House of Commons
Tuesday 20 October 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Local Covid-19 Restrictions: Economic Support
Earlier this month, I announced that businesses forced to close as a result of local restrictions will be eligible for a grant of up to £3,000 a month. Their employees will be protected through the expanded job support programme and councils will receive extra resources to help with local track and trace, enforcement and compliance.
All that Greater Manchester is asking for is proper financial support for our businesses, our self-employed and our lowest paid after 12 weeks of failed lockdown measures and as we face many more uncertain months ahead. When the Prime Minister is reported as struggling to live on his £150,000 a year salary, how does he think the lowest paid in Greater Manchester will cope on two thirds of national minimum wage? Last night, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government offered just £22 million for a city region of 2.8 million people. That is less than the £25 million he granted to his own town centre. Why do this Government hate Greater Manchester?
It is disappointing to hear the hon. Gentleman’s tone. It is obviously a very difficult time for many people in this country as we evolve our response to this virus, but what we need is people acting in a constructive spirit, and that is what my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary is actively offering to do. I hope those conversations are happening as we speak.
Greater Manchester is being treated exactly the same as every part of our United Kingdom. These are national support schemes that have been put in place that help the most vulnerable in our society. The hon. Gentleman raised a number of questions. As he will know, there are national schemes to protect businesses, to protect employees and to provide support to his local authority.
Repeated local lockdowns with no end in sight are killing our economy in South Shields. In the past lockdown, we received £26 million of support. I have been advised that the financial package offered to us this time, should we end up in tier 3, would be just over £1 million. Can the Chancellor confirm or deny that insulting amount?
I am glad the hon. Lady recognises the economic damage that lockdowns do, which is why, when we had this debate last week, I did pose the question as to why the Opposition were suggesting a national lockdown with no end in sight without commenting on the damage that would do to people’s jobs and livelihoods. With respect to support for local authorities entering tier 3, as I have set out there is a national funding formula that provides a per capita amount to the local authority of up to £8 per head at the highest tier to provide support for local enforcement, compliance and track and trace. On top of that, there is support that the national Government provide for businesses that are closed. Their employees can be put on the job support scheme, and, in addition, my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary can talk to local authorities about providing bespoke extra support as required.
People and businesses in my constituency and across Greater Manchester are suffering. They are facing an uncertain winter with insufficient support. Last night, the Government offered just £22 million to the 2.8 million people in Greater Manchester. That comes to just £8 a head to support local people and businesses during the months ahead. Other areas were given double that amount, despite having just half the population. Does the Minister seriously believe this is a fair deal for Greater Manchester, and, if so, would he like to take this opportunity to apologise to those Mancunians who will lose or have already lost their livelihoods?
With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in his characterisation of the support provided and confusing two different things. He is absolutely right: the support is £8 a head. That is the national funding formula that is provided to all local authorities entering tier 3. That is the same as is provided in Lancashire and indeed, in the Liverpool city region, and that is the amount that he refers to, which is done on an equitable basis for all local authorities. The additional amounts he talks about were reached in negotiation with my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary and representatives of the Government. That offer remains available to Greater Manchester, and that is why I hope they engage in these negotiations constructively.
My right hon. Friend has done a great deal to support jobs in our country, but he will know that lockdowns destroy jobs and lead to increased mental illness and a smaller economy that for many years will be less able to look after our most vulnerable. Does he agree that the Government should come forward urgently with a comprehensive review of the impact of lockdowns, not just in terms of epidemiology and the effect on the NHS, important though that is, but in terms of the economy, businesses, jobs and the country’s social wellbeing?
As ever, my right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is right about the damage to not only non-covid health outcomes but people’s jobs and livelihoods and the long-term damage that that will cause to all our health outcomes. With regard to projections, he will know that both the Office for Budget Responsibility and the International Monetary Fund project 3% scarring, which will mean our economy potentially being £70 billion to £80 billion smaller in the future than it otherwise would have been. As he rightly says, that will obviously have an impact on our ability to fund public services and protect people’s jobs and livelihoods.
That appears to be slightly different from the message we received from the Chancellor last week. This morning, a member of the Monetary Policy Committee stated that
“the bulk of spending reductions are due to restrictions that people voluntarily impose on themselves”,
“higher virus prevalence is associated with weaker economic performance.”
Research suggests that not undertaking a circuit breaker now could cost our economy an additional £110 billion—that is based on IMF figures, by the way—due to changes in behaviour that people make to avoid contracting the virus and the knock-on impact of those on economic output. What is the Chancellor’s estimate of the cost of not undertaking a circuit breaker and continuing with this rolling programme of regional restrictions?
The hon. Lady talks about rolling programmes. It is clear that the Labour party believes that we should have a rolling programme of national lockdowns. That would be enormously damaging for people’s jobs and livelihoods, causing unnecessary pain and suffering in parts of the country where virus prevalence is low. A localised approach is the best approach.
We are not in a significantly different public health position now from when the Chancellor announced furlough on 20 March. Pubs and restaurants and hospitality venues are being asked to close, but this time, he is leaving people with significantly less support. Will he take action today to extend the furlough scheme, to ensure that people are protected and that those who have lost out and been excluded from support can be included this time?
We have announced the job support scheme, which will take effect on 1 November, following the closure of the coronavirus job retention scheme. Those who are working in closed businesses can be placed on that scheme and receive 67% of their wages—an amount comparable with all our European peers—at very little, if no, expense to the employer, helping them to protect those jobs.
Sixty-seven per cent. of wages for people who are on minimum wage jobs—the lowest paid in our society—is simply not good enough and gives them absolutely no incentive to self-isolate and stick to the rules. The Scottish Government have announced a grant of £500 for the lowest paid, but the UK Government may swipe that back and pick the pockets of the poorest in taxation. Will the Chancellor go further than he has so far and exempt that £500 grant to the poorest in our society from taxation?
The hon. Lady talks about the Scottish Government introducing a £500 grant. It was the UK Government who introduced a £500 grant and provided Barnett funding for the Scottish Government to do the same. She is right that the grant payment is there to help those who are most vulnerable, so that they can isolate, and it provides an incentive for them to do so.
Support for Businesses: Covid-19
The Government recognise that the pandemic has caused extreme disruption to the economy. That is why we have delivered one of the most comprehensive and generous support packages anywhere in the world, worth over £190 billion.
I recognise the enormous amount of support that has been given to businesses in Crewe and Nantwich. I have spoken to many that would not have survived without it, and I know the pressure on public finances. But hospitality businesses such as the one I visited, Giovanni’s in Crewe, will really struggle with the 10 pm curfew and the ban on household mixing. Can the Government look again at what we can do for businesses that might technically be allowed to open but will struggle under those circumstances?
Over the last few days, businesses across Burnley and Padiham, from bookkeepers to bars and pubs, have had to close as the county of Lancashire has entered tier 3 restrictions. While it is welcome that those businesses are getting Government support through the extension of furlough and business grants, there are many more in the supply chain that will be equally impacted because their end suppliers are not there. Could my right hon. Friend set out what measures are available to support them over the next couple of months?
As a Lancastrian myself, I am acutely aware of the impact on the county of Lancashire, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government negotiated the additional business support. That builds on the measures set out by the Chancellor to support businesses not just through the job support scheme, but through the furlough bonus.
It is not just businesses in tiers 2 and 3 that have been impacted; in tier 1, some sectors are still unable to trade, suffering from a total loss of business. Does my right hon. Friend agree with the head of the IMF that
“now is not yet the time to balance the books”,
and will he consider extending support to businesses that still cannot work in these times?
My right hon. Friend is right about the pressure on businesses in tier 1 as well. That is why, in the package the Chancellor has set out, has been the extension of loan facilities to help those businesses with their cash flow. In the south-east region, which my right hon. Friend represents, the total is some £0.5 billion of support.
Many thousands of small businesses have already benefited from the measures that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues have put in place. As we move forward, may I urge him to keep a small business focus, particularly for small brewers? Duty levels are a crucial part of their business viability, and may I urge him to keep small breweries’ relief in place, as it is helping to safeguard the future of many small breweries not just in Hampshire but throughout the United Kingdom?
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point about the impact on that sector. That is why the Treasury is reviewing small breweries’ relief and, indeed, the Exchequer Secretary has taken forward reforms, at the industry’s request, to fix issues in the current relief design.
Equitable Life: Compensation
In 2010, the Government set up a payment scheme to make payments of up to £1.5 billion to eligible policyholders. Since the scheme closed in 2016, the Government’s position on this issue has been clear: there is no further funding in addition to that £1.5 billion and this issue is considered closed.
Many self-employed people and small business owners feel let down by the covid response, and the same type of people were let down 10 years ago today when victims of the Equitable Life scandal were told they would only get 22% of the money they had lost. The Treasury has ignored hard-working people like my constituents for a decade, so please will the Chancellor reconsider and commit to providing Equitable Life victims with the compensation they deserve?
The Government continue to pay out to annuitants who were in payment from 2010. Indeed, we have a £100 million contingency to ensure that they are properly provided for. The Government were completely transparent about the calculation methodology and worked with the action group, the Equitable Members Action Group, to give explanations to policyholders. We met actuaries to ensure that it was as fair as it possibly could be, so the Government’s position on this remains as I have stated.
Women’s and Girls’ Health
The Government are providing an extra £33.9 billion to the NHS to deliver its long-term plan, which has actions to tackle inequalities affecting women and girls. This includes commitments to 50% reductions in stillbirth, maternal mortality and neonatal mortality by 2025, increasing access to perinatal mental health services and expanding human papillomavirus vaccination to protect against cervical cancer, among many other examples.
My hon. Friend is rightly championing the importance of education and has done a lot of work to raise these issues. Where a young woman has been identified as taken out of school, the local authority has a responsibility to locate and contact that young woman and work with her to find a suitable place in post-16 education. The Government also provide targeted support to help young people overcome financial barriers to participation through the 16-to-19 bursary fund.
Apprenticeships are a job with training, and they benefit people of all ages and backgrounds, especially young people starting their career. The plan for jobs will help to kickstart the nation’s economic recovery. As part of the plan, we have introduced a payment of £2,000 for employers in England who hire new apprentices aged under 25 and £1,500 for employers who hire new apprentices aged over 25 before 31 January 2021.
Newcastle College in my constituency is a fantastic further education provider, which has invested significantly in its facilities and staff for its trainees and the 850 different local employers it supports. It has been judged outstanding by Ofsted in all areas, including apprenticeship provision. However, it is concerned about the dramatic reduction in training vacancies, and its actual apprenticeship starts are down by two thirds year on year, so will the Minister join me in praising the work it has done so far and set out what incentives employers have not only to take on but also to keep on apprentices to the end of their training?
I congratulate Newcastle College and all it is doing to support learners to develop the skills they need to thrive. We know that apprenticeships are proven: 91% of apprentices in 2016-17 remained in employment or went on to further training afterwards. In recognition of the importance of apprenticeships and the disruption caused by covid-19, the Government have introduced payments to incentivise hiring new apprentices and flexibilities to support existing ones through their programmes.
Let us look at the record. Capital investment in further education is running at less than half the level put in by Labour 10 years ago. Apprenticeship starts are down 43,000 this year, with the biggest drop among under-19s, and yesterday we learned about the short-sighted, vindictive move to scrap the union learning fund. Why is it that, when the need is for help now with new skills and retraining, this Government have done so much to kick the ladder of opportunity away from working people?
I think that it is probably a good time to remind the right hon. Gentleman that in the Budget we actually increased significantly the amount of money spent on further education. On the union learning grants, I refer him to the Department for Education Ministers who made this decision; I am sure they can write to him again on this. But the Government remain committed to investing in adult skills and retraining: in addition to the plan for jobs, at the comprehensive spending review we will be allocating our new £2.5 billion national skills fund to help more young people learn new skills and prepare for jobs for the future.
VAT: Tourism and Hospitality
The temporary reduced rate for the tourism and hospitality sectors came into effect on 15 July 2020 and is helping to support the cash flow and viability of over 150,000 businesses and to protect 2.4 million jobs across the UK. On 24 September, the Government announced that they will extend the temporary reduced rate so that it now ends on 31 March 2021.
We all want to see a sensible solution to the debate over the covid restrictions in Greater Manchester, but a move from tier 2 will mean the hospitality sector in Cheadle faces the additional blow of tier 3 restrictions, and while reduced VