stories over responsibility for the Cenotaph memorial and for the statue of Sir Winston Churchill. I felt it right to give the House the information that became available to me. According to that information—although there is some conflict about the matter—the police are adamant that 31 they advised English Heritage and the Royal Parks agency, which are without doubt responsible for those two monuments, that it would be better for them to be boarded up.
§ Ms Joan Ryan (Enfield, North)
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement; I am pleased about the measures that he has taken to deal with yesterday's deplorable events.
I am not surprised that several hon. Members have referred to the comments of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone)—it is right that those comments should be raised. If we are to condemn yesterday's events and to deal effectively with the perpetrators, the comments of Members of the House must be clear. Unfortunately, it is clear that the hon. Member for Brent. East advocates rebellion as a means of influencing Government. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on all Members to think carefully about, and to be responsible for, what they do and say, and that statements such as those that have been made can only encourage the behaviour that we saw yesterday? All Members of the House bar one—it seems—would condemn such behaviour.
§ Mr. Straw
I understand what my hon. Friend says. At the very least, such comments excuse and give licence to such behaviour, and therefore stand condemned.
§ Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)
Given the contents of the Home Secretary's statement and his answers to questions today, it is plain that both he and the police were aware that yesterday's violence was carefully planned over a long period. As no one makes such detailed plans without a clear objective, why did the right hon. Gentleman describe yesterday's events as mindless violence?
§ Mr. Straw
I think that I am entitled to describe the violence as mindless, even though the planning was not.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
Will the Home Secretary clarify whether the statement that he made today to Parliament was in his capacity as the police authority for London, or what I call the residual Home Secretary, post-July 2000? Will he give an assurance that if there is a repetition of such events—which one hopes that there will not be—he will make a similar reportage to Parliament?
When the Home Secretary is reviewing this matter, will he revisit again the representations that he has received from the chief constable of the British Transport police and the representative organisations of the officers in the British Transport police, the Ministry of Defence police and the Royal Parks constabulary about the problem of jurisdiction that those people have outside the curtilage of a railway station, and outside the curtilage of the Ministry of Defence or of the Royal Parks, where they have no more competence or powers than he has—or than you or I, Madam Speaker, have? That matter has been referred to successive Home Secretaries and has been ignored. It is now time that it was addressed, because of the vulnerability of those police officers in such situations.
§ Mr. Straw
In answer to my hon. Friend's first question, I made my statement as Home Secretary. 32 I would have made, and will make, similar statements in similar circumstances, regardless of whether I continue to be police authority for London. I point out that the main events that took place on 18 June last year took place in the City of London, whose territory is not covered by my remit as police authority for London, but by a separate police authority—the police committee for the City Corporation.
Of course, if matters were as grave as they were yesterday and I had received a request for a statement from my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), I would—if the House and you, Madam Speaker, had thought it appropriate—have made a statement.
My hon. Friend also asked a separate question, which I know has been concerning him, about the jurisdiction of the British Transport police and other so-called non-Home Office police forces. We are actively considering that matter, and we hope to make announcements in due course.
§ Dr. Michael Clark (Rayleigh)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that yesterday's violent chaos in our capital city was a disgrace, an affront to decent citizens, an abuse of taxpayers, who had to pay for the policing yesterday and are now paying for the clearing up, and above all, an insult to our war dead? Does he also agree that it is difficult for us to talk about mob behaviour in other countries when we have such behaviour in our own?
On television this morning, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mike Todd said that he was proud of the way in which the police had contained the situation. Whereas I am proud of the way in which the police set about their work, I am not proud of the way in which the situation was contained, because it obviously was not. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that unless we have some further statement about containment, that sounds like a complacent statement from the police, and that we want some reassurances for the future—as do those motorists who had their windows smashed on Waterloo bridge, the tourists whose families were frightened and the property owners whose property was violently vandalised?
§ Mr. Straw
Of course I agree with the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I return to the subject of the policing decisions that were taken, which is, understandably, of concern to Members on both sides of the House. I say to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that when the police were faced with people of that kind, whatever tactics they had used, and whatever numbers and weaponry had been available to them, no policing arrangements in the world could have prevented those people from carrying out violence if they were determined to do so. There are many examples in other countries of occasions when the police have used greater force—weapons, cannon, water cannon, tear gas and much else besides—and greater damage, not less, has been caused to innocent bystanders, the police and property. That is, sadly, the reality that the police had to deal with.
Of course I very deeply regret the disorder that occurred. Obviously none of it affected me personally, but much of it affected friends and neighbours who live in or near the area where I live, in Kennington and elsewhere 33 in south London, so I am well aware of the disruption that was caused. I am aware of the fact that innocent members of the public were affected. Friends of ours who were shopping in the west end could not get home for one or two hours. I deeply regret the damage caused to people's motor cars and other property, including McDonald's and the memorials.
