Gerald Kaufman – 1985 Speech on Inner City Riots

Below is the text of the speech made by Gerald Kaufman, the then Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, in the House of Commons on 21 October 1985.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment to his high office and I regret, as I am sure he does, that his first duty in that new office is to come to the House on such a wretched occasion.

Five people have died in sad and savage circumstances, and the first duty of the House today is to send sympathy to those who are mourning Mr. Kammalia Moliedina, Mr. Amir Moliedina, Mrs. Cynthia Jarrett, Police Constable Keith Blakelock and Mr. David Hodge. We send our concern and best wishes for a speedy and full recovery to Mrs. Cherry Groce, a tragic victim of these dreadful events, and to all others—police, firemen, ambulancemen and ordinary innocent citizens—who have suffered injury in disturbances which have included arson, looting and the dreadful crime of rape.

Many have undergone serious financial loss, and I must first ask the Home Secretary what action can be taken to speed up the payment of compensation under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 and to expand that Act’s scope to take account of loss of income after the riots.

The House will be debating these matters on Wednesday, and I must repeat the anger that is felt on this side at the failure of the Government to provide time, which has meant that the House will have only half a day on each occasion to debate this profound issue and the crisis in southern Africa.
Grave questions arise from these disorders and it is essential that the country receives answers on matters which have caused profound national concern. These relate to the nature of policing during riots, and such questions come from the populations of the affected areas and from the police themselves. What the Home Secretary said today will not allay any of these anxieties. They relate to the relationship between the police and the community, in the inner cities and elsewhere. They include disquiet over the spreading use of firearms by the police, the background to the riots, mass unemployment, especially among teenagers, bad housing, environmental decay and dereliction and racial discrimination.

The Home Secretary boasted today about funds provided under the urban programme, but such sums are only a fraction of the money that has been taken away from these areas in abolished housing subsidy, reduced rate support grant and rate support grant penalties. It is an absurdity that the Home Secretary boasted at Handsworth of the money going to Handsworth when in this financial year alone more money is being taken away from the city of Birmingham in rate support grant penalty than all those sums given over a period of years.

Only two days after the Brixton disorders, in April 1981, Lord Whitelaw, as Home Secretary, announced to the House an inquiry under Lord Scarman to start right away. After the latest riots, however, the Government stubbornly refuse an inquiry. The Police Complaints Authority inquiries do not begin to be a substitute because, as Lord Scarman in his report insisted,

“It is necessary before attempting an answer to the policing problem to understand the social problem.”

It is all very well for the Home Secretary to boast of the increase in police resources under the Conservatives, but he said nothing about the terrifying crime wave from which the county is suffering and which the clear-up rate shows the police are increasingly unable to combat.

The social problem referred to by Lord Scarman has broadened and deepened. in the four years since his report, and the need for action is that much greater. Lord Scarman warned in his report that

“to ignore the complex political, social and economic factors … is …to put the nation in peril.”

Our fear is that, unless the Governments response is much more far-seeing than has so far been demonstrated, Lord Scarman will have been right in his grim warning that

“disorder will become a disease endemic in our society.”

Those are the dimensions of the challenge which we face and which the nation expects us to meet.