Meral Hussein Ece writes: my contribution in the Lords to the riots debate

This is the speech Meral made last Thursday as part of the Lords debate on the public disorder.

Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, I, too, would like to associate myself and these Benches with the sentiments that have been expressed and to extend our condolences to those people who have lost so much in the terrible events from Saturday onwards. I thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minster’s Statement today.

There is absolutely no excuse for the terrible scenes that we have witnessed on the streets of London and beyond in our cities over the past few days. Our deepest sympathies must go to those families who have lost their loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods. As we have heard, we must work to restore hope and confidence in our cities.

I have lived in Hackney and Islington all my life. I served as a councillor in those areas, which were among those where we have seen terrible unrest. I worked in Tottenham for almost a decade from the mid-1990s; in fact, I was there earlier on Saturday before all this happened. I know the area and the people well. I know that the vast majority are law-abiding, decent people who care deeply about their community. They are absolutely traumatised by what has happened to their neighbourhood. They did not have very much to begin with; all they had was their high street and that is now destroyed.

Whether we like it or not, the young people who rioted, looted and trashed their streets are part of our society. As the Prime Minister’s Statement acknowledged, there is a deep-rooted problem with gangs in many inner-city areas. We know that in London, for example, there are more than 250 active gangs. The police know who they are and who the leaders are. These gangs have been allowed to grow and to take a hold for more than a decade—for 10 or 15 years. They draw in young people who are out on the streets and they spread criminality. When I was a councillor, mothers would come to my surgery begging me to get them transferred because they were so terrified of living on these estates and because of the way in which their families and their children were intimidated if they tried to resist joining these gangs.

These social problems did not happen overnight in our inner cities, where there are huge inequalities and a big social divide. We have to acknowledge that. We have a disconnection in a section of our society—an underclass of young people who have poor education and no skills and who come from dysfunctional families. They feel that they have nothing to lose. They have no fear of authority. Who are their role models? Millionaire footballers and rock stars. They want the latest gadgets, trainers or mobiles. This is what they aspire to.

The solutions for these riots must come from within our diverse communities. Please can we ensure that we do not demonise all young people? We certainly should not demonise all black young people. In future proposals to rebuild these communities—I am pleased that my noble friend the Leader of the House announced in the Statement that funds will be made available—can we ensure that these young people play a role in the rebuilding so that they feel a sense of ownership and pride in those communities? Let them have some work to do to rebuild their own communities.

It was clear that the police were often overwhelmed and could not protect property or stop the looting. On Monday night, in Dalston in Hackney near where I live, a large group of Turkish and Kurdish shopkeepers came together and successfully protected their businesses from rioters. They told me that they had no option. They prevented their high street from being trashed. I pay tribute to such people. I pay tribute to the Sikhs of Southall and the Turks and Kurds of Dalston. When strength was needed and they needed to stand up in their communities against this thuggery, they spontaneously demonstrated what was very good in our community. They did this in a good and peaceful way and nobody was harmed. We have seen what is very bad in our communities and society but we have also seen what is very good. We need to recognise that and pay tribute to it. We should not focus just on the bad.

I ask my noble friend the Minister how we can restore confidence in the police, because a lot of people feel that they cannot rely on them now. Vigilante groups are being formed up and down the country, which we must feel are not welcome. How can we restore confidence in the police and prevent the need for the rise of these groups of vigilantes around the country?

On a final note, I think that a lot of us were very moved during the break by the words of the Norwegian Prime Minister, who said that at times like this we need more democracy and more humanity. We need to be guided by that and to reflect on it before we make any knee-jerk reactions in response to what we have seen.

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This entry was posted in Parliament.


  • coldcomfort 16th Aug '11 - 2:56pm

    The Baroness is so right. And one notes that a vast range of ethnic groups came out to support their local community and one also notes the immense dignity and statesmanship of Tariq Jahan and I am ashamed that too much of our media and commentators are devoted towards suggesting that such people have no right to be here and are a cause of strife. Liberal Democrats should be much more robust in countering the pernicious malice portrayed almost daily in too much of our print media [I will not dignify them by calling them Newspapers]. I don’t care if such robust defence costs us votes. Of course we can’t let the entire population of the world come & live here – assuming they were daft enough to want to, and there are people who stay when they should be deported [ I can think of few of the obscenely rich in this category] and there are people who are deported who should stay but that is detail management. The principle is that we should recognise that the contribution from diversity is overwhelmingly positive in general. After all I don’t think many of us are pure blood British. We’ve had Romans, Vikings, Saxons,Normans etc etc diluting us over the centuries.

  • @coldcomfort
    Many thanks for your very thoughtful response. I entirely agree. For too long people from minority ethnic communities have been demonised by sections of the media. Amonst the terrible headlines and criminality in the past week, we saw sections of the community showing bravery and solidarity – Pauline Pearce from Hackney, the Sikh community in Southall, and of course the incredibly brave and dignifiied, Tariq Jahan. Whilst dealing with the terrible grief of just losing his son, he personified humanity and tolerance. It did strike me that those BAME community members who are role models, seem to be first generation immigrants – this is certainly the case with the Turks and Kurds of Dalston. People who have come here, worked hard and have a pride and ownership of their local neighbourhood and community.
    Finally, many from the Muslim communities have said to me that it seems they’ve had a week off from being constantly demonised in the media…
    You are quite right – Liberal Democrats should be far more uncompromising towards the constant negativity we see day in day out towards sections of our society.

  • Paul Webbewood 17th Aug '11 - 8:55pm

    “Liberal Democrats should be far more uncompromising towards the constant negativity we see day in day out towards sections of our society.”

    I trust the Noble Baroness will practice what she preaches in future rather than calling people chavs.

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