There's been a vigorous debate about the causes of the riots and what should be done in response.  As the Prime Minister has said, we need both a security fightback, to ensure troublemakers are dealt with effectively in future, and also a social fightback.

But my constituents have been clear: they want the firmest action to be taken against those convicted of looting and violence.  I agree, and I am pleased to see the courts handing down exemplary sentences.

I don't think this is incompatible with also wishing to see offenders pay back the victims of their crimes through restorative justice, or our reforms to prevent re-offending.  I continue to champion these ideas.  Part of the problem was that too many of the rioters had previous convictions - the criminal justice system failed to deal with them properly in the first place.

The public clearly want a more rigorous approach.  And as I've argued on so many occasions since I was elected, we should listen to the people and trust their good sense.

MPs are representatives, not delegates.  We are elected and then we exercise our judgement when we vote.  The jurist Edmund Burke famously said that an MP betrays his constituents if he does otherwise.  It is our duty to vote with our conscience, for what we believe to be right.  The ballot box will determine our future.

But elected representatives should listen carefully to the people as they weigh the arguments, and Parliamentary debate must reflect the concerns of the day.

That's why I like the Government's new website http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk which enables the public to table and support petitions.  Those that receive 100,000 signatures or more must be considered for debate in the Commons.

It's telling that the most popular petition at the moment, with over 200,000 signatures already, calls for convicted rioters to lose their benefits.  Views on some other contentious issues are more mixed.  The much-publicised petition to restore capital punishment has received a lot of support, but less than another calling for the ban on capital punishment to be retained.

A quarter of a million people signed petitions against the downgrading of our West Sussex hospitals, and the proposal was seen off.  When the people speak, they must be heard.

Christopher N Howarth