Advanced search Click here for the website of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

Skip Content

Archbishop speaks out on UK riots

Thursday 11th August 2011

The Archbishop's speech given in the House of Lords follows...

I want to raise two issues of great importance. The first the difficulties experienced by the police in controlling the riots:

If the police cannot do it, vigilante groups will.   Nature abhors a power-vacuum.   Can we be assured that the broader question of resourcing of the police should not be too glibly tied up with current plans for cuts in public expenditure.  The public does need to be assured that first things come first, the peace of the realm.  Can you assure us that that is going to be the case? And that police resources are not subject to some false principle of equal sharing of burdens among government departments?  I hope it won’t be that. 

An under-resourced police will always be a brutal and insensitive police. Can you also assure us that you are going to create a structure which will enable the police in terms of their oppression not to be hindered either by excessive bureaucracy or by a suggestion they are not capable of doing it.  You see what hinders our liberties is not necessarily the police, but actually other people.  If there is a clear framework working by the police we will all have our liberty. Can you also assure us how you are going to protect the police and us by investigating the complaints against the police thoroughly and conscientiously? The Independent Police Complaints Commission, as suggested by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry - how can it be nimble, transparent and delivers on time, every time? Can you assure us that that is going to happen?

My second area is a question of the motivation of the young people involved in the riots.

I think you’ll agree with me that it would be foolish to shoot off quick-fire opinions on what brought them on the streets. We must understand what is going on, which is not the same as condoning. It is very easy to ‘understand a little less and condemn a little more’. I don’t think this will not deliver a safer future.  We need to understand more, if we don’t understand, we will never resolve the problem. So clear questions must be asked.

 If everybody appreciates what my colleague, the Noble Primate of All England has said - what are you going to do in terms of culture the fact, that the English Baccalaureate by the Secretary of State for Education has said religious knowledge will not be provided.  Because religious knowledge forms and creates a culture.

Back · Back to top