The Riots of 2011 and the Riots of 1981


The Riots of 2011 and the Riots of 1981

Just thirty years ago, between July 4th and 6th 1981, I watched as rioters assaulted policemen, looted shops, and reduced Liverpool’s Lodge Lane and Upper Parliament Street to burning embers. Hundreds of policemen sustained injuries as Molotov Cocktails and anything else which came to hand were turned into missiles. Rioters broke into a dairy, stole milk floats, and filled bottles with petrol. The thin blue line was all that separated the rioters and arsonists from the city’s commercial and retail centre.
The Liverpool riots saw C.S, Gas used in Great Britain for the first time and it emerged that canisters used against the protestors should not have been deployed on crowds of people. A police vehicle, seeking to clear the crowds, hit a man who died. 70 buildings were so badly burnt that they had to be demolished. Nearly 500 police officers suffered injury (if guns had been on the streets there would have been fatalities) and 500 people were arrested. At the height of the disturbances Young Socialists distributed leaflets calling for all charges against rioters to be dropped.
A year before these Toxteth riots, there had been disturbances in St.Paul’s, Bristol, but 1981 brought riots to Brixton’s streets in London and copy-cat rioting in Birmingham’s Handsworth, Chappletown in Leeds, and Manchester’s Moss Side.
It was something of a misnomer to describe the Liverpool riots as the Toxteth riots because they broke out along the boundary of two parliamentary constituencies – Toxteth and Edge Hill.
I had been Edge Hill’s MP for two years, previously serving as City Councillor for Smithdown and Low Hill. The rioting surged along Smithdown Road and over to Edge Hill’s Wavertree Road, where the police station was attacked and vandalised.
The riots began after the arrest on July 3rd of a young black man, Leroy Cooper, a constituent of mine. On visiting his home, and talking to him and his father, I had no doubt that some heavy-handed policing – and Leroy’s humiliation at their hands – had been a spark which had ignited the tinder box.
For some years I had been critical of the arrogant style of policing personified by the then Chief Constable, Kenneth Oxford – an incredibly different policeman from some of the excellent incumbents who followed him. With their emphasis on much needed community policing, Merseyside Police gained authority and respect under the leadership of Sir Norman Bettison and Bernard Hogan-Howe (who I hope will now be appointed to run the Met) but, at the time, I told Parliament that if Mr. Oxford were not prepared to restore respect and confidence in the police service “he should go.”
But, aside from policing, there were many other factors which played their part – and none of which were any justification for the unleashing of violence and destruction.
On July 14th I asked Willie Whitelaw, who was Home Secretary, about the age or criminal responsibility and what was being done about the parents who had allowed their children to become rioters and looters.
In a special debate on July 16th Whitelaw told the House of Commons that “Liverpool 8 has long suffered a range of social, economic and high crime problems. The three days of violence reflect the complexity of the situation. The first night consisted largely of black youths, children of many generations of Liverpool people, erupting against the police. The second saw a concerted attack on the police by white and black youngsters. The third witnessed a predominantly white crowd of looters exploiting the earlier disturbances, while local black leaders played a major part in keeping their young people off the streets.”
In August 2011 doesn’t this sound all too familiar?
Three months before the 1981 riots, on April 7th, I had taken part in a fiery debate in the House of Commons, warning that the devil was making mischief for idle hands. Young black men were particularly likely to be without gainful employment:
“Ethnic minorities suffer especially from unemployment. Between 1973 and 1977 unemployment doubled, but for black people it quadrupled. Black youth is disproportionately affected by unemployment. In Liverpool, 47 % of youngsters under 18, 34% of young people between 18 and 19 and 27 % between 20 and 24 are out of work. About 11,000 people under 20 are out of work…The Government must wrestle with the problem. If they do not, others will prey on the disadvantages of the young.”
Warning that a time bomb was ticking away in the heart of the city I pointed to agents provocateurs seeking to capitalise on the alienation and discontent.
In the Commons I highlighted the activities the far Left – the Workers Revolutionary Party – and the far Right, Viking Youth – and later received Writs (which were never pursued in the Courts) from organisations trying to shut me up.
Youth Training Centres had been established in Brixton and Toxteth (where riots would erupt three months later) and I quoted from a leaflet which proclaimed “We warn that you can have no illusions that there is going to be an upturn in this slump. The ruling class have no answers to this crisis … There is no peaceful road to socialism—we are building a revolutionary socialist youth movement to lead the struggle.”
