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Responses to the Riots

October 13, 2011

Gangs

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) Like my hon. Friend Gavin Barwell, I watched the dreadful and, at times, terrifying scenes of disorder that took place in so many of London’s shopping centres. My first thoughts were often with the business owners whose livelihoods had been destroyed. Those very hard-working folk are supporting not only families, but our neighbourhoods. They are often the very glue of our local communities and deserve not only our deepest sympathy, but the fast-track help that has been promised by the Government, which I hope they have already received in relation to insurance claims and the like. If there is any problem with that, I hope we will be made aware of it, so that we can collectively do our best on their behalf.

As a father bringing up two young children in central London, I fervently hope that families living in the areas that were directly affected by the riots will not give up on this wonderful city. I love London—not just the historic 6 square miles that make up my constituency, but the collection of villages that have spawned a whole range of suburbs that most Londoners know only from a cursory glance at the tube map. Those are the districts I love to walk through because their variety and communities never cease to amaze me.

Coincidentally, it was only four days before the riots began that I ambled from the City of London in my constituency through Hoxton and Haggerston and into central Hackney, Clapton, Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington. It was a hot summer’s day as I walked down Clarence road. With all its lovely little bistros, that street is very unlike the common perception of Hackney. I walked down Mare street and to the edge of the churchyard of St John’s, Clapton. Little did I imagine how, within a few days, the area would turn into a front-line riot zone televised across the UK and the world.

To pick up on one or two other contributions, many of the areas affected by the riots have changed beyond recognition in the 30 years since the race riots of the 1980s. Huge investment has taken place in the public realm and gentrification has progressed apace, while the ethnic and cultural mix has been transformed. I am not naive enough to suggest for one moment that certain parts of the areas that were subject to the riots do not have some deep-seated problems. However, the sense that, for example, Hackney is some sort of lawless ghetto enveloped in hopelessness is well short of the mark, as Meg Hillier rightly pointed out. I am afraid that a lot of what happened was opportunistic criminality.

I am slightly concerned not about the idea that the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 should be invoked—of course it should be invoked—but about the idea that the police should get full compensation back. There needs to be an incentive for the police to do their best to maintain law and order, even in some of the most difficult circumstances. If the Metropolitan police were to have full reimbursement of the £300 million concerned, there would not necessarily be an incentive for it to act rapidly if such events occurred in the future.

For many people, the most terrifying thing was the sense of utter lawlessness, particularly in areas around Clapham Junction and Lavender Hill. It was interesting that when one heard people being interviewed, there were young yuppies saying, “What the hell is going on?” The whole place had been enveloped by opportunistic criminality. There is so much more I would have liked to say today.

I shall talk a bit about youth violence specifically in my area of Westminster, which thankfully was a part of London that was not particularly badly affected, apart from on a slightly ad hoc basis. The local authority is doing what it can and I want to put some of that work, which I hope will be emulated in other parts of London, on the record. It is right not to consider the issue to be entirely a youth problem but, as my hon. Friend Nick de Bois rightly pointed out, we must consider early intervention. As we know, the Government have pledged to tackle some 120,000 problem families before the next election. We should not necessarily be wholly driven by such targets but, none the less, I hope that that figure will focus minds.

Inevitably, local authorities will be at the forefront of local solutions to meet that challenge. In the last full year, 2010-11, Westminster saw a 49% increase in serious youth violence incidents, rising from 197 to 309 incidents. Already, we have seen 133 incidents for the first few months of this financial year. Under the leadership of the cabinet member for children, young people and community protection, Nickie Aiken, pioneering work is being done on tackling gangs, so that the problem is nipped in the bud. Only 48 hours ago in this Chamber, we had a discussion on that issue. It was rightly pointed out that, for too many young gang members, gangs are a surrogate family because they are often living in very chaotic households, which thankfully are alien to the experience of probably all of us here today.

In Westminster, we have developed a “Your Choice” programme, which builds on the principles of early intervention, information sharing and personal responsibility.

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth, Conservative) Does my hon. Friend agree that family intervention is key to dealing with the matter and that those programmes work because they take in the whole family together, look at the root cause of the problem and try to find a long-term solution?

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) Very much so. The pure economics of the matter show that if you can reach that small number of families, huge amounts of money can be saved. Otherwise, if we do not reach those families, there are wasted lives that will be put to shame. The focus of the “Your Choice” programme is on having key transition stages from primary to secondary school.

However, it has also developed targeted gang exit programmes, cross-border gang mediation to try to break down the postcode rivalry that lies at the bottom of many of the problems surrounding gang culture in London, and support to get young people into sustained employment and training. We all appreciate how difficult that is, and I fear it will be for some time to come as elements of the economy continue to deteriorate. We also need intensive support to be given to parents and families in the holistic way that my hon. Friend Mary Macleod described. We want to try to provide families with a real choice: take the services on offer and become real members of the community, or face a range of enforcement options. That choice is based on evidence of what works, including tried and tested programmes in Westminster, such as the successful gang exit programme. Only 5% of youngsters on that programme received a conviction compared with 42% before the strategy began.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch, Labour) Does the hon. Gentleman have any experience of gang injunctions in his constituency? We have had great difficulties getting them to work in Hackney. Has he had any conversations with people in his borough or with other Ministers about them?

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) We have not had any in my constituency. As I mentioned the other day, one of the issues surrounding the Churchill Gardens estate in my constituency is the worrying sign that we are getting close to a tipping point and that the gang problem will become much more intense than in certain parts of the northern end of the borough, which Ms Buck represents. That is clearly not something I am entirely aware of. I appreciate that other hon. Members want to speak, so I will just say a couple more things.

It is important to recognise that turning around the lives of what are regarded as problem young people and families takes time, patience and, inevitably, resources. All too often, local authorities have to rely on one-off funding pots, which often fail to deliver an impact or may deliver that impact only in the very short term, with the problem ultimately reoccurring before too long. The programme that Westminster is trying to develop requires a sustainable funding stream to ensure that the council can intervene early and support young people to make the right choices in their lives. If we can secure sustainable funding, we will aim to intervene early and support children as young as the age of five through that programme.

Westminster city council has secured funds to deliver the bulk of the programme for the current tax year, but it wants to be able to deliver a sustainable programme over three to five years. I have made representations on that and, as I mentioned the other day, I am someone who believes in getting the deficit down and who has tried their level best to recognise that that means not standing up, even at a constituency level, for programmes when cuts are being made. This is probably the only exception. We need to look at the provision of youth services. If we are to have a genuine long-term impact, one of the legacies of trying to ensure that the riots do not happen again must be that we examine those services. In Westminster—I am sure this is replicated in all London boroughs and, indeed, in boroughs outside the capital represented by hon. Members here today—we have had a substantial reduction of some £828,000 from the funding of our youth services as a result of the emergency Budget in June 2010. That was followed by a further £513,000 reduction in the current tax year. In the light of the rioting, all local authorities will be keener than ever not only to secure money for their programmes but, I hope, to ensure that we can improve the lives of the most vulnerable. As is so often the way in life, the prevention will end up being considerable cheaper in the medium and longer term than the cure that will otherwise be before our eyes.