Parliamentary debate on public disorder

Michael Gove winds up the emergency debate on public disorder. He tells the House that Britain will defend cherished values of hard work, self-discipline, aspiration, respectability and respect for others.

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): We have had a very good debate today, and the speeches of hon. Members on both sides of the House have been of a uniformly high standard. The contributions made by hon. Friends and other hon. Members have made me proud to be a Member of Parliament. It was a vindication of your decision, Mr Speaker, to recall the House.

In the past 15 months, Parliament has resumed its central place in the life of the nation, and the House and its Committees have done superb work. Once again, today, Members have faithfully reflected their constituents’ concerns and spoken in a way that enhances the reputation of the House and electoral politics.

I am particularly grateful to hon. Members from Lewisham, Enfield, Ilford, Ealing, Wolverhampton, Hackney, Tottenham, Battersea, Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester for their speeches, which reflected their direct personal engagement with those who have been victims of this terrible week. The fact that they all spoke with such force and eloquence underlines the fact that we have Members who listen and are in touch, who act and then report back and who analyse what has gone wrong and argue for a better country. In that sense, when I hear calls for a commission of inquiry, I take the old-fashioned view that Members of Parliament are inquiring into the state of the nation, reporting back to the House and arguing passionately for change and that we should always stress that there is no better voice of the nation than this Chamber, and it has never done its job better than at the moment, reflecting the anger but also the hope of our constituents.

Barry Gardiner: Despite what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, does he understand the concern not just in the House but across the nation that a public inquiry should be held into the events that have gone on? This has been a national event; it has affected people in every part of the country, and if it is simply left to a Select Committee, they will not feel that it has been properly addressed.

Michael Gove: The point was made constructively, and I hope to respond in a constructive fashion. I will not rule anything out at this stage. We are still in the middle of restoring order. It is vital and appropriate that we show ourselves open to learning lessons, but I absolutely have confidence in the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). The Home Affairs Committee has done a great job in the past 15 months, and he will do a superb job. The terms of reference of his inquiry seem to be broad and comprehensive. But, of course, lessons will need to be learned, and while we are in the process of restoring order it would be premature for any of us to say that our minds are closed to any constructive suggestion about what we can learn.

Jeremy Corbyn: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Michael Gove: Not yet.

I should like briefly to refer to four particularly outstanding speeches that were made during the debate, the first of which came from the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). The points that he made resonated. From the moment that Mark Duggan’s tragic death came on to our television screens through to the horrific scenes that we saw over the weekend, the right hon. Gentleman’s voice has been one of common sense and moral clarity at a difficult time. His speech again today was superb, when he pointed out that the vast majority of young men did indeed show respect and restraint through the past week because they have grown up with a male role model, a moral code and a recognition of boundaries. He made the critical point that our great cities of course rely on our police forces, but ultimately order is policed by individuals who show pride, shame and responsibility to others. I could not have put it better myself.

I also agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander). I share her sorrow at having to come back to this House from her honeymoon, but I have to say that, even though her husband may be disappointed, her constituents should be proud of her for the speech she made today. She pointed out that the riots are a result of disaffected and marginalised youth who have grown up in households where no one gives a damn, where violence is glamorised and where there is real poverty, particularly of responsibility and aspiration. It was a superb speech and she has done a great job for her constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) drew a vivid and affecting picture of how one of London’s most attractive suburbs could be convulsed by violence, as individuals intent on wrongdoing took to the streets in the most wicked of ways. He asked detailed and constructive questions about the roles that the local authority, schools and TFL can play in making sure that our response to future events is sharper. We will write to him to ensure that his constituents’ concerns are addressed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) made a brilliant speech, in which she spoke up with passion on behalf of her constituents, pointing out that, for all those young people who picked up a brick in anger or greed on the night that violence gripped her constituency, there were many, many more who picked up a broom in optimism and hope the next morning. That underlines what the past week has shown: both the worst and the best of our country.

We see the worst when a 31-year-old man who is a learning mentor in a primary school, whose job is to inspire the young, is found guilty of burglary. We see it when a daughter of a millionaire couple who had the best education the state can provide becomes, it is alleged, a getaway driver for two other young criminals. When we watch the video of a young boy, who travelled across the world from Malaysia to study in this country because he saw us as a civilised community and a place of hope and learning, apparently being helped up, only to be robbed, all of us are sickened and ask: how can this happen in our country? When we think about the Sri Lankan couple, who fled civil strife in their own country to come here and build a life and a business, only to see their business trashed by criminals, or when we think of Salford town centre, which has been regenerated by an imaginative town council and a great MP, sent back a generation in one night by the violence of thugs, we all ask ourselves: why has a culture of greed and instant gratification, rootless hedonism and amoral violence taken hold in parts of our society?

Even as we despair, we can hope, because we have also seen the best of Britain this week, such as the volunteers mentioned by many today who took part in the clean-up operation immediately afterward. The hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) made the vital point that local authority officials, officers and workers have done an exemplary job, not least in her own constituency, where the mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, has shown real civic leadership. The way in which people who take pride in their community worked hard the next day to clean up the mess that had been created by an amoral minority was, to my mind, the very exemplar of public service. Also, let us not forget the work of the fire and ambulance services, who, alongside the police, risked life and limb to restore order and to ensure that people were safe.

We should take pride in the way in which multicultural Britain rose to this unique challenge: the Turkish citizens of Dalston who defended their families and businesses; the Sikh citizens of Southall who defended their gurdwara and their families; and the British Muslim citizens of Birmingham who sought to defend their communities. When three of them were mown down by one evil individual, we saw the best and the worst of Britain clash in one moment. All of us were moved beyond words by what Tariq Jahan said about the death of his son and the lesson that we should learn. We have seen modern Britons across this country stand up for old-fashioned British values of decency, solidarity and a determination to protect the vulnerable. If there are examples that we should bear in mind in this House and in our work in the weeks ahead, it is the leadership that those individuals have shown.

As well as seeing the best and the worst, we have witnessed a conflict on our streets between right and wrong. Those who have been committing these acts are individuals without boundaries, respect for others, or any moral sense. Those who were standing out against them and protecting us were the police. Let me pay tribute to the courage that has been shown by ordinary officers in the course of this week. Their leave was cancelled. Many of them have been working with very little sleep, facing the prospect of real violence and damage to life and limb, yet have uncomplainingly gone out there to protect us. We can be proud of those officers and the commanders, who have had to take terrible risks but who have ensured that for the moment order has been restored.

We heard how borough commanders from Hackney to Wandsworth and Ealing to Redbridge have ensured that the reputation of the Met, having taken a battering in recent months, is once again restored as a force that we can all take pride in. The chief constables of west midlands and Greater Manchester, faced with tremendous challenges, have also shown courage and imagination. We should applaud their bravery. Yes, there will be lessons to be learned. Yes, inevitably, in a difficult situation, when there was no intelligence of what was going to happen, mistakes will have been made, but how many of us could show the same degree of courage and resolution, faced with young men bent on violence and determined to cause havoc, when we knew that if we stepped out of line or transgressed the rules, we could find that our own life, livelihood and reputation were gone? Let us remember just how difficult modern policing is, before any of us casts a rhetorical stone at any of those individuals.

There were, across the House, widespread expressions of support for the police and for a more robust stance in the future. Having talked to a variety of police officers over the past week, I know that the sentiments expressed in the House go with the grain of policing opinion. My hon. Friends the Members for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), and for Ilford North (Mr Scott), the hon. Member for Lewisham East and the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), all of whom encouraged the police to take a more robust stance, will find and have found a willing audience in those who are responsible for deploying the forces that maintain order.

Both my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary agree. I have been privileged to spend time attending the Cobra briefing meetings over the past week, and I have seen the degree of willing co-operation, energy, imagination and determination on the part of both the civil powers and the police to deal with the situation that we faced.

Of course there are suggestions from hon. Members about things that we might consider in the future. I was particularly struck by the powerful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) who, speaking as someone who is a special constable, made a strong case for the deployment, if necessary, of water cannon. Let me underline to the House that the operational requirements of the police will be met in full by the Government. If they need support or help, they will get it. Yes, it is the Home Secretary’s ultimate decision whether a police force can use water cannon, but if any chief constable considers it appropriate to deal with any aspect of civil disorder, this Home Secretary has made it clear that she is on their side, and I hope the whole House will be. Mercifully, those steps have not needed to be taken, and our tradition of community-based policing by consent has seen our police force restore order to our streets with the help of our communities.

As we look at the way in which the police operate, it is important that we do not back-pedal on reform. Our police are still held back by a legacy of bureaucracy that I know all of us on both sides of the House want to tackle. There are still 1,000 process steps and 70 forms to get through when they are dealing with a simple burglary. Twenty-two per cent. of police time is spent on paperwork. Jan Berry, the former head of the Police Federation, has pointed out that one third of police effort is over-engineered, duplicated or adds no value. We can reform our police force in order to ensure that the officers we have are there on the streets where we need them, and this should be a cause that unites us across the House in a determination to ensure that police professionalism is respected.

But as the right hon. Member for Tottenham pointed out earlier, when we want our streets policed, we need them to be policed as much by the moral self-restraint of individuals as the uniformed presence of officers, and that means that we need to affirm at this time the values that we all know have been overlooked or neglected in the past. We all know that a culture of dutiless rights has led to a generation of parentless children. Being a father means taking on the most important job in the world, and those who are there when a child is conceived should be there when a child is raised. We need to remember: I am my brother’s keeper. We have a responsibility to others, and all of us find a fulfilment in service that is greater than anything that can be found in shallow hedonism or instant gratification. We need to say to the young people of this country—and the overwhelming majority know it and want to hear it affirmed—that hard work, self-discipline, aspiration, respectability and respect for others, the values by which they lead their lives, are the values that we will defend whenever and wherever they come under attack. I am so grateful that so many Members from both sides of the House have affirmed those principles tonight—

8 pm

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