Cameron considers more anti-riot measures
HOUSE OF COMMONS:BRITISH POLICE could be given powers to shut down communication networks, impose curfews and force people to remove face masks, David Cameron said yesterday as he sought to prevent a repeat of riots across England’s biggest cities.
The House of Commons was recalled for a day, with members of parliament cutting short their holidays to discuss four days of violence that left buildings ablaze, thousands of riot police on the streets and several people dead.
Parliament had not met during August since the summer of 1968, when politicians returned to London to discuss Russia’s invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Nigerian civil war.
Police have arrested more than 1,000 rioters, mainly youngsters from the inner cities of London, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. Amid fears of reputational damage to the UK abroad, the prime minister pledged an increased police presence in London – 16,000 officers – would remain until the weekend.
Mr Cameron also unveiled measures for small businesses and victims of rioting and looting in an emergency statement to more than 500 MPs. These include a £20 million (€22.8 million) fund to help local retailers back on their feet, and a £10 million scheme to give councils more support in the clean-up operations. The prime minister said the government would come down hard on those who had committed crimes amid public fury that the police failed to protect innocent people from looting and violence.
But Mr Cameron has found himself in a political quandary, with pressure from both the opposition Labour party and some of his fellow Tories – including London mayor Boris Johnson – to reverse planned cuts in police numbers.
As part of the government’s austerity measures, police budgets are to be reduced by 20 per cent by 2015, which could lead to more than 16,000 officers being cut. David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, where the riots started, said 45 local residents had lost their homes to arson. “They were running out of their homes carrying their children in their arms, and their cry is, ‘Where were the police?’,” he asked.
Mr Cameron acknowledged there had been failings by the police, who had initially treated the situation as a “public order issue” rather than one of crime. He announced the army could be used in such extreme circumstances to help police cope with disorder by taking over “everyday jobs” to free up officers for “frontline jobs”.
Labour leader Ed Milibancalled on the prime minister to reconsider cuts to police numbers and asked what would happen when the current surge of officers was withdrawn. The prime minister refused to budge.
Mr Cameron, who rattled through 160 questions in 165 minutes, insisted there was a “perfect capability” to increase the number of officers in the Metropolitan Police when it was necessary and said he did not believe the cuts “should lead to any reduction in visible policing”.
Mr Cameron said tackling gangs would be a “national priority” and that there would be legal provision for action against both children and adults involved in gangs, as well as reviewing whether local authorities needed to have tougher powers to evict gang members from social housing. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011)
RIOTERS MAY LOSE BENEFITS: 97,000 CITIZENS BACK PROPOSAL
MINISTERS ARE looking at stripping rioters of benefits after tens of thousands of people signed a petition backing the move.
More than 97,000 members of the public have rushed to endorse the idea, causing the government’s new e-petitions website to crash repeatedly.
The proposal now seems certain to gather the 100,000 signatures needed for referral to the Commons backbench business committee, which will decide whether it should be debated by MPs. – (PA)