Public Disorder debate
11th August 2011
James Morris examines the causes of the recent disturbances and calls for stronger action against low-level crime and for everyone to take responsibility for the state of their community.
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): Even before the disturbances of the last few days I had become increasingly concerned about active antisocial behaviour in my constituency, but the acts that we have seen over the past seven days have succeeded in crystallising that concern in my mind. We have seen astonishing and completely unacceptable acts of mindless violence in communities across Britain. I am bitterly disappointed and appalled that in recent days they have reached parts of Birmingham, West Bromwich, Sandwell—part of which I represent—and Wolverhampton in the west midlands, very close to my constituency. The perpetrators must and will be punished by the full extent of the law.
However, we also need to reflect on how this has happened. Let me quote from an e-mail that I received from a constituent:
“I may be wrong but I believe that the riots are symptomatic of a disrespect of values and we can trace the causes to a lack of discipline in schools; to a contempt of values ranging from litter, graffiti, antisocial behaviour through to more serious crime. I am convinced links exist.
I hope, perhaps in vain, that on this occasion, that sympathy will not be extended to the culprits of riots but to the victims. Instead of sympathising with the perpetrators, I hope that the Government will look to discipline in society that is currently weak and is a major factor in our present circumstances…Now is the time and the responsible public will be with you.”
It is important to stress that the overwhelming majority of people have been appalled by these actions, and are decent, law-abiding citizens. However, in my constituency there have been plenty of examples of low-level antisocial behaviour and crime which I believe could lead to wider problems. For instance, a couple of months ago there was a case of arson in a factory in Malt Mill lane, Blackheath. Metal theft has been a big problem throughout the black country, and the roof of Halesowen Church of England primary school has been stripped on several occasions. Graffiti in Stourbridge road and other parts of Halesowen have been a persistent and constant problem. My local police commander, Inspector Steedman, recently arrested five youths for that offence. They went before the magistrates court, and were fined a total of £29.
Margot James: I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for giving way. Is he shocked to learn that there are reported to be more than 1,000 arson attacks a year in the borough of Dudley, and that I believe that to be a gross under-report? Every day when we read the Express and Star, we learn of arson attacks.
James Morris: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is very worrying.
I am a great believer in the “broken windows” approach to tackling crime. Allowing low-level disorder simply encourages further criminality in the same area.
The next point to consider is why this situation was allowed to spiral out of control more broadly across the west midlands. The police acted bravely, and I want to pay tribute to the chief constable of West Midlands police, Chris Sims, and his officers in Birmingham and other areas of the west midlands, who did an excellent job in quelling this disorder.
The West Midlands police force did excellent work in quelling the disorder. We must recognise that many of these riots were organised. The disorder in Birmingham and across the west midlands was organised by youths using modern technology on smartphones and social networks. The police were, to some extent, always playing catch-up. I therefore believe we need to look at the effectiveness of their current techniques to ensure that the police can protect the public effectively in this new world. We must also recognise the crucial role played by brave individual police officers and the work they did to quell this disorder, and I pay tribute to every police officer who was on the streets of Birmingham and across the west midlands over the past few days.
Respect and responsibility start at home, and we must create a situation in which parents understand that it is unacceptable for them not to know where their children are. Discipline in the classroom is important. I know my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has recently introduced measures to improve school discipline, and that is crucial. We need to clean up our towns and we must not accept irresponsible and criminal behaviour.
It is time for everyone to play their part, take responsibility for the state of their community and put right the outrageous wrongs we have seen over the past several days.