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Black History Month

Volume 600: debated on Wednesday 21 October 2015

[Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Black History Month.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. It is important that the House recognises Black History Month. I do not intend to take up too much time today, because I am conscious that other speakers will have far more to contribute.

Marking the month of October as Black History Month is a long-standing tradition that allows us to consider the vital contributions made to the UK’s culture and economy by ethnic minorities. Although I am not of ethnic minority origin, I represent many people from a range of backgrounds in my constituency. The same can be said for the vast majority of MPs—that is a testament to the success of our multicultural society. This year, 41 black and ethnic minority MPs were elected to Parliament. That is something to celebrate, but it is simply not enough. I believe that any Parliament should be representative of its people. When people see someone of their own race, colour, gender or sexuality in a position of power and influence, it lets them know that their opinions matter and that they, too, can achieve anything.

We must continue to strive for equality for everyone. We have a long way to go before men and women across the country are truly equal. We must continue to recognise Black History Month until we reach a point where everyone in society is equal, regardless of their race, colour, gender or sexuality. It is an opportunity to recognise the best and brightest people across the country who have experienced racism and overcome it. Overcoming racism is an incredible triumph, but they should not have experienced it and it is not something we should tolerate.

Black History Month has grown from its origins in the Harlem renaissance of the 1930s into an international institution. In 1976, the US Government expanded their existing informal tradition into Black History Month. President Gerald Ford set the tone of the event, urging Americans to

“seize the opportunity to honour the too often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history”.

So too is that relevant here. The United Kingdom adopted Black History Month in 1987, which has served to promote positive role models in the black community. Since then, the celebration of Black History Month has come to represent much more than its original purpose.

I am sure the hon. Lady recognises that Black History Month as a celebration is largely down to the endeavour of my predecessor as the Member of Parliament for Tottenham, who campaigned for many years for there to be a month in which we recognise black history.

Absolutely, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that statement.

The focus in the UK is on celebrating the contributions of all minority ethnic people in this country. Black History Month in the UK includes the history of African, Caribbean, middle eastern and Asian people. However, the sacrifices, contributions and achievements of those people are often mired in racism, inequality and injustice.

Fourteen years ago, Scotland adopted its own Black History Month. In 2001, Scotland was a changing place. This month is an opportunity to promote the contributions of black and minority ethnic Scots as part of a wide and diverse family, and we are proud to be a diasporic nation. With an increased number of people living in Scotland born abroad, minority ethnic groups represent 4% of Scotland’s population. That compares with a much higher number in England, where minority ethnic people make up 15% of the population. However, the census also showed that minority ethnic groups in Scotland were less likely to live in deprived areas than their counterparts in England.

The Scottish National party Government in Scotland have consistently promoted multiculturalism, believing that diversity is our strength. Scotland aspires to be a place where people from all backgrounds can live and raise their families, and where people from all ethnic backgrounds can achieve their potential. We are making progress, but there is a long way to go. Figures show that 61.7% of black and minority ethnic Scots are employed, compared with the national figure of 70.7%. Black and minority ethnic Scots are still under-represented at senior levels in the boardroom and in politics. In fact, of the 129 MSPs, only two are black or of an ethnic minority. I hope that the election in 2016, and future elections to this House will allow for greater ethnic diversity and minority representation.

The hon. Lady raises an important issue that has come up in the Labour party, but I wonder if she might say whether the SNP is prepared to accept positive discrimination. The presence of women in this Parliament is largely down to positive discrimination. There has been a lively debate in the Labour party. Are the Scots Nats getting to a place where they believe that, in order to see black and ethnic minority people come forward, it is about positive discrimination, not just hope?

I am sure the Scottish National party will be keen to promote all forms of equality across the board. We believe people should achieve their full potential, regardless of their gender, race or sexuality. We are proud to be a party that promotes that. However, we still have a long way to go, and the House has a long way to go before it represents British society.

There is a huge commitment to the minority ethnic population in Scotland. Black and Ethnic Minority Infrastructure in Scotland—BEMIS—was established in 2001, in the same year Scotland began its own Black History Month. The organisation represents and supports the development of the ethnic minority voluntary sector. It aims to empower ethnic minorities and to ensure they are fully recognised and supported as a valued part of Scottish multicultural society. Most importantly, BEMIS does not act simply as an embodiment but aims to reach out to every single sector of our minority population and ensure they are represented. Its core aim is to invest in grassroots parties and to make a difference at a local level.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. Does she agree that local events such as the one in Oxford this coming Saturday are a very good opportunity for local communities and people of all backgrounds to celebrate the enrichment of our culture, economy and daily life by the heritage of minority communities? I also invite her to answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy): does the Scottish National party favour positive discrimination?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. As the spokesperson for equalities, women and children, I absolutely promote positive discrimination where necessary. However, such mechanisms alone do not tackle those problems. The barriers people face in their lives that prevent them from entering a political party or from aspiring to something greater are barriers we need to tackle at a grassroots level, and that will not be achieved by any one particular political party.

In terms of ethnic minority participation in apprenticeships, the figures in England show that, of the 15% target population, only 9% do apprenticeships. Training is an effective way out of poverty—a fact taken seriously by the Government, and one of the few policy areas on which I agree with the Prime Minister, who plans to introduce 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020. That is a huge target, and giving a helping hand to our young workforce is very welcome, but without a concentrated effort, I fear ethnic minority statistics will remain static and those who would benefit most from training will not be able to access apprenticeships.

Black History Month celebrates the very best of black and minority ethnic culture in this country, yet for many different sections of society, there is vast inequality. Twenty-eight years after the establishment of Black History Month in the UK, life is still more difficult for the black and ethnic minority community. Black History Month should allow us, as legislators, to consider the effects of our policies on ethnic minority communities and to remember the histories of the black and minority ethnic people in our constituencies and across the whole of society who we have been sent here to represent. We have a huge role to play in considering the policies that will shape Britain’s future, and this month we celebrate the diversity and richness of this multicultural society. I look forward to joining other Members of the House in celebrating this opportunity.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Buck. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) on securing the debate. I applied for a debate on Black History Month and failed. I am very pleased that she was successful and that we are having this debate; otherwise we would not be marking Black History Month in Parliament this year, which would be a disgrace.

I am proud to stand here as a Member of Parliament of African heritage. My late father came to this country from Nigeria in the 1960s. I am proud to represent a constituency and a borough with one of the largest African and Caribbean populations in the country. I am one of three MPs who represent the Brixton area, which is often referred to as Britain’s black capital and is home of the Black Cultural Archives, of which I am a patron.

People often ask why so many people from Africa and the Caribbean settled in Brixton. Of course, the first wave of black immigrants arrived here from Jamaica in the late 1940s on the Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury docks in Essex. Many new arrivals were first settled in the deep bomb shelters in Clapham South in Lambeth. The labour exchange, which we now call the jobcentre, was located on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, which is why so many black people have settled in our area since. That point illustrates that the suggestion that we often read in the tabloid media and that emanates from certain political parties—the narrative that suggests that immigrants just want to come here to take advantage of our benefits system—is a complete myth. It is because black people were looking for work that they settled near that labour exchange in Brixton.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important to use the appropriate language to reflect the reality of the very positive contributions made by so many people who have come to our country. East Renfrewshire is one of the most diverse constituencies in Scotland. I am delighted to represent a constituency with such a rich heritage in so many ways. It is undeniable that that brings a huge amount to our society and our communities.

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. Black History Month is important because it gives us the opportunity to celebrate not only the contribution of the Windrush generation, but further waves of immigration from west Africa, such as those of the ’60s and ’70s—when, as I have said, my father came here—and, more recently, those from Somalia and Eritrea. There are new burgeoning communities from those parts of the world in Lambeth.

The immense contribution of black people to this country’s society is unarguable. I think of people such as Kanya King, the founder of the MOBO—Music of Black Origin—awards. She was the youngest of nine children, left school when she was 16, became a single mum and ended up establishing one of the world’s leading music awards events, which is watched by more than 400 million people every year. I think of Mo Ibrahim, who came here from Sudan in 1974, started working as a BT engineer and ended up building the biggest telecommunications company that Africa has seen. I think of stars of screen and stage not just in the UK, but in Hollywood, such as my constituents, Doña Kroll, Ellen Thomas and, of course, David Harewood from the programme “Homeland”. I think of Dame Linda Dobbs, our first High Court judge of black origin. I think of all the black people in the country who are not famous and make an immense contribution to the life of the United Kingdom. Black History Month is very important, particularly so that the younger generations, who did not experience the struggle of people such as Bernie Grant to be given the same opportunities as everyone else in the country, remember their heritage and the struggles that went before.

As the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East said, despite of all the progress, a glass ceiling undoubtedly still exists for black people in our country. I am not going to talk about all the inequalities in the criminal justice system and the fact that someone is more likely to be arrested, to be stopped and searched and, as we learned recently, to be tasered if they are of an African or Caribbean background. I just want to look at a few areas where I think the glass ceiling is particularly prominent and then point to some solutions. I used to be the shadow Secretary of State with responsibility for higher education. It is a disgrace that, out of 17,900 professors, just 85—less than 1%—are black, when we make up 4.6% of the population. That is shocking, particularly given that education is supposed to unlock the door of opportunity.

Look at our media, which does so much to shape perceptions of black people. There are hardly any non-white faces around the boardroom tables of our major broadcasters or publishing groups. There is just one ethnic minority editor of a national newspaper—Amol Rajan of The Independent. There are no others. Our corporate boards generally have an extreme lack of diversity when it comes to ethnicity. Yes, we have seen progress with the gender make-up of boards, but there is an extreme lack of ethnicity.

I look—dare I say it?—at our own labour movement. The trade union movement, of course, led the charge for the equalities legislation of the 1960s and 1970s, but there are no prominent general secretaries of colour. We have to address that. Of course, we cannot pass up the opportunity to mention the situation in the House, as the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East said. It is fantastic that we now have 41 black and minority ethnic MPs in the House of Commons, which is up from 27, but we have just 12 black MPs when there should be 30.

We think of football as one field that acts as a trailblazer for representation. Around 30% of players in the Football League are from a BME background—mostly black—but there are hardly any people of colour in the boardrooms. Of the 92 managers in the premier league and the Football League divisions, just six are managers of colour. That is utterly appalling.

The question is what to do about that situation. Some say—and we always hear this argument when we are talking about equalities issues—that, “You have to appoint on merit. These issues shouldn’t impact on decisions made. We shouldn’t worry about these things.” If people are going to use that as an excuse, the logic follows that they are basically saying that the reason that we do not have sufficient representation in all those different fields is that there are not sufficient numbers of black people who merit appointment. That argument does not hold in 2015.

Our higher education institutions benefit from public funding. In the corporate sector, increasingly large corporates and business organisations are thinking, very carefully, who they procure to provide goods and services to their businesses and what their workforces look like. Organisations in the City are increasingly doing that. Almost all higher education institutions benefit from some form of public funding. Are the Government holding their feet to the fire on the lack of diversity, for example, among professorships?

Regarding our media and business organisations and their boards more generally, I congratulate the Government on the progress they have made on increasing the gender diversity on corporate boards, but now we need to see the same political will and determination used to improve the ethnic diversity of boards. Lord Davies, the Labour Lord who was commissioned to carry out the report on gender diversity on boards, will produce his final report on 29 October. What are the Government looking to do in respect of ethnic diversity? In addition, I would like to see some of our major trade unions implementing the kinds of positive action measures that we have implemented in the Labour party to ensure that people of colour are coming forward for elected office.

More generally, I welcome the fact that, to some extent, there is an arms race among our political parties to become the most diverse in the UK. That is a good thing, but we need to look further at implementing positive action measures to ensure that we get better representation in this place. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) has been leading the charge and arguing for change for more than a decade.

Returning to football, there has been a lively debate on whether the Rooney rule should be introduced here. I am not talking about Wayne, but Dan Rooney, an American football club owner who led the way to the creation of a rule in the US that stipulates that at least one non-white candidate must be interviewed when a manager’s job comes up. That has led to huge progress in the States.

In June, Greg Clarke, the chairman of the Football League, which does not include the premier league, tabled changes at the league’s annual general meeting, which comprises all the owners and people who head up the clubs, following an inquiry into the lack of representation among Football League managers. He proposed making it compulsory for clubs to interview at least one BAME candidate, where an application has been received, for all youth development roles requiring a minimum of a UEFA B coaching licence. The application of the rule to first team roles is to be piloted by five to 10 clubs. If that pilot works, the rule for youth development roles will be applied to first team manager roles 12 months later.

I congratulate the Football League—Greg Clarke deserves huge praise for his leadership—but what is the Premier League doing? It is the most high-profile football league in the country. I understand that, in order for the Premier League to make progress, it will need a pipeline coming from the Football League, but it is not enough for the Premier League to say, “We’re going to sit around and wait for the Football League to make progress before we apply ourselves to increasing diversity in the most famous and exciting league in the world.” If that measure produces fruit in the Football League, the Premier League should set the goal of introducing in or by 2020 the same Rooney-style rules that the Football League has said it will implement. That will represent real progress in football.

We should celebrate, but we should not be complacent as progress still needs to be made. I very much hope that, when Black History Month comes about next year, we will have this debate in the main Chamber of the House of Commons, which is where it should be taking place, given the huge contribution of African and Caribbean people to our country.

I thank the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for securing this debate. Celebrating and raising awareness of black history through Black History Month has been shown to be urgently necessary in the light of the Prime Minister’s recent comments on slavery and reparations. I want to use my speech today to address this issue.

At the end of September, on the first visit to Jamaica by a UK Prime Minister in 14 years, the Prime Minister told the people of Jamaica in his speech to “move on from this painful legacy” of slavery. Such language is disgustingly insensitive and inexcusable. Britain has absolutely no authority to dismiss outright Jamaicans’ reactions to their history. The Prime Minister had the audacity to state of slavery:

“Britain is proud to have…led the way in its abolition”,

propagating a dangerous simplification of history, which is wrong. He inaccurately glorified Britain’s role in abolishing slavery, yet refused to address explicitly Britain’s leading role in the atrocity itself.

The Prime Minister stressed the relationship between Britain and Jamaica as friends since independence, but he failed to address the fact that the fundamental relationship between the two countries has been one of exploitation, which is what Jamaican Ministers were calling on him to address. Using the aid budget to provide locks and chains and presenting that as an act of generosity is insulting. Expressing sorrow over the slave trade, as Tony Blair did in 2006, is not enough. I call on the Government to apologise publicly and formally for the British slave trade. Britain should be accepting accountability, engaging in the reparations debate and providing infrastructure for growth, not for the incarceration of those formerly held in Britain.

The language and narrative of the Prime Minister’s speech and his outright rejection of reparations show a total lack of respect for and understanding of black history. It is totally at odds with the way that the tragedy of the holocaust has been dealt with—a tragedy that is ingrained in European social memory and embedded in the school curriculum. I do not believe for one second that the Prime Minister would have used the same language in a speech to the Jewish community. It is not my intention to rank oppressions; I simply wish to use a comparison to emphasise how unacceptable it is to tell formerly enslaved countries and colonies to move on from a legacy of horrific, state-sponsored, organised violence and exploitation.

We pride ourselves on being a multicultural country, which I am proud to be part of, yet black history remains on the periphery of British historical memory. That needs to change. Black history should be part of the school curriculum so that the young people coming up are aware of and proud of their history. Black people are still less represented in Parliament and positions of power. Black lives matter, not only here but internationally. Our lives are less valued than white lives. That needs to change. Structural inequalities and everyday racism remain as a result of the legacy of slavery. That must be addressed. Openly acknowledging the existence of lasting inequalities and accepting the historical role of the Government in propagating them is the first stage that will help to change the relationship and the power dynamics.

I thank Members for their attendance, but have to second the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna): this debate should be taking place in the main Chamber, not on the sides, to give it the respect it warrants.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Buck. You have made a considerable contribution to the lives of black and ethnic minorities in your constituency over many years and to the broader debate within the Labour party, and you continue to do so. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) on securing this debate. I thank her for the manner in which she delivered her opening remarks and for all that she is doing north of the border.

I have a short opportunity to put on the record once again the work of my predecessor, Bernie Grant. Activists and campaigners are perhaps more prominent now than they have been in the past, particularly with the selection of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) as the leader of the Labour party. He knows that campaigning and work often take place at the margins, with very few people paying attention and listening. For many mornings over many years, Bernie Grant campaigned outside the British Museum about the artefacts sitting inside that had been effectively stolen from Africa. He raised the issue consistently, day after day, with no one paying attention. There is now a lively debate on outreach and how to support museums and communities in Africa and the developing world, which is now a very real subject.

My predecessor campaigned for years to introduce these subjects to our national curriculum, and we have made progress. When I was a Culture Minister, I made the decision to introduce the abolition of slavery from the perspective of not only William Wilberforce, but Equiano and others, to the national curriculum, but we need to do more to ensure that our national curriculum tells a rich and complex story about the contribution of both different parts of the British Isles and the Commonwealth.

Many young people do not know that more than 1 million Indian young men died on behalf of this country in the first world war. They do not know that 200,000 young men from the Caribbean died contributing to this country in the same conflict or that, across the Commonwealth, people signed up to come to this country and other parts of Europe and gave up their lives. That is a rich story, and it illustrates why Black History Month is not just a moment when black and brown children in inner-city schools can focus on these issues; it is a national moment when all children in our country, whatever their background, draw inspiration from these stories and reflect on that coming together and those trials and tribulations.

I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s sentiments about the soldiers from across the world who came to serve with forces from the UK; as the Scottish National party spokesperson on the armed forces and veterans, I associate myself with what he says. I also wish our children to be as aware as possible of our diverse communities in Scotland and the UK and of the rich contribution they have all made.

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s words. Globally, we reflect on these huge heroes of black history. Of course, I think of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, but this is also a moment to think of our homebred heroes such as Paul Stephenson, who organised the boycott of the Bristol buses because of their refusal in 1955 to employ anyone of a black background; that contributed to our getting the Race Relations Act 1965. This year, we celebrate 50 years since that Act was passed, and I hope Parliament will celebrate that occasion appropriately.

All those contributions led to a place in which my father, like the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), arrived in this country as part of the Windrush generation. Those were very different times, and my father would be proud to see me standing here—he is not alive today. That generation made a contribution, and the fight continues. We do not stand still, and huge challenges remain in these tough economic times.

We have heard about the tremendous challenges that exist in our boardrooms. Across the country there is a lack of diversity for black and ethnic minority people at the higher echelons of our companies, which is an issue. Progress was being made in the public sector, particularly in local government and the NHS, but to some extent that progress has stalled. My predecessor, Bernie Grant, was the leader of Haringey Council before becoming the Member of Parliament for Tottenham. We do not see that leadership replicated in the same way these days, although I recall that Muhammed Butt is the leader of Brent Council here in London.

Progress needs to be made in the judiciary and our universities. It is great to see Valerie Amos appointed the director of the School of Oriental and African Studies, adding to the panel of vice chancellors, but there is a considerable amount still to do. As you know, Ms Buck, there remain real issues in mental health and in relation to deaths in police custody. There are also real issues for young people in London, particularly given the unemployment figures.

This is a moment to celebrate, but it is also a moment to redouble our efforts. We must recognise and celebrate 50 years of the Race Relations Act, but we need to ensure that race remains on the agenda and that we do not just talk about diversity and equality but recognise that discrimination exists and that we have to act to address that discrimination. That sometimes means positive discrimination, but it also means that people’s right to challenge in court and elsewhere must be ensured in future.

I was expecting to be the last speaker, so I might be a little all over the place. I had a prepared speech last time I responded to a debate, but now I will try to respond to what other Members have said.

It is a privilege to speak about Black History Month, a month when we in the UK join together in celebrating and valuing the countless inspirational individuals and historic achievements of our black and minority ethnic communities. Since its British incarnation was launched in 1987, Black History Month has addressed a disgraceful blind spot in our national story: the contribution of people from BME backgrounds. There are events highlighting inspiring figures from the BME community who fought injustice and inequality over many years and in different times and places. It is wrong that we should need Black History Month, and the sooner we start honestly portraying our shared history, the less likely it will be that white children will grow up believing that everything happened because of their forefathers and foremothers, and the greater our chances will be of genuine racial integration. When that happens, when we all just see each other as people and when we accept that in history, as today, we all contributed and we all contribute to the development of this country and to the world, we will not need Black History Month.

In addition to its political side, Black History Month has a vital creative element, with the arts being used to tell some of the stories that we want people to hear. I loved “Record Breakers” as a child, and it horrifies me that there are people here who will not know what I am talking about. [Interruption.] The Minister should not pretend not to remember it. I always wanted to be a record breaker. That is perhaps why, in October 2012, my Jamaican partner and I organised 17 Black History Month events. It was exhausting, but I had a ball because, as well as history lectures and political debates, we had reggae, dancehall and soca nights, African films, Jamaican food and football games.

On football, I wonder how many people know the name of the Scotland footballer who captained the team when they beat England 6-1 in 1881 down the road at the Oval in Kennington. He captained the team on two more occasions, beating Wales 5-1 and, the following year, beating England again, this time only 5-1. I appreciate that it was a long time ago, but allow me to revel in it and to share the final sentence of the match report:

“In the ten matches now played, the Scotch have kicked 34 goals and the English 20.”

The captain of the team was an impressive chap in that he was not only a skilled sportsman but a marine engineer and a successful businessman. Given that this was the 1800s, he surely accomplished more than enough to be held up as a historical role model, yet until recently few people knew the name of Andrew Watson.

Andrew Watson was the Caribbean-born son of a Scottish slave owner. I have not been able to establish whether his mother was a slave or a free woman, but she was a Caribbean woman. The point of that story is that many children came from a slave and slave owner relationship. Many people in Scotland, including people with Scottish surnames, have ancestors who came from the Caribbean.

If the hon. Lady will indulge me, I am one of those people of Caribbean descent who took a DNA test a few years ago. I found out that part of my ancestry is indeed Scottish. How proud I was to find out that, like Bob Marley, I have Scottish genes running through me!

In that case, I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman which team he would have supported in that 1881 football game.

I will turn to the slave trade in a little more detail later, but I absolutely concur with one comment from the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), who said that an apology is needed from not just the British Government, but the Government in Scotland, for the involvement of all parts of the country in what happened. Like her, I was also outraged when the Prime Minister told Jamaicans to move on.

I was in London during the summer, and I got caught up in a whole load of crowds and traffic. An annual event seemed to be taking place to celebrate—or certainly to mark—the bombing of another country. If we are not going to move on from such things, I do not see why Jamaicans should move on from thinking about this terrible time in their history, which impacts on their country today and will continue to do so until they get the reparations the hon. Lady spoke of.

I want to say a little about the wonderful Mary Seacole. For the life of me, I cannot understand why she is not at least as revered as Florence Nightingale. She was Jamaican born and half-Scottish. She was born Mary Grant, and Grant is one of the names in my family, so I am going to take some of the credit—no, I cannot. She did what women did not do in the 19th century: she travelled, she ran a business and she went to war. When she faced racism—and she did—she did not back down; she continued to risk her life to help others. How did she do that? She went to the Crimean war, and she risked her life helping soldiers—they called her “Mother Seacole”. She applied to be one of Florence Nightingale’s nurses, but was turned down. We know a little more about her now, but it astonishes me that I had not heard of her until four years ago. She is a bit of a hero of mine now, but why did I have to seek her out? I found out about her at a Black History Month event, which is why I think such months are so important.

I want to say a little about someone who is less of an historical figure—he will be pleased to hear me say that if he is listening—and more of a current figure. Professor Sir Geoff Palmer is absolutely passionate about bringing black history to the masses. He is Jamaican born—I appreciate that there are other nationalities, although we seem to be a bit obsessed with Jamaica today. He has lived in Scotland for the past 50 years and has become one of the top professors of brewing science—in other words, he teaches Scottish people how to make the best whisky. He is also the author of a number of books, including one called “Citizens of Britishness”. In it, he talks about the importance of education. He says that if children learned from an early age that the development of our country and our world was down to not just white people, but absolutely everybody, they might not see themselves as different from children in their class who have a different skin colour. I encourage people to read that book.

I want to come back to some of the things that other Members have said. I have not congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) on securing the debate, so I do so now. She said that 41 MPs are from a BME background, and the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) said that 12 are of African or Caribbean heritage. I agree with them both that that is not enough. Both spoke about BME people being under-represented and about there being a glass ceiling. However, there are a number of glass ceilings, which are sometimes pretty low, and it is difficult to break through them. There is lots of evidence to back that up—I am going to give anecdotal evidence, but I would not like anyone to think that there is not actual evidence.

I have a Cameroonian friend, and she is an incredible person. She is extremely articulate and very intelligent. She held down a really senior job in Cameroon, and she speaks about seven languages fluently. One day, she went into two temp agencies. Hon. Members will know the kind I mean—the ones with the posters in the window saying, “400 typists needed” or “25 telephonists needed”. There were posters all over the windows of these agencies, so my friend went in. Both of them said, “No, we don’t have any jobs,” when they clearly did. She said, “Could you put me on a waiting list for when you do?” They said, “No. We don’t have a waiting list. It’s closed.” The glass ceiling is not necessarily all that high, and it is difficult for people to break through.

The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) spoke of the contribution of people from India, the Caribbean and other places to the British armed forces. People need to know that we white people, on our own, did not go round the world winning all these wars or bringing progress. That is a really important point.

To come back to the Caribbean slave trade, we in Scotland once tended to believe—I will blame this on the lack of education in the whole of Britain at the time—that we did not really have anything to do with the slave trade, that it was the English who were responsible and that we did not have any choice. It turns out that that is not true. It has come to light, however, that Scottish people are happy to face up to their past and want to know the truth about it. Professor Sir Geoff Palmer had a lot to do with bringing the issue to the fore. However, a historian by the name of Stephen Mullen also wrote a book about it. Its title—I do not know how many Members here have been to Glasgow, so I do not know how many will understand this—was “It Wisnae Us”. In other words, the Scottish thought they had nothing to do with slavery, although that is not true.

Two years ago, I was at a talk by Professor Sir Geoff Palmer. He was talking about compensation payments after the slave trade ended—again, this is something I did not know about. I was thinking, “How could you ever compensate somebody for having to live as a slave?”, but I suddenly realised that it was not the slaves who were being compensated, but the slave owners. I was absolutely horrified. Professor Palmer told us that Scotland made up 9% of the population of Britain at the time, but took 16% of the compensation package, which shows how enmeshed in the slave trade Scotland was. Books such as “It Wisnae Us” help us to face up to that.

Much as I love Black History Month, I cannot wait for there to be no need for it. I love history, but I do not want to read about black history. I just want to know our history—to have an honest assessment of our past, not a spin-doctored version where everyone who is not white is airbrushed out of existence. I want an honest history. We are all grown up now. Surely we can face up to the bits of our past that we are not so proud of. Surely we do not have to take the credit for absolutely everything.

As I said at the start, I really look forward to the day when Black History Month does not exist, because that will be the day when we are all equal, and our forebears are celebrated equally, regardless of skin colour, religion or gender. That is not the case right now.

As women, we often feel we are offered fewer role models than men, and nobody seriously argues that that is because women contribute less. It should be alarming to all of us that black children can go through school believing that all our heroes, inventors, revolutionary leaders and significant historical figures were white. What must it do to a child’s self-esteem to see no role models who look like them? How must it feel to be led to believe that even the black struggles and the black victories were really led by white people? I mentioned the example of the abolition of the slave trade. White people may have assisted in that, but it was the black slaves who freed themselves. Black History Month simply shines a light on that and other lies. As I said, I look forward to the day when we do not have to be disabused of the notions I have described because they will have long since left our history books.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Buck, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) on securing this important debate.

I want to mention some of the speeches that have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) made some important points about the glass ceiling that black and minority ethnic people face. He raised issues about higher education institutions and the lack of diversity among professors, and that is incredibly important. The Government should take action and call on all the universities that take public funding to address the issue as a priority. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Greg Clarke and the Football League on their excellent work to try to increase diversity in the league. They set a great example to encourage premier league clubs to follow suit.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) made a lovely speech and raised the important issue of slavery, a shameful chapter in Britain’s history, in which the port of Lancaster in my constituency played a significant role. I try to be very aware of that in the work I do. I hope that future chapters in the book of the history of Britain will make amends for the role that we played in the international slave trade.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) has long been a campaigner for race equality, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Bernie Grant, who was a pioneer at a time when black people did not have it easy. He led the way and was a shining example to everyone. I hope he is an inspiration to many young people today, who can look to figures like him and the hon. Members present in the Chamber to show that no door should be closed to them. I thank my right hon. Friend for reminding us of the role that Commonwealth countries played in the first world war, and of the fact that it is 50 years since the Race Relations Act 1965 was passed. My goodness, we still have a long way to go.

I also thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) for the lovely compliment she paid me as she looked at me when asking whether anyone would remember “Record Breakers”. I must look younger than I am, because it finished airing in 2001, so I do remember it, and I enjoyed it very much. I am not that young.

It is often said that history is written by the victors. I certainly heard a lot about that when I was growing up, as my father was an enthusiastic lover of history. History is written by dead white men, because they were the people who had power and who wrote it down. Black History Month therefore offers an opportunity to learn more about history that has not been recorded and that is not talked about in the same way that the dead-white-men history is written about. We rightly celebrate many victories and achievements, but, sadly, the legacy of racism and discrimination remain in too many areas of public life today. The stories of many of those who fought for the advances that have been made have not yet been told properly, so Black History Month is as vital for children in schools as it is for Members of Parliament, to enable us to learn about the communities we represent.

I want to play particular attention today to the contribution that black and ethnic minority communities have made to the labour movement. The Labour party and the wider labour movement can be proud when it comes to fighting racism and discrimination.

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming

Labour Members took a leading role in the anti-colonial campaigns in the first half of the 20th century and in the anti-apartheid campaigns more recently. Labour Governments introduced the Race Relations Act 1968, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that all our communities receive equal treatment under law.

There are, however, episodes in our history of which we must be sadly less proud, particularly from the first half of the 20th century, when many black and ethnic minority workers were not welcomed into the labour movement in the way that they should have been. I therefore pay tribute to those who stood up for their rights and successfully changed attitudes and transformed the labour movement into the proudly anti-racist movement that we have today, although there is, as Members have mentioned, some work to do in respect of representation among its leadership.

Those who stood up for their rights include the black workers in Cardiff who formed the Coloured Seamen’s Union in 1936 to fight against the operation of the colour bar in Cardiff docks. The Indian Workers’ Association was also formed around that time in Coventry. It fought not only against racism, but for better employment rights and Indian independence.

In Bristol in the 1960s, black communities boycotted bus services owing to the refusal of the Bristol Omnibus Company to employ black or Asian bus crews. The boycott lasted four months and forced the company to back down and overturn its colour bar. In 1972, Pakistani workers at Crepe Sizes Ltd in Nottingham went on strike over working conditions, redundancies and pay. They were supported by the local community and won union recognition and the reinstatement of workers made redundant.

More well known is the 1976 strike at Grunwick by Asian and West Indian women who walked out owing to poor working conditions and attempts to cut pay. Although the strike was ultimately unsuccessful, it represented one of the first times that a dispute affecting BME workers received the mass support of the trade union movement, with electrical workers, miners, electricians and Post Office workers all backing the strike.

Those episodes represent just a fraction of the contribution that BME workers have made to the labour movement during the 20th century. Those workers not only improved their own lives and those of their communities, but they transformed the labour movement into a more inclusive movement that today has equality at its heart. We owe all of those workers a huge debt of gratitude and we must learn from their example to address the challenges we face. It is shameful that, earlier this month, we learned that black people are three times more likely to have a Taser used against them than white people. It cannot be right that the number of black and Asian workers in low-paid jobs increased by 12.7% between 2011 and 2014 compared with a 1.8% rise for white workers in the same period.

As a society, we need to show solidarity and stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting injustices today. I look forward to hearing the stories of victories over such forms of discrimination in Black History Months to come.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) on securing this important debate on Black History Month. We have had a very good and passionate debate.

Black History Month is an opportunity for us to celebrate the UK’s African, Caribbean and Asian communities and the enormous contribution they have made to our country. It is right that we should use Black History Month to look at the part that black people have played in shaping history. Too often, it is a part that has been ignored or forgotten. We remember the huge number of people from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia who gave their lives fighting for this country in the first and second world wars. Our commemorations of the centenary of the first world war rightly mark the contribution and sacrifice of thousands of men and women from across the Commonwealth.

We remember the bravery of Walter Tull, a black British footballer who played for Tottenham and Northampton. He was a soldier who died in 1918 in France and the first black officer to lead white British soldiers into battle. We also remember Eugent Clarke from Jamaica, who fought at the battle of the Somme, and Khudadad Khan VC, born in what is now Pakistan, who was the first Indian army recipient of the Victoria Cross. And we remember others who fought together, fell together, and together defended the freedoms that we enjoy today.

We remember that, after the second world war, people from across the Commonwealth helped to rebuild our country. Many people came here with nothing, but they and their descendants have built successful and prosperous lives here in Britain. Today, we can claim to be a successful multi-ethnic and multi-faith country. In recent years, members of African, Caribbean and Asian communities have made their way to the top in many different areas: in business, in sport, in the arts, in Government, and in the House. I am thinking of people such as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade—I had the pleasure of being his Parliamentary Private Secretary in the previous Parliament. I am thinking of the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who has taken part in the debate, and the hon. Members for Streatham (Mr Umunna) and for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), who are also in the Chamber.

Despite the strides that we have made in recent years, we know there is a long way to go, as hon. and right hon. Members have said in the debate. The Government want to create a genuine opportunity country, where ethnic origin and background are not allowed to become a barrier to getting to the top. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minster recently pointed out, opportunity does not mean much if someone is facing discrimination or inequality—for example, when they do not get called for an interview because they have an ethnic-sounding name on their CV.

This December is the 50th anniversary of the Race Relations Act 1965, the historic legislation that opened the way to all subsequent equalities legislation. We can all be proud of the UK’s world-class equalities legislation, but we know that, on its own, it is not enough. We must all champion equality and recognise and challenge discrimination.

We have set some ambitious goals to improve opportunity for black and minority ethnic people in our 2020 vision. We aim to get a 20% increase in black and minority ethnic people in employment. We want 20% more black and minority ethnic people going to university, 20% more taking up apprenticeships and up to 20% more entering our police forces and armed services. Those are stretching and challenging targets, but we are determined to do all that we can to meet them.

[Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

The employment rate for black and minority ethnic groups is at a record high of 61.4%. Half a million more people from ethnic minorities are in work in Great Britain than in 2010. That is an increase of around 20% in the past five years, but we must go much further. That is why we have made a commitment to increase BME employment by a further 20% by 2020. That challenge is critical to achieving our full employment objective, ensuring that British business makes the most of the talent and potential that exists in all communities in the UK.

The Minister is talking about the targets to have more people from BME backgrounds employed, but the forthcoming Immigration Bill will make that difficult. If an employer is not sure whether someone is British, it will make it more difficult for anyone who might not look British, sound British, or have a British-sounding name to get employment and somewhere to live. Does he agree that that will not help him to reach those targets?

I note what the hon. Lady says. Further on in my speech, I will come to the measures that the Government are taking to support people to ensure they get into higher education and have the opportunities to get the skills to get the best jobs in the country. I will come to the points that she makes in a moment.

People from all communities want the police to fight crime while having confidence that their individual needs will be understood and respected. That is fair and effective policing. Police forces that reflect the communities they serve are crucial to cutting crime in a modern diverse society. The police have made real improvements in diversity and there are now more women and black and minority ethnic officers than ever before, but we are clear that forces need to do more. Police and crime commissioners and the College of Policing will play a key role in ensuring improvements in forces. New entry routes to policing are proving attractive, and are increasing the diversity of the police workforce.

Many black and Asian performers have excelled in the arts, but we are continuing to keep the spotlight on the main broadcasters and creative industries—the hon. Member for Streatham mentioned that. The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy has been championing black and ethnic minority representation in the media. All the major broadcasters, along with the Arts Council and the British Film Institute, have launched projects to promote diversity in the past 18 months.

Does the Minister agree that the media have a responsibility to portray black and minority ethnic members of the community effectively and responsibly? That is all too often not the case.

I agree with the hon. Lady’s sentiment.

Moving on to the questions that hon. Members asked, the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East mentioned apprenticeships. As I said earlier, the Government have ambitious plans to increase the number of apprenticeships available to black and minority ethnic people by 20% by the end of this Parliament. I can tell the hon. Member for Streatham that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has a high-level action plan for how to increase the number of apprentices from BAME backgrounds. I am sure that the Department will work hard during this Parliament to fulfil the Prime Minister’s obligation. The hon. Gentleman also quite rightly mentioned stop and search, and the Home Secretary has been absolutely clear that no one should be stopped on the basis of their race or ethnicity alone. The Government have therefore revised the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 regulations to prevent unnecessary stop-and-search procedures.

The hon. Gentleman also rightly discussed football coaching and management, an area where black and ethnic minority people have been under-represented, unlike among the players themselves. He mentioned Greg Clarke, not my esteemed right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, but the chairman of the Football League. I welcome its work on this important issue and hope that that will spur the Football Association on to greater work. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out in December 2014 plans to invest £2 million a year for the next five years in football coaching and grassroots development. To be fair to the FA, it is matching that funding and setting up bursary schemes to fund qualifications with specific targets for female coaches and coaches from the black and ethnic minority community. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that.

I agree with the Minister about what the Football League is doing, but the league that everyone knows and talks about the most, the premier league, is where we ultimately have to ensure that we see action. Chris Hughton, as the manager of Newcastle United, was I think the last black manager in the premier league, but since then there has been none.

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The premier league is the biggest and most recognisable league in the world. I accept what he said about the Football League and the lead that it has taken. I am sure that the FA will be listening to what has been said in this debate about what the Football League has done and I hope that it will look intently at the lead that it has taken.

Several Members, including the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), the Opposition spokeswoman, mentioned higher education. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has been successful in supporting participation in higher education by young people from ethnic minorities, with entry rates for English 18-year-old state pupils rising in every ethnic minority group. That said, far more still needs to be done, but we aim to continue that improvement as part of our 2020 vision. Universities plan to spend over £745 million on measures to improve access and success for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and we sincerely hope that many young people from ethnic minority groups will gain entry to university as a result.

In response to the contribution from the hon. Member for Edmonton, I reassure her that the Government absolutely deplore the human suffering caused by slavery. There can be no doubt that the chapters relating to the slave trade are among the most dishonourable and abhorrent in the history of humanity. We regret and condemn the historical slave trade and slavery. They were shameful events that rightly belong in the past. I completely understand the hon. Lady’s points. We can certainly agree that the horror of the slave trade should never be forgotten. She will probably know that the Prime Minister learned from the past before looking to the future when we introduced the Modern Slavery Bill in the previous Parliament, in particular to try to prevent people trafficking today. The Prime Minister cares deeply about the subject and has transformed my party’s representation on our Benches in terms of not only gender but ethnicity. We should celebrate that and his 2020 pledges.

The right hon. Member for Tottenham commented on council leadership. It is quite rightly down to political parties to do more to ensure that more local authority leaders are from black and minority ethnic communities.

In her contribution, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), the SNP spokeswoman, alluded to the fact that I am old enough to remember “Record Breakers”. I certainly am, but I am old enough to remember the Roy Castle and Norris McWhirter version—

I am sure the hon. Lady knows exactly who they were! They were great people who are unfortunately no longer with us. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood mentioned the 2001 version of “Record Breakers”, and Kriss Akabusi and Linford Christie, the Great British black Olympians, were actually presenters during its last few series. I remember watching it many years ago, and I think I remember seeing several episodes in which they made a fantastic contribution.

Moving back to football, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East mentioned Andrew Watson, whose story contains valuable lessons. I am glad to say that I am not old enough to remember when Scotland used to beat England by five or six goals to one on a regular basis. As a proud England supporter, I hope that that does not happen during my lifetime. The hon. Lady was also among several Members who referred to Mary Seacole, and I join them in paying tribute to her. My Department now shares lodgings with the Home Office and the three wings of the building are named after three great figures from British history: Robert Peel, the former Home Secretary; Elizabeth Fry, the great prison reformer; and Mary Seacole. So my colleagues and I are reminded of Mary Seacole every day when we go into the Department for Communities and Local Government.

I again thank the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East for securing this important debate on Black History Month. I am delighted that it has given Members an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Britain’s black communities. I take on board the comment that it would be good to have this debate in the main Chamber. That is obviously a job for Mr Speaker and his office, or for the Government at the time, but I would certainly welcome the opportunity to respond to a debate on the Floor of the House, if that were to happen.

We should celebrate the contribution of Britain’s black communities and remember the part that they have played in building what is becoming a successful multi-ethnic society. I pay tribute to the contribution and sacrifice of so many African, Caribbean and Indian people in the two world wars. As a Government, we reiterate our commitment to bringing an end to discrimination and to building a society in which there is real opportunity for all.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Black History Month.

Sitting suspended.