Speech during the General Debate on Public Order

Thursday, 11 August 2011
Below is the speech David Lammy will make this afternoon - 11th August 2011 - to the House of Commons with regards to the riots in Tottenham last Saturday evening.



The Duggan family and the Met

Mr Speaker, events of the last week started with death of Mark Duggan, one of my constituents, during a police operation.

In the immediate aftermath of incident there were reports of an exchange of fire between Mr Duggan and the police.

We now know that two shots were fired and that they both came from police weapons.

A grieving family and my constituents deserve to know the truth about what happened that night.

The IPCC investigation must be thorough, it must be open and it must be seen to be independent.

Mr Speaker there are other serious questions that need answering:

o    Why did the Duggan family first hear about the death of their son not from a police officer, but when it was broadcast on national television?

o    Why, when they arrived at Tottenham police station to stage a peaceful protest, were they made to wait for five hours before a senior police officer was made available to them?  

o    Why, when that peaceful protest was hijacked by violent elements, were a few skirmishes allowed to become a full scale riot with far reaching consequences?

Mistakes have been made by the Metropolitan police

And this must be subject to a full public inquiry.

The violence

Mr Speaker, on Sunday morning, I stood amidst the burning embers of Tottenham High Road.

There is no connection between the death of a young man and the torching of the homes of Stuart Radose and 25 other families in the Carpet Right building.

There is no connection between the treatment of the Duggan family and Niche, the landlord of the Spirit of Tottenham, being held a knifepoint whilst his pub was ransacked.

I could go on.

This violence was criminal and we condemn it utterly.

Mr Speaker, Tottenham has brave and very resilient people. And I have no doubt that we will get through this, together.

But as the TV cameras begin to move out, I urge the government and this House not to forget the people of Tottenham.

Moral codes

Mr Speaker, in this House and beyond we must also begin what is a much more difficult discussion.

We must address why boys and girls aged as young as 11 engage in the kind of violent and destructive behaviour witnessed this week.

As we do so I urge all sides to avoid reaching for easy slogans and solutions.

These riots cannot be explained away simply by poverty or cuts to public services.

That the vast majority of young men from poor areas did not take part in the violence is proof of that.

Many young men showed restraint and respect for others because they have grown up with social boundaries and a moral code.

They have been taught how to delay gratification.

To empathise with others rather than terrorise them.

Those values are shaped by parents, our teachers and our neighbours.

It is when these relationships break down that our young people draw their values from elsewhere.

o    A Grand Theft Auto culture that glamorises violence.

o    A consumer culture fixated on the brands we wear, not who we are and what we achieve.

o    A gang culture with warped notions of loyalty, respect and honour.

A civilised society should be policed not just by uniformed officers, but by notions of pride and shame and responsibility towards others.

In this House and beyond we have some deep thinking to do about what that means.

Material circumstances

But while this is true there is another side to the story.

On Tuesday the Prime Minister warned those involved in the rioting that they were risking their own futures.

I am afraid the problem is far greater than that.

Those lashing out – randomly, cruelly and violently – feel they have nothing to lose.

They do not feel bound by the moral code of the rest of society because they do not feel part of the rest of society.

We cannot live in a society where the banks are ‘too big to fail’ but whole neighbourhoods are allowed to sink without a trace.

The problems of these neighbourhoods have not emerged overnight but the events of the last week are a wake-up call.

Following race riots ten years ago, the Cantle report warned of white and black communities living ‘parallel lives’.

Today the same is true but the polarisation is not between black and white.

It is between those who have a stake in society and those who do not.

o    Those who can see a future through education and those who cannot.

o    Those who can imagine doing a job that is respected and well paid and those who cannot.

o    Those who might hope to own their own home and those who do not.

I repeat that nothing justifies what we have seen this week.

But I remember what it means to grow up poor.

o    To live without a father as a role model.

o    To feel frustrated and angry about my circumstances.

o    To want to lash out.

o    To consider the idea of picking up a bottle and joining in with the crowd.

I was steered away from those things by my mother, by an elder brother, by my pastor, by great teachers and role models who I have everything to thank for.

But I was also steered away by the promise of something different.

By the idea that one day I might go on to university, graduate and get a decent job.

Many of my contemporaries in Tottenham never heard or believed such a promise.

They picked up that bottle. They took part in the riots. And the future that they didn’t believe in.... has never materialised.

So I finish with this plea.

If you think these riots were just about poverty then ask yourself why the majority of youths from deprived areas obeyed the law.

If you think these riots were just about a culture that has become too permissive then ask yourself why those who have a stake in our society stayed at home.

Together, we must address both the question of moral codes and material circumstances.

If we do not then this debate will not just have been a waste of time – it will be worse than that. Because these riots will happen again.

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