It is my judgment, and I cannot repeat it often enough, that from the Commissioner and his colleagues right down to the officers who were literally in the front line yesterday—most were wearing riot gear, but they were facing a frightening situation—we have police officers of the highest professionalism. After events such as those of yesterday, which I believe were properly and effectively policed, we should express our gratitude to those police officers for what they have done.
§ Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)
Does not my right hon. Friend find it incomprehensible and inexcusable that a small minority of well organised anarchists—if that is not a contradiction in terms—should have resorted to violence to achieve their political objectives only three days before they will have a chance to test their opinions at the ballot box? They would have been better advised on Monday to gather support for their views among the voters of London than to engage in random acts of violence that did no credit to their cause.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
May I say how welcome is the Home Secretary's support for the Metropolitan police, particularly as many will have been drafted in from outer London and foregone their weekend and leave entitlement to serve in difficult circumstances? As for the future of policing in London, if by some mischance the Metropolitan Police Authority does not work well and does not provide sufficient support to the police service, will the Home Secretary reconsider the legislation, and if necessary return to the House to resume the powers that he currently holds?
§ Mr. Straw
I think that we ought to try the new arrangements first. My recollection is that the decision to establish a Metropolitan Police Authority had the approbation of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I make it clear again that the mayor will not be the police authority; the authority will be composed of 23 individuals. Twelve will be elected members of the Assembly, but they will be appointed proportionately to the party balance in the Assembly. Seven will be independents, one of whom will be appointed directly by me, six will come from a shortlist approved by the Home Office, and four will be justices of the peace appointed by a process that involves the Lord Chancellor.
Whoever is elected mayor, the police authority should be a responsible and realistic body. Of course, as with any other change in the law, if that turns out not to be the case, it will be for the House and the other place to decide on a change either backwards or forwards.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central)
I thank my right hon. Friend for making it clear in his statement that he was referring to the situation in Manchester as well. That sends an important message to people from outside 34 London that the issues are of nationwide significance and do not relate to only one city, however important that city may be.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that people in Manchester yesterday, who were going about their lawful business of shopping and taking their families out, will have been grateful for the presence of the police, who were determined to ensure that criminality did not affect them more than was inevitable because of the actions of a minority who, like those in London, were determined to disrupt the city centre.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), I think that we should all condemn those who waste so much police time and so many police resources on such operations. As my right hon. Friend made clear, the answer to such demonstrations is adequate policing such as that in Manchester, not the knee-jerk reaction of an attempt to prevent demonstrations of any kind.
§ Mr. Straw
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I underline the fact that police outside London, as well as the service in London, had to bear some of the brunt of what happened yesterday. As well as paying tribute to the Metropolitan police service, the City of London police and the British Transport police, I pay particular tribute to the Greater Manchester police, who had to bear a serious burden yesterday and acquitted themselves very well.
§ Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
I accept that the policing of demonstrations in London is kept continually under review by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and by the Home Secretary, but when reviewing what happened 24 hours ago, will the right hon. Gentleman ask Sir John Stevens to consider especially the effect that the presence of extra police in central London had upon policing in other parts of London, and the possible consequences in terms of criminal offences being committed outside the area in question? I do not deny the Commissioner the right to decide how many police officers to employ, particularly in a demonstration that he was forewarned was likely to lead to violence, and I recognise what the right hon. Gentleman has said about some police being called in from outside the Greater London area, but will he consider the possibility of encouraging Sir John to have the power to appoint special constables to police normal areas when a big demonstration takes place in the centre of London, and to draw in more police from outside the Metropolitan area?
§ Mr. Straw
I should have said earlier to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) that the overwhelming majority of the police officers available yesterday to the Commissioner were Metropolitan police officers, although there had been arrangements for mutual aid from some of the home counties. The hon. Gentleman's second point is an important one; I shall write to the Commissioner and take it up with him.
§ Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)
Many of us will welcome my right hon. Friend's support for the police. Does he agree that it is important that we do not undermine their actions with hindsight? We should all bear in mind the courage that police officers showed on our streets yesterday in protecting both property and life. 35 It is important that we do all that we can—one of my constituents who was crying on the phone to my constituency office today would want reassurance on this matter—to catch the culprits behind the violence. We must put all our efforts into that. The wearing of masks can serve only to hide people's identities, and is not part of a normal demonstration.
§ Mr. Straw
As my hon. Friend says, hindsight is a wonderful commodity. However, it is never available to the police in situations such as yesterday's demonstration. As well as going to New Scotland Yard yesterday and talking to the Commissioner and all his senior colleagues during the operation, I saw the Commissioner this morning. He has assured me that he is devoting considerable resources to the criminal investigation into the offences that took place yesterday. He and all his officers understand the importance of securing the perpetrators of the offences, including the desecration of the Cenotaph and the damaging and daubing of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill.
We have already added considerably to the powers available to the police—that was one of the complaints made by some of the protesters yesterday. I make no apologies for adding to the powers of the police. If the Commissioner or the Association of Chief Police Officers puts forward proposals for additional powers, we shall consider them carefully.