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4.49 pm

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates). He makes a compelling case on behalf of his

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constituents. I am sure that my colleagues the Ministers will want to look carefully at the points that he raised in such detail today.

I, too, want to focus on issues to do with my constituency. I am grateful for the opportunity in this debate on the Queen's Speech, which does focus particularly on crime--on tackling crime--to raise in this House the tragic death of Damilola Taylor. I would like to start by giving my apologies for not having been in the Chamber when the opening speeches in this debate were made, because I was at a service for Damilola in my constituency.

Today, Damilola would have been 11 years old; it would be his birthday. But last Monday he was murdered. None of us can even begin to imagine the despair and pain that the Taylor family are feeling. We offer them our deepest sympathy for their loss, and we offer them too our great respect for the dignity with which they have faced this tragedy and the dignity with which Mr. Taylor spoke yesterday about his beloved son.

This death has been felt across the community in Peckham. As Kemi, a Peckham mother and a leading member of the African community, said on Monday:


She also said:


I am sure that we will all join the local community--as the minister did today when he spoke so movingly at the service for Damilola; I believe that he gave such comfort to the family and such hope to the local community--in calling for the killers of Damilola to be brought to justice. As one father who lives on the North Peckham estate said to me, none of us will be settled until justice is done.

The whole community is backing the police investigation. Althea Smith, the chair of the Southwark police consultative committee, has given an unambiguous lead, calling on everyone who has any information to come forward. I would like to pay tribute to Althea and also to the tireless work of the entire police team--that is, the local police officers, the investigating officers and the family support team, all led by Acting Commander Rod Jarman.

The local community has been united in their response to this crime and have been deeply resentful of the description of the community as riven by gang warfare between different parts of the community--on the one hand those who have recently arrived from Africa and on the other those whose families came from the West Indies. That is not a true description of Peckham. As Dr. Koroma of the Southwark Confederation of African Community Organisations has made clear, they will have no truck with divide and rule.

The House will know that Peckham is a multiracial area, enriched in the past by immigrants such as Sam King, who came to this country from Jamaica on the Windrush. But I want to tell the House something about the new immigrants--the Africans. They come from many different countries in Africa--some are from Sierra Leone--and when they come and sit down in my surgery and get out their family photos, often my heart sinks. I have seen family photos that start with smiling snaps of weddings and family gatherings in a village, and end with

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photos of the same village now showing burned-out homes and mutilated bodies. We must never forget that some who come here are fleeing from political turmoil and unimaginable terror.

Though my new constituents come from many different African countries and from very different circumstances, they all want to get on, they all want to be part of and contribute to the community and they all have strong family values and a powerful work ethic.

It is typical that Damilola was in church on the Sunday before the Monday he was killed. My new African constituents are the backbone of the local churches and the community organisations. It is typical that Damilola was coming from the computer club when he was killed. Peckham's new African immigrants are keen for their children to succeed in school. They value education and are, frankly, impatient with the standards in our schools.

One mother complained to me that she had had a better education in rural Nigeria than her daughter was getting in Peckham. She took her daughter out of the Peckham primary school that she was attending and, although she does not earn very much money as a care attendant in an old people's home, she now actually sends her daughter to a private school. We must all do more to improve the standards in our local schools--both academic standards and standards of behaviour.

Above all, as Mr. Taylor reflected in his statement yesterday, the immigrants from the different African countries who come to Peckham believe in work. For them, it is a matter of principle--morality, almost--that they work in the community that they have joined. They do work--they work in this House, they clean our offices, they chop food in the kitchens of our local hospitals, they are teachers and they nurse in the local care homes. The stereotype is that immigrants are scroungers, leeching off the welfare state, yet the truth is that much of our welfare state in south London would simply not function without the new African immigrants.

Damilola bled to death from a stab wound. Commander Rod Jarman echoes the views of many locally when he speculates that whoever killed Damilola intended to wound, but probably not to kill--but what starts as a scuffle ends up in murder where there is a knife.

One young woman who came to my surgery on Friday said that when she came from Nigeria to Peckham 12 years ago and went to school, she was teased mercilessly and she was bullied. She had a heavy Nigerian accent and a strange-sounding Nigerian name. But she said that although children were bullied then, they were safer because kids were not carrying knives. People tell me that there are now many knives on the streets of Peckham. Parents, teachers and we politicians wring our hands and ask why kids carry knives and what we can do about it. Certainly, people locally want more police on the beat. Peckham is not a walk-on-by community, and there are many mothers in the North Peckham estate who think nothing of taking on a group of boys who are up to no good, but people are more likely to get involved and less likely to hurry on home if they feel safer, and to feel safer they need more police on the streets.

We really must look again at how many beat police there are on Peckham's most difficult estates, and also tackle the problem of recruiting them, against a background where police expect to be able to buy their own home, but cannot possibly afford to buy a home in

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Southwark. Housing is part of the solution to our problem with recruiting police, and it is the same for nurses and teachers. We must act to ensure affordable housing for these vital public servants.

But why do some kids need knives to feel important? Why do they feel that they need knives in order to win respect? Most of the kids in Peckham are law-abiding and want to make something of their lives, but why are such a large number opting out? As well as more police, we must try to understand and tackle the causes of crime. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, opportunities and responsibilities go hand in hand. The fact is, "If you are black you do not get your fair share of opportunities." Dr. Koroma, whom I mentioned earlier, says that 75 per cent. of the African cab drivers in Peckham have a degree. It is hard, I imagine, to teach children the importance of education if a degree qualifies them only to drive a cab. We must tackle discrimination in employment to give people a sense that they are in a fair society and opportunities are there for them too.

Damilola was killed on the North Peckham estate. He was found in a deep, bleak, dark stairwell. The estate is being pulled down and replaced by houses in streets. Three quarters of the work has been done and the new houses are lovely. We could shut our eyes, walk into the middle of the North Peckham estate, open our eyes and think we were in Camberley or some of the other areas that Opposition Members represent. Southwark council's regeneration programme, which was started by the previous Government, has seen £260 million invested, and it will work. It is the largest regeneration programme in Europe and has taken five years. However, we must all ask ourselves why parts of the estate, like Blakes road, were not properly boarded up, and why some tenants are still left in semi-deserted, dangerous blocks that are falling apart while they await their new homes.

We must all look again at why, though the problems were clear, the responsibilities for solving them were not. The Peckham Partnership, not the council housing committee, was responsible for the regeneration of the five estates project. That partnership was a bold attempt by Southwark council to work across different council departments and involve tenants directly, all in the board. However, the lines of accountability became blurred. I am very pleased that Trevor Phillips, who is chair of the Greater London Authority, has offered to lead an inquiry into the process of regeneration so that we can learn lessons. Many other areas in London are about to have similar sorts of regeneration. Southwark itself is just about to embark on two further regeneration projects, one on the Aylesbury estate and one at the Elephant and Castle. We must not make the same mistakes again.

Amidst the grief and heart-searching, we have been touched by the incredible acts of generosity and concern. From all over the country, people have written, and I want to thank them and say how much that has encouraged the local community. I have had letters of support and concern from Perthshire to Eastbourne, from Cheltenham to Tottenham, and from Norfolk to the west midlands. From York, Joyce Pickard sent me a box of baby clothes for the local community. She tells me that she and her friends--mostly elderly ladies, she says--knitted these "offerings". Mrs. Gleave from Cambridge has offered to give the £100 that she and her husband each receive for winter fuel payments.

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Last Friday, I got a phone call from Lord Harris of Peckham, who was actually born and brought up on Blakes road, where Damilola died. With huge generosity, Lord Harris has offered to build a community centre for young people and tenants on the North Peckham estate. Damilola Taylor's name will never be forgotten in Peckham and that offer, amidst the grief, has given fresh hope.

On the North Peckham estate, despair and hope are neighbours; they live side by side. Today, we share the despair of the Taylor family. However, the local community are determined to have hope for the future--people like Sabena Emmanuel and her son, who is doing his GCSE mocks at Sacred Heart school today; people like Debbie Welsh, whose teenage son Dominic, like his mum, now does community work, unpaid; people like Ali Bali from the Gloucester Grove estate and Maria Williams from the North Peckham estate. After the media spotlight has moved on, they and their families will still be there--and they want to be there. As they strive to improve their neighbourhoods, we all owe it to them to spare no effort to back them in their task.


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