Speeches from debate on riots (2)

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): The events of last week started with the death of Mark Duggan, one of my constituents, during a police operation. In the immediate aftermath of the 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.

Other serious questions need answering. Why did the Duggan family first hear about the death of their son not from a police officer, but when the news was broadcast on national television? Why, when they arrived at Tottenham police station to ask questions and to stage a peaceful protest, were they made to wait for five hours before a senior police officer was made available to them? 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.

On Sunday morning, I stood amid 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 Carpetright building. There is no connection between the treatment of the Duggan family and Niche, the landlord of the Spirit of Tottenham, being held at knifepoint while his pub was ransacked. I could go on. This violence was criminal, and we condemn it utterly.

Tottenham has brave and very resilient people—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 the House not to forget the people of Tottenham. In the House and beyond, we must also begin 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, and as we do so, I urge hon. Members on both 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 and to empathise with others rather than terrorise them. Those values were shaped by parents, teachers and our neighbours.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman and I are both members of the all-party group on fatherhood. Does he agree that there is more we can do to encourage fathers to be committed to the mothers of their children and to their children?

Mr Lammy: I certainly agree that that is the major issue this country must confront, but a “Grand Theft Auto” culture that glamorises violence must also be confronted; a consumer culture fixated on brands that we wear rather than who we are and what we achieve must be confronted; a gang culture with warped notions of loyalty, respect and honour must also be confronted. A civilised society should be policed not just by uniformed officers, but by notions of pride and shame and of responsibility toward others. In this House and beyond, we have some deep thinking to do about what that means.

Although that is true, there is another side to the story. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister warned that those involved in the rioting were risking their own futures. I am afraid the problem is far greater than that. Those lashing out—randomly, cruelly and violently—feel that they have nothing to lose. They do not feel bound by the moral code that the rest of society adheres to; 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 trace. The problems of those neighbourhoods have not emerged overnight, but the events of the past week are a wake-up call.

Following the race riots 10 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 stake in society and those who do not; those who can see a future through education and those who cannot; those who can imagine doing a job that is respected and well paid and those who cannot; those who might one day own their own home and those who will not.

I repeat that nothing justifies what we have seen this week, but I remember what it means to grow up poor, to live without a father as a role model, to feel frustrated and angry about my circumstances, to want to lash out and 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, role models and youth workers, and I thank them all for that, but I was also steered away by the promise of something different—by the idea that, one day, I might go to university and get a decent job. That idea is what we have to realise for so many people in the coming weeks, months and years.

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