On July 16th 1981, in the special debate which followed the riots I argued that:
“Race is not the cause, nor, taken separately, are unemployment, inadequate housing or bad police relations with the public. Taken together, however, those issues provide the ingredients necessary for the conflagrations which have occurred throughout Britain. They are also weapons in the hands of those whose only aim is to destroy and disrupt. The House must take notice of the intrinsic roles which extreme Left-wing as well as Right-wing groups have been playing in fomenting the disturbances. They have been using the problems of race, unemployment, inadequate housing and poor police relations with the community as the fuel to feed their fire.”
Government, meanwhile, seemed oblivious to the causes of the riots and were ham-fisted in their response. The Prime Minister toured the area for 15 minutes in a bullet proof car. A constituent remarked to me: “Even the Queen gets out and shakes a few hands and talks to people”. In a meeting with the city’s Archbishop and Bishop, Derek Worlock and David Sheppard, they tried to impress upon her one word – “compassion” – only to be told by Denis, her husband, that “it’s not really one of the Prime Minister’s words.”
The subsequent and inevitable Official Inquiry (the Scarman Inquiry into the riots in Brixton, many of whose findings had application in Toxteth, too) confirmed many of my own conclusions. Margaret Thatcher responded by sending Michael Heseltine to be “Minister for Merseyside” – and to spearhead a strategy for urban renewal. Gradually there was a recognition that fouling your own nest, undermining the legitimate rule of law, and the negative effects on a city’s reputation, all deter investment and are not the way to achieve social progress.
Ultimately, the people of Liverpool put the riots and the politics of extremism behind them. This led to a renaissance in Liverpool’s fortunes. It would be a terrible tragedy if, in the debris and the aftermath of the riots of the summer of 2011, those lessons were now forgotten.

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Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill) April 7th, 1981.
The Government have measured the success of the youth opportunities programme by the number of people who have gone on to full-time employment. It is of grave concern that the number is diminishing. By September last year the figure had fallen from 80 per cent. to 59 per cent. About 41 per cent. of our youngsters return to the dole queue once they are supposedly trained. What point is there in having the best educated or trained youngsters if they end up on the dole?
Many of my young constituents complain about inadequate remuneration on the schemes. The allowance of £23.50 has not been adequately increased in line with inflation. Once travel expenses are taken out, it leaves little more than would be received on supplementary benefit, so the incentive for school leavers to become involved in such programmes is not great.
Industry’s annual take-up of apprenticeships has dropped by 10,000 since 1979–80, which is alarming. Whilst it is better to pump money into the programmes than to have people on the dole, if the number of real jobs and apprenticeships is falling there is little hope for the unemployed. The 10,000 drop is a cut of 10 per cent., which exemplifies Government waste in failing to get adequate training opportunities through private industry.
The Secretary of State for Employment is keen to introduce a voluntary option of military training as part of the YOP, but that would damage the intent of the programme. In many depressed areas, a person would be forced to take the option. Six months is not sufficient time for training of real value, which makes the option ludicrous, as well as damaging. Local headmasters have written to me expressing concern.
There is also the correlation between youth unemployment and crime. The Merseyside chief constable has warned that if youth unemployment increases it will mean a corresponding increase in crime.
Ethnic minorities suffer especially from unemployment. Between 1973 and 1977 unemployment doubled, but for black people it quadrupled. Black youth is disproportionately affected by unemployment.
In Liverpool, 47 per cent. of youngsters under 18, 34 per cent. of young people between 18 and 19 and 27 per cent. between 20 and 24 are out of work. About 11,000 people under 20 are out of work. Recently only 20 or 30 job vacancies were notified to one local careers office. 839 That is appalling, and the Government must wrestle with the problem. If they do not, others will prey on the disadvantages of the young.
A group called “Youth Training” is circulating in Liverpool a letter is signed by Vanessa Redgrave, the chairman, which concerns courses available in a local youth training centre. The courses include hairdressing, drama, cookery, electrical work, dressmaking, boxing and judo. The centre has a tea bar offering soft drinks and soups. It states: Youth Training is open to all youth between 16 and 22, There is a form attached to enrol for dressmaking, hairdressing, cooking, catering, music and drama. Nowhere is it stated that the Workers Revolutionary Party, a very Left-wing group, is involved.
However, on 20 March the Workers Revolutionary Party newspaper, News Line, stated: A call for youth everywhere to build the Young Socialists as a mass revolutionary youth movement and to build the Youth Training Movement was issued by the Young Socialists national secretary Claire Dixon, moving the main resolution”— at its conference in Southport.
The article states: The Youth Training centres will concentrate on training youth in all the up-to-date techniques and technology … We must mobilise a massive youth movement—a revolutionary youth movement. We must take our message to youth everywhere. We warn that you can have no illusions that there is going to be an upturn in this slump. The ruling class have no answers to this crisis … There is no peaceful road to socialism—we are building a revolutionary socialist youth movement to lead the struggle.”. It continues: Vanessa Redgrave of the Workers Revolutionary Party, Central Committee, appealed to the conference to throw its full support behind the Youth Training programme.’ This is a serious matter. One centre has been opened in Liverpool and, according to another edition of News Line, another has been opened in Brixton, in South London. These people are preying on the disadvantages of youngsters and unemployed people.
It is not just people on the far Left who are preying on the disadvantages of youngsters and the unemployed in this way. In the same area, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) will know, a group called “Viking Youth” on the far Right is trying to do the same kind of thing. Unless we take measures to try to tackle their problems, unemployed youngsters will be more and more susceptible to organisations of that kind. The cynicism, bitterness, anger and frustration of young people will be used to pull them into these extreme Left- and Right-wing organisations. In this respect, we should heed the warning of the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Young) earlier in the debate.
I accept that there are no simple or easy solutions. I do not believe anyone who says that there are, whether they be monetarists or Marxists. It is right to remind the House that when the present Leader of the Opposition was Secretary of State for Employment, unemployment rose—including unemployment among young people. When he was Secretary of State, unemployment in Britain rose from 579,000 to 1.2 million. In Wales it rose from 3 per cent. to 7 per cent., and in his own constituency from 3.9 per cent. to 11.4 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman said: 840 I am not prepared to sit in this place and preside over mass unemployment. I do not hold the right hon. Gentleman personally responsible for what happened after that but I find it difficult to take that kind of sentiment and statement seriously when I see the same right hon. Gentleman walking through the streets of my city waving a stick and shaking his fists, especially when people participating in the march that he led stayed at the Adelphi hotel, the most prestigious in town.
When I hear the Prime Minister talking about the problems of unemployment and about her sympathy for the unemployed, I remind the House that she has not set foot in Liverpool since the election of May 1979
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I remind the hon. Gentleman of his claim that the unemployment demonstration in Liverpool would or could lead to violence. Some of us pointed out that it was a Labour Party unemployment demonstration involving trade unionists in this country as well as people from Merseyside and elsewhere. It did not lead to violence. It was a most peaceful demonstration. Indeed, ours is the only party at present doing anything about rousing the people of this country to activity against unemployment.
§ Mr. Alton
The House will recall that only a week or so ago my right hon. and hon. Friends and I presented a massive petition, with more than a quarter of a million signatures, from people concerned about unemployment in this country, because we believed that that was a way of bringing the concern of the nation to the attention of the House. We do not believe that rabble-rousing or dazzling rhetoric is an answer to the nation’s problems. That is why we do not lead marches. We do not believe that that sort of protest would lead to a solution. We are modest enough to accept that we have no simple solution. I was making the point to the hon. Member for Walton and others that those leading the march had themselves been in jobs in which they had responsibility to try to tackle the problem. They failed before, and I believe that they will fail again.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
rose—
§ Mr. Alton
I shall not give way. I wish to make progress. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has only just arrived. He has not been present for the rest of the debate.
§ Mr. Skinner
I was at the youth unemployment committee.
§ Mr. Alton
The Prime Minister seems to subscribe to the view that if two wrongs do not make a right, one should try a third. We seem to be treated to the same old formula as before. She is regarded by many young people in the North of England as being rather like the wicked witch of the South, except that she has got the words of the spell wrong and the incantation is going sadly awry.
We have had enough of here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians who march through our cities, staying in the most prestigious hotels. Their policies have failed and they will fail again. They are swooping and preying on those unfortunate enough to be unemployed. They are dishonest and deceitful in raising false hopes in communities that have suffered long enough. Indeed, they are behaving in a downright criminal way. There are 2½ million people out of work, and it will soon be 3 million.
841
§ Mr. Skinner
Let the hon. Member explain about the Lib-Lab pact. That was when unemployment rose.
§ Mr. Heffer
Will the hon. Member explain what the Liberal-controlled council in Liverpool is doing?
§ Mr. Alton
One person becomes unemployed every 30 seconds. Our entire industrial base is being eroded. Factories close and businesses go bankrupt. Productivity and profitability decline. The entire economic policy of the Government is a disaster. Twenty five per cent. of our people have now been out of work for more than a year. Half a million are said to be unemployable because they lack essential skills, and 77 per cent. have no formal qualifications whatever.
We Liberals have positive and sensible solutions to offer. We would get rid of the pretence that there is an easy solution to unemployment. We would create the climate for new jobs by increasing incentive, by introducing a prices and incomes policy and by giving workers a say in the running of their firms and a stake in the profits. By doing that we would remove much of the confrontation at the workplace—the kind of mindless militancy which in Liverpool, as the hon. Member for Walton knows, has led to the loss of many jobs. By reducing the working week and allowing much earlier retirement we would create the possibility of many new jobs.
§ Mr. Heffer
rose—
§ Mr. Skinner
What about the Lib-Lab pact?
§ Mr. John Lee (Nelson and Colne)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With the greatest respect, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton), endeavouring to make his contribution, has been present since the debate began. He is now being hounded by hon. Members who have appeared relatively recently. That is monstrous. Many hon. Members have sat here throughout the debate hoping to participate later.
§ Mr. Heffer
I shall explain to the House exactly what the Liberal-controlled city council has done to deal with unemployment in Liverpool. As a result of Liberal policies, backing the Government’s policies, the unemployment situation in some parts of Liverpool has worsened. In housing, in maintenance departments and in other sectors, the Liberals have been responsible for putting people out of work in Liverpool. Let the hon. Gentleman answer that.
§ Mr. Alton
I hope that the hon. Member for Walton will at some time place before the House any evidence that he may have. The Liberal-controlled council in Liverpool has not made a single person unemployed. There has not been a single redundancy as a result of Liberal policy on the city council. I refute any allegation to that effect. The reason why there has been a decline in the construction industry, with 300,000 people out of work, is that we have the worst public sector house building figures since 1924. That is hardly the fault of the Liberal-controlled council in Liverpool.
I shall not detain the House much longer, as I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I return to other constructive suggestions that we would use to tackle unemployment. At present, £9 billion or £10 billion per year is being raised in revenue from North Sea oil. We should like to see some of that channelled into many youth opportunities and apprenticeship training schemes. In West Germany, more than 400 occupations are covered by 842 apprenticeship schemes. We would offer firms new youth training allowances and insist by law that new apprenticeships be created.
We believe that many other useful schemes could he promoted. Insulation programmes, for example are socially useful and also employ people. They also save energy. That would be far more useful than having young people on YOP schemes going around counting the number of lamp posts.
In conclusion, I wish to speak of the climate that we should create for British industry. As long ago as 1879, John Stuart Mill wrote: There is a far more complete remedy for the disadvantages of hired labour …—the admission of the whole body of labourers to a participation in the profits, by distributing among all who share the work, in the the form of a percentage on their earnings, the whole or a fixed portion of the gains. It was in that tradition that my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) wrote in his excellent and inspiring book “The Common Welfare”: From the stand point of economic efficiency, as a means of increasing the opportunities of the less well-off, and certainly as a cure for inflation and unemployment, corporatism as it has been increasingly practised in the last 40 years is a failure. A free society must be a libertarian society and that libertarian society must incorporate a free market and voluntary cooperation. My right hon. Friend then goes on to describe various succesful producer co-operatives throughout the world, and it was in an attempt to try to strengthen that tradition that my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal Party, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) forced the last Government to establish the Co-operative Development Agency, to foster the creation and maintenance of industrial partnerships.
We should never forget that it was the Liberals, not the Labour Party or those members of it who belong to the self-styled Institute for Workers Control of Industry, who forced that policy through. That is why this country needs the sort of ideas that I have been outlining today. We shall vote with the Opposition tonight because we are not satisfied that the Government are doing what they should be doing about youth unemployment. I should like to see much more done, and I hope that the Government will therefore take into account some of the things that I have said.
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July 16th 1981 (in the aftermath of the riots):
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
The hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) said that all of us in the Chamber are over 30 years of age. That is true. Another feature that unites us all is that we all have a job. That is one of the themes to which I shall return.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) spoke of the number of consultants who have been coming into Liverpool over the years. He said that when Ministers come to Liverpool they should understand that the city needs not more reports or papers from consultants but positive assistance. That is a remark that I endorse wholeheartedly. The greatest growth industry on Merseyside over the past few years—perhaps the only one—has been that of consultants coming to the city to 1464 feed off its problems without offering it any real hope for the future. It is Government action and action by all hon. Members that is required.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the blame that we must all bear. He struck a true chord. He referred to the initiatives that the council is taking. The council is right to embark on a major consultation exercise by asking those in the area what they want before trying to put right the damage and destruction that has been caused in Liverpool over recent weeks.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) talked about self-help and neighbourhood councils. I agree with him. I hope that he will persuade some of his Liverpool colleagues that the establishment of directly elected neighbourhood councils will be one way of tackling some of the problem of alienation in the community. However, I repudiate what he said about the gangs which he claimed were being established in some of the centres in the Upper Parliament Street area, an area which I represent in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw).
That area has a large number of community centres, but they are not all the breeding grounds for the terrorist groups and gangs which the hon. Member for Wavertree described. He mentioned the Harding centre in my constituency which provides many activities for local people, whatever colour or class they may be. Many people use that centre to great advantage, as do people using the Pakistan centre. It must be said that the Afro-Asian-Caribbean council in Liverpool has tried to bring together the different rival groups so that they can work with one another. Therefore, it is not fair to say that those centres are being used purely so that young people can go on a rampage of looting and rioting or to establish gangs which are in conflict with one another.
§ Mr. Steen
I apologise for missing the beginning of the hon. Gentleman’s speech. It has been suggested that it would be better to use all the public money which has been pumped into the separate units in one neighbourhood community centre, which would be managed by all the separate groups, and where they would have their separate identity. If we want to develop a multi-racial society, we must not separate groups from one another.
§ Mr. Alton
That is precisely what is happening in Liverpool. Many groups are coming together to try to work in the interests of that community. I said before the hon. Member came into the Chamber that the establishment of directly elected neighbourhood councils and the corporate management to which he and the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) referred is the way to proceed.
We cannot escape the fact that money will be required. I hope that the Minister will deal with this point. Whilst I am not in favour of simply throwing money at problems, it is imperative that money is provided by central Government towards the cost of rebuilding many of the businesses which have been decimated during the riots. To expect the hard-pressed ratepayers of Liverpool to bear the burden of the Riot (Damages) Act is expecting too much in a city which has suffered from reductions in its rate support grant and in its aid from the central Exchequer.
The one common line of agreement and consent which has run through the whole debate in looking at the disturbances which have swept the country over the past few weeks is that none of those things has been attributable 1465 to one cause. We cannot link what may appear to have been a racially inspired disturbance in one area to disturbances in other areas where race is not a factor, particularly in the case of the riots in Liverpool, which is a city prized for its racial tolerance and successful integration and assimilation of ethnic communities. Therefore, I must repudiate what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said earlier. His self-fulfilling prophecies over the years have not made any contribution to bringing about integration or the creation of a multi-racial society, which is something which I believe in.
Race is not the cause, nor, taken separately, are unemployment, inadequate housing or bad police relations with the public. Taken together, however, those issues provide the ingredients necessary for the conflagrations which have occurred throughout Britain. They are also weapons in the hands of those whose only aim is to destroy and disrupt. The House must take notice of the intrinsic roles which extreme Left-wing as well as Right-wing groups have been playing in fomenting the disturbances. They have been using the problems of race, unemployment, inadequate housing and poor police relations with the community as the fuel to feed their fire.
Liverpool boasts a multi-racial society which has demonstrated a remarkable tolerance towards the assimilation of different ethnic groups into its community structure, yet it is no secret that Liverpool is considered one of the most depressed urban areas in Europe and that 40 per cent. of the population are unemployed in central Liverpool, while for young blacks the figure is over 50 per cent. While unemployment doubled for white persons between 1973 and 1977, it quadrupled for the black population. At the Leece Street employment office in central Liverpool, 18,000 people are registered as unemployed—one-third of the number for the whole city. The House must set a target of reducing by at least 10,000 the number registered at that office.
As I have said, no one factor alone can be blamed, but alienation of the black community and passage of legislation such as the British Nationality Bill has not helped to bring black and white together. We must also include overcrowding, poor housing conditions and houses that lack basic amenities. Only last week a Bill was printed that I introduced called the Minimum Housing Standards Bill, which seeks to introduce standards that today should be an accepted right in Britain. People should have running hot water, inside toilets and a bathroom. Hundreds of thousands of construction workers are standing idle in the dole queues, so how can we justify leaving over 1 million people rotting in such conditions, when we have the means to improve the quality of their lives?
There is an even bigger problem—the paranoic hatred of the community towards some police officers in Liverpool, the cause of which can partly be attributed to police methods, such as the over-use of stop and search and the “sus” laws to detain innocent persons. It can also be attributed partly to the fact that there are no longer sufficient policemen on the beat, as so many hon. Members have pointed out. As the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) said, many policemen travel around at night in panda cars and jeeps and become alienated from the local community.
It is no coincidence that virtually at the centre of the conflagration, on the borders of Edge Hill and Toxteth, there used to be a neighbourhood community police station 1466 at Kingsley Road, and there was another one just down the road in Lawrence Road. It is nonsense to spend £12 million building a new police headquarters in the centre of Liverpool, where nobody lives, and to close down neighbourhood police stations—it is said, for economic reasons—in areas where people live and where there are many tensions. I hope that the chief constable and the police committee will reconsider the strategy.
The Merseyside chief constable faces a major challenge in restoring confidence in the police. He must earn the respect of the whole community. If he is unwilling to do that, I am afraid that he must go. It will be a difficult task, especially when chief constables are imposed on a community instead of being chosen from within the community in which they should work and reside.
There are about 500,000 young people unemployed in Britain, and it should be possible to take some of them into the police force. It is a sad indictment of the Merseyside police force it contains only six black faces. It is the 150th anniversary of the special police, and in this year it should be possible to recruit more black special constables, which would be a good way to get black people involved in policing their own communities. At present they see the police as the enemy.
It would also be wise to listen to pleas for community policing from people such as Chief Constable John Alderson of Devon and Cornwall, who also has experience of the City of London, so he is talking not only from a rural background. To dismiss his pleas for more community police stations and policemen on the beat, as many chief constables have done, is not the way to proceed.
I turn to what happens when law and order breaks down. Great courage was shown by many of our Liverpool police officers during the two nights of rioting that I witnessed over a week ago. When law and order breaks down, as it has during the past two weeks, we must consider carefully how to handle that situation. I do not support the use of plastic and rubber bullets against rioters. Inevitably, such methods are dangerous and serve only to escalate the gravity of retaliation by rioters. I am also dubious about the use of water cannons, having seen hoses turned on the police on the streets of Liverpool just 10 days ago.
While I understand the reason why the chief constable ordered the use of CS gas, I must tell the House that about an hour before it was used, at about 3 o’clock in the morning, I heard a message on the Liverpool police radio sets asking police officers who knew how to handle CS gas to report to police headquarters. That demonstrates how unprepared our police force was for the use of that gas.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for saying earlier today that there would be an inquiry into how the wrong kind of CS gas could have been used on the streets of Liverpool. I understand that the canisters were clearly marked to the effect that they should not be used against people but only for the penetration of buildings. The use of that gas in such a situation should deeply concern us all.
To put police into a riot situation without adequate shields or proper uniforms and without the skills to handle riots—until now, they have been trained only in crowd control—is like sending a farmer to plough a field with a child’s spade. The police must never again be exposed to the brutal onslaught which they suffered in central Liverpool. While the Home Secretary is undoubtedly right 1467 to improve riot equipment, far more training in riot control is necessary. The Government must address themselves to far more fundamental matters than asbestos gloves.
Not only was the police response inadequate and ineffective to deal with what happened in Liverpool, as my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth said earlier. The political response in the aftermath has been appalling. Effective remedies should come from the top. Unfortunately, the Government have proved incapable of showing appropriate sensitivity. For example, when 44 young dancers died in a Dublin discotheque in February this year, the Prime Minister at once sent her kind wishes to her Irish colleague Mr. Charles Haughey, but when 13 young black people died in a fire at a party in South-East London no official person said a compassionate word about it.
As this week’s edition of The Economist says: Mrs. Thatcher’s compassion, or at least her worry, is now aroused—her television address on Wednesday was that of someone who had fretted over every word. About time. Her friends and Cabinet colleagues should play through to her a television videotape of her speech to a farmers’s show on the worst morning after the riots and get her to see why that more characteristic earlier reaction was a national calamity”.
I must also point out to the Home Secretary that spending 15 minutes travelling through the streets of Liverpool looking at a riot-torn area from a bullet-proof car is not the way to restore confidence in the political process or political leaders. As a constituent put it to me, “Even the Queen gets out and shakes a few hands and talks to people”. I am pleased that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister came to Liverpool. I am sorry that they came in such circumstances. I hope that they will come again and that the circumstances will be happier for them and for my city.
I hope that the Liberal Party’s response will be helpful to the whole House. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party was in Liverpool yesterday. He toured the area and met many people in the centres mentioned earlier by the hon. Member for Wavertree, talking to people in the streets and to shopkeepers and residents who had been affected. He also announced yesterday that he had established a special commission, to be headed by Mark Bonham Carter, assisted by Lord Evans and Lord Winstanley. It is our hope that an examination of the wider political issues involved will be of assistance to Lord Scarman who is undertaking a very useful inquiry into Brixton. I hope, however, that when Lord Scarman’s report is finally concluded it will not be just another set of documents to gather dust on Government shelves.
Parliament itself must also learn how to respond better to the immigrant and native black community. If the prophecies of the right hon. Member for Down, South are not to come true, we must put our own house in order. That surely means that there ought to be some black faces in this Chamber. That is one reason why I support an electoral system which would ensure that minorities are properly represented in the House.
Unemployment, housing, racial tension and policing have all played their part, but the House must also look at those who fan the flames. The chief constable of Manchester spoke of a conspiracy. It is certainly true that on the nights when riots flared in Liverpool every lunatic from the extreme wings of politics seemed to be on the streets of Liverpool.
1468 Someone was organising the petrol bombs. There were people in hoods overturning cars, causing disruption and deliberately helping those who wanted to fan the flames of the violence. People were also distributing leaflets. Other hon. Members have already referred to leaflets that were distributed in their own constituencies.
The House will recall that immediately after the riots I brought to the attention of the Home Secretary a leaflet that was deliberately designed to incite and inflame the situation in central Liverpool. It was put out at the height of the rioting.
No hon. Member can forgive the orgy of violence, looting and destruction which took place, yet on the night of the riots a leaflet was delivered by the Labour Party Young Socialists which says that they defend all those arrested during these events, and call for their immediate release and the dropping of all charges against them. The leaflet was printed and published at 70 Victoria Street, which is the headquarters of the Labour Party in Liverpool, and it bore the telephone number of a prospective Labour Party candidate.
The hon. Member for Walton disavowed that leaflet immediately afterwards and like most hon. Members—I would hope all—said that he could not condone the looting and rioting that took place. Yet those wolves in sheep’s clothing who distributed that sort of wicked literature—it can only be described as such—deliberately incited people in that area to go on looting, burning and pillaging in the expectation that all charges against them would be dropped, whatever the nature of their offences.
§ Mr. Heffer
I have made it quite clear that I disagree with a number of points in that leaflet. However, the hon. Gentleman must also be fair. He should point out that it also stated quite clearly that in no way did the people responsible for it condone rioting, looting and violence. I appreciate that there are parts of the leaflet with which I disagree. In fact, the general secretary of the party issued a statement to the effect that it had nothing to do with the Labour Party. But in order to be fair to these youngsters, who I believe were misguided in respect of some of the points they made, the hon. Gentleman should point out that they made it clear that they were not in favour of looting, violence or rioting to solve political problems.
§ Mr. Alton
That leaflet said that, whatever the crimes committed, all charges should be dropped. That can only be seen by any fair-minded person as an act of incitement and a deliberate act of provocation at a time when the rioting and looting were at their worst. I received a copy of the leaflet in the middle of Sunday night’s riots.
Only last week, I wrote to the hon. Member for Walton. I appreciate that he has been as busy as I have and that probably he has not had a chance to reply. However, I put to the hon. Gentleman a statement by Mr. Jim Hollinshead, the chairman of the Labour Party Young Socialists in Liverpool, who said on television that the leaflet was endorsed by the constituency parties in Edge Hill, Toxteth and Scotland Exchange. He even claimed, although I understand the hon. Gentleman has repudiated this, that the hon. Gentleman’s own agent saw the text of the leaflet before it was distributed.
Such leaflets have been distributed throughout the country. According to an article in one of the Sunday newspapers, Militant Left-Wingers have drawn up plans to organise street rioters and looters into a highly disciplined revolutionary force 1469 to topple the Government. ‘Red’ Andy Bevan, organiser of the Labour Party Young Socialists, said: ‘We must bring the Tories down at the earliest opportunity—we can’t wait two years for an election.’ And he revealed that he knew well in advance that Britain’s streets were about to be ripped apart by an explosion of violence”.
§ Mr. Heffer
Is the hon. Gentleman quoting what Andy Bevan said or what the writer of the article said that Andy Bevan said? There is a distinction. I have sent many letters to various newspapers and statements have been attributed to me that I never made but which people said that I made. Had Andy Bevan said anything like that, there would undoubtedly be some inquiry in the Party. However, to quote what some newspaper writer said that Andy Bevan said is not necessarily the same as quoting what he actually said.
This is a quite unnecessary discussion. As I said on the radio, it would be much better if the hon. Gentleman came forward with some positive proposals to deal with the problem instead of coming forward with a silly leaflet that was issued by youngsters who though that they were helping to solve a problem. There was no malice nor was there any intention to incite violence. In fact, they were against violence.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. Long interventions make long speeches even longer, and There are many hon. Members waiting to speak.
§ Mr. Alton
I shall quote from Miss Claire Doyle, who came to Toxteth from Brixton at the height of the riots. She spoke at a meeting in Toxteth, and said: The Young Socialists in Toxteth wanted to channel the energies of the youth in the area against the Tories.
Mr. Heifer
What is wrong with that?
Mr. Afton
Everyone knows that the youth of the area were on the streets of Liverpool, looting and rioting—
Mr. Haffer
Every one of them?
§ Mr. Alton
People were deliberately trying to foment the riot and to orchestrate events. It is not only the wolves in sheep’s clothing that are involved but the wolves themselves. The following report appeared in a Sunday newspaper: Mr. Tony Cliff,…a member of the Central Committee of the SWP, said yesterday that the party must try now to coordinate young rioters in all parts of the country. His call was made at a…meeting held in the Liverpool offices of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers. … Mr. Cliff.…said. The riots and looting have been fantastic, but they have not gone far enough. …We must teach them to take the bakery, not just the bread. Others referred to youth training centres, as they are euphemistically called. Four days before the Brixton riots I spoke in a debate in this House on youth unemployment. I said: the government must wrestle with the problem. If they do not, others will prey on the disadvantages of the young.”—[Official Report, 7 April 1981; Vol. 2, c. 839.] I quoted from News Line. Miss Claire Dixon, speaking at the Young Socialists’ conference. said: There is no peaceful road to socialism—we are building a revolutionary socialist youth movement to lead the struggle.” Those are the people who have established youth training centres in London and in my constituency. I do not subscribe to the sheer conspiracy theory. Many things are involved, and have led to this conflagration. However, such events require people to come into a community, to organise, to provide petrol bombs and to 1470 manipulate people in a way that will destroy the peace. We cannot forgive the bully boys either. They travel by bus into areas such as Southall with one aim in mind—to disrupt life and violate the citizens who live there.
These arsonists of the psychotic Right—often associated with the National Front and other similar organizations—wear their insignia and incite racial hatred with apparent impunity. Freedom of expression is an important right, but when it amounts to the incitement of racial violence and other civil disturbances it flies in the face of the precious rights of those whom a democratic society has pledged itself to protect. These Right-wing Fascist groups should be put on criminal charges right away.
A chemistry of events came together to create the type of explosion that we saw in the city of Liverpool. I hope that there will be an attempt by the politicians of that city to work with one another in common cause to try to rebuild the city. I want to see an end to the bickering among politicians in the city of Liverpool. I desperately want to see the city that I represent being rebuilt by our people. I hope that we can build on the confrontation that we have seen. Then we may see some good from this evil.
9.33 pm

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