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Mr. Denham: I welcome my hon. Friend's comments. He is right to urge everybody to put the events of the weekend behind them and to sit down and talk about the way forward. We of course welcome and fully support the discussions to which he referred.
My hon. Friend mentioned the issues facing district councils. Elected local representatives, including those on the council and, of course, leaders of local community organisations, have an important role to play not only financially but in uniting the community and tackling the problems that obviously exist. Burnley has received significant investment through the regeneration programme in particular, but it is important that local people identify what else needs to be done in order to find a way forward.
With regard to racist organisations, I join my hon. Friend in condemning those who seek to exploit underlying problems with simplistic solutions to complex and real issues that need to be thrashed out by people talking and working together.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): I welcome the Minister of State to his new responsibilities. As this occasion illustrates, he is taking on responsibility for some very difficult and complex problems affecting our country. We on the Opposition Benches wish him well in the discharge of those new duties.
I join the Minister of State and the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) in condemning the violence on the streets of Burnley and in their calls for people in the town, from whatever community, to exercise self-discipline and restraint and to seek to tackle the problems through peaceful and democratic discussion rather than street violence.
I appreciate that there might be legal constraints on what the Minister can say, but is he able to tell the House whether there is any evidence of the involvement of members of the British National party or other far-right groups in provoking the incidents in Burnley? Does he agree that we in this country have laws that make incitement to racial hatred a criminal offence and that, if the evidence exists, they should be rigorously enforced and exemplary sentences given?
I agree that the solutions to Burnley's problems and to the underlying tensions to which the hon. Member for Burnley referred have to be found primarily through local action rather than central Government action, but we should reject the idea, advanced in some quarters, that the answer is to accept that there should be no-go areas of the town for either white or Asian people. I hope that all Members of Parliament, whatever their politics, agree that we should strive to ensure that every citizen of Burnley--or of any other town or city in this country--feels that he or she enjoys the rights and responsibilities of being British citizens, and that no one has to feel afraid to walk down any street or through any district in their home town.
Will the Minister consider, as part of his reflections on the events of the weekend, some of the reports that de facto segregation of Asian and white neighbourhoods in Burnley has helped some of the problems to emerge, with people from different communities not mixing because they do not live in the same neighbourhoods?
May I ask the Minister--in what I assure him is a non-partisan spirit--whether the Government will, as part of their response to events in Burnley and elsewhere, reconsider the priority that central Government as a whole give to neighbourhood street policing in our towns and cities? The concept has become somewhat unfashionable in recent years, but I believe that it is when police officers have become familiar faces to the people of the neighbourhoods that they regularly patrol that they win the trust of people from all communities in that neighbourhood and can, as a result, be more effective police officers.
The hon. Gentleman asks whether I have any evidence of involvement by particular organised groups and racist groups in the events of the weekend. The honest answer, as I stand here this afternoon, is that I have received no such indication at this stage, but he will understand that these are early days in terms of receiving full reports. I think that the whole House would draw the distinction between involvement of particular groups and actions that occur because particular groups have been involved in exploiting community issues, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are strong legal powers to deal with incitement to racial hatred and other race crimes.
I agree that no one in a free society wants to compromise that by saying that there should be places where certain people in that free society cannot go. There cannot be no-go areas as either an outcome or an instrument of policy. If there are issues in Burnley or elsewhere relating to where local communities live, those are precisely the sorts of issues that must be addressed in the short, medium and long term through the discussions that should take place at local level.
We recognise that local policing--neighbourhood policing--has an important role to play in many different ways in tackling the fear of crime and building up understanding with local communities, as do the efforts that we have made and will continue to make to ensure that, in the coming years, we in this country have a police service that is fully representative of all the communities it serves.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I, too, welcome the Minister to his important responsibilities as the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs. I join colleagues on both sides of the House in condemning violence as a solution to any community tension or problem and in thanking both the local authority and police for their leadership and work, and the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) for his community leadership over many years.
In the same vein as the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), may I put three issues to the Minister? First, will he take time to look at the delivery of three services--police services, housing services and the youth
Secondly, although there may not be any immediate evidence of a link between right-wing political activity and the events of this weekend, I have no doubt--from my own constituency experience among others--that the more right-wing activity there is, the more tension rises. I am happy to collaborate on the following matter, and I am sure that my colleagues in other parties are as well: will the Minister investigate whether we are prosecuting adequately the use of language and written literature that appears to incite racial hatred, but which is often not followed up by police or prosecution service activity? We frequently seem to get on to difficult ground when we ban marches, but we do not often take action against individuals, spoken words and printed literature.
Thirdly, so that we do not have a summer of events in one city or town followed by statements, questions and so on, may I constructively suggest that the Minister and the Home Secretary convene a group from at least the three parties in England to try to prevent problems before they arise and to learn the wisdom of community management from mixed-race multicultural communities? There are tensions in many places, but there are many places where the best experience can minimise them and take the community forward. It may be better to anticipate future tensions and difficulties, rather than always to react to them.
Mr. Denham: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He asked about the delivery of key public services in Burnley and elsewhere, and I am sure that he will recognise the significance of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, which not only outlaws discrimination in all public authority functions not covered by the Race Relations Act 1976 but places a general duty on listed public authorities to promote racial equality, which is an important change of emphasis. The hon. Gentleman is therefore right that the Government as a whole will look at the way in which many different public services will now fulfil their responsibilities under the 2000 Act.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned activity by racist parties. As I acknowledged earlier, there can be a direct relationship between activities in communities that have been targeted by racist organisations and the level of racial violence or disturbance that takes place, and we must aim to counter that. I will look at the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that activity that falls foul of the law is not being prosecuted, and I am happy to receive from him examples of material or events that give rise to concern. We now clearly have powerful laws on the statute book to tackle racist activity, and we expect them to be used effectively and well.
As for avoiding future events, when we look at areas where there have been problems we often conclude, although I do not want to pre-judge anything that may have happened in Burnley this weekend, that there are common underlying factors and issues specific to that locality. Discussions about community building that will