Doreen Lawrence Freedom Ceremony Speech

Lewisham Council awarded Doreen Lawrence the Freedom of the Borough in a ceremony tonight. The text of the speech I gave in her honor is copied below.

Baroness, High Commissioner, Freemen and Freewomen, Members of Parliament, Councillors, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The Borough of Lewisham awards the Freedom of the Borough sparingly – but when it is awarded it is to remarkable people.  People like Sybil Phoenix, Terry Waite and Erica Pienaar who are all with us tonight – and, of course, Archbishop Desmond Tutu who is not but who keeps Lewisham and its citizens in his thoughts and prayers.

Tonight we add a truly remarkable woman to that list and it is my privilege to begin our tributes to her.  Tonight is about celebrating the achievements of the Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon as she is now called although I trust she will permit me to go on calling her Doreen.

The events that have shaped her life are part of her story of course just as the continuing revelations about the appalling behaviour of some members of the police force cannot be far from our minds – but tonight is about Doreen – someone who is admired by millions and is a source of inspiration for both young and old from every walk of life.

For first the first 40 years of her life Doreen’s story is one that many will recognise and share.  Though born elsewhere, Jamaica, in Doreen’s case, Lewisham became home and she went to school here and later to GoldsmithsCollege.  She married, started a family and brought up her children.  And then one night in 1993 her life changed for ever.

When tragedy strikes even the strongest struggle to make sense of it and move forward – the best that can be hoped for is that time may provide some respite as they struggle to make sense of things. Some set out to find an explanation for the tragedy, to seek justice when that is called for.  Others look for a way to turn that tragedy on its head and create something of lasting value. 

Both of those responses require courage of an exceptional order.  To set out to do both – and to come even close to success – is something that only a very few could ever achieve – but that is exactly what Doreen Lawrence has done.

When I think about her and recall the importance of her faith to her I am put in mind of some words of Emily Bronte:-

No coward soul is mine,

No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere

I see Heaven’s glories shine

And faith shines equal, arming me from fear

Most certainly no coward soul – with courage and dignity Doreen has pursued justice for her son and created the Stephen Lawrence Trust which provides such wonderful opportunities for today’s young people.

Doreen is passionate about young people and this shines through every time you visit the centre but perhaps never more so than on that extraordinary morning when she ran with the Olympic torch and passed it on to our young mayor.

We are proud that Lewisham is home to the Stephen Lawrence Centre and proud that Doreen has accepted the Freedom of the Borough.  It is the highest honour we can bestow and she joins a distinguished group of people who have all changed not only our borough but the wider world for the better.

Doreen’s elevation to the House of Lords means that there is now someone in Parliament who can speak out on the great issues of our time with a hard won authenticity that can only come from having faced all that the world can throw at them yet still being able to respond  time after time with renewed passion and strength.

Let me conclude with a personal thank you to Doreen – your strength, your courage, your resilience serves as a beacon to all of us in public life – sometimes we may feel things are becoming difficult to cope with and wonder why we continue – you inspire us by your example and demonstrate to us on a daily basis the pettiness of our complaints.  You have faced things we cannot imagine and come through to achieve so much.

Thank you and God Bless you.


Government Introduce Hospital Closure Clause

The campaign to Save Lewisham Hospital is one of the most significant I have been involved in. The success the council and the campaign had in the High Court led directly to the government proposing to change the law. Shamefully, the government passed clause 119 to the Care Bill last night. This clause would have made what happened in Lewisham lawful. Had it been in force a year ago the A&E and Maternity Units at Lewisham would now be being run down.

Labour MPs voted against this clause, as they have done at every possible stage. Our three Labour MPs in Lewisham, Heidi Alexander, Jim Dowd and Joan Ruddock, wrote to every MP in the country warning them of the threat this could have on their local hospital. I wrote to every council leader in the country to do the same. Unfortunately, our attempts to warn them have proved unsuccessful.

Lewisham Labour Members on the Save Lewisham Hospital March

Lewisham Labour Members on the Save Lewisham Hospital March

It’s worth highlighting the Liberal Democrat’s role in this. At every stage – in the House of Lords and House of Commons – they have voted in support of the clause. It appeared for a while that an amendment tabled by Paul Burstow, a former Lib Dem health minister, would gain enough support to defeat the government. However, he accepted very minor concessions and chose not to even put his own amendment to the vote. It was left to Jamie Reed, a Labour MP, to do so. When it came to the vote, Burstow would only abstain. Only one Liberal Democrat, Greg Mulholland, supported Labour in opposing the clause along with six Tory rebels.

I am bitterly disappointed that the government has chosen to introduce this clause. We know from experience that the Special Administration process is completely different to any other hospital reconfiguration. It starts with the need to save money, with questionable clinician input. It is a very fast process with limited opportunity for public consultation. This clause further reduces the opportunity for members of the public and local clinicians to have their say on local hospital services.

I am pleased that Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, has already said that a future Labour government would repeal clause 119. I am not opposed to change in the NHS. But it is my firm belief that such changes should be done in consultation with local communities, local clinicians and local authorities. Changes to NHS services should always be focused on improving health outcomes and individual hospital finances should never be the starting point. The proposals contained in the Care Bill threaten these key principles. 

Celebrating National Apprenticeship Week

This week is National Apprenticeship Week. Ahead of this, I went to visit some of Lewisham Council’s apprentices to see the work they’re doing across the borough. I spent time with apprentices working in cafes and schools, and met young people training to become qualified electricians.

Lewisham’s apprenticeship programme was launched in 2009 and has created more than 300 apprenticeships so far. Young people on the scheme not only get a job but also a mixture of on-the-job and off-the-job training. Our apprentices work in a wide range of areas including youth work, community arts management, emergency planning, communications, human resources and finance.

Apprentices visit march 2014

Last year we created more than 100 apprenticeship opportunities on a very small budget. We’ve done this by working with private and voluntary sector partners to encourage them to create and pay for the jobs themselves. By working closely with our partners, we are able to achieve much better results than government funded schemes at a fraction of the price.

At a time when young people are struggling to find work it’s right that we are creating apprenticeships. If I’m re-elected in May, I will focus on increasing the number of opportunities available to our young people and work closely with our partner organisations to ensure they continue their involvement.