By Matthew Barrett
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Thursday's recall of Parliament included a Commons debate on Public Disorder. The debate was introduced by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and some of the contributions from Conservative Members were covered here yesterday. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, wound up the debate.
Firstly, Mr Gove praised the contributions from both sides: "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."
Mr Gove then praised the Members from constituencies affected by riots in particular: "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."
Mr Gove then stated his preference against holding a public inquiry into the riots: "…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."
Mr Gove reflected on how we have seen "the worst of Britain"…: "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?"
…but also the "best of Britain": "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."
Gove then paid tribute to the way different cultural groups in Britain had reacted to the riots: "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."
Mr Gove argued we had "witnessed a conflict on our streets between right and wrong", and said: "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."
Mr Gove then praised the police: "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. … 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."
He then paid tribute to the British model of policing: "…our tradition of community-based policing by consent has seen our police force restore order to our streets with the help of our communities."
Mr Gove also illustrated the regulatory burden the police face: "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."
He used these facts to call for police reform: "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."
Mr Gove, in concluding his remarks, explained how "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"
The whole debate can be read on the Hansard website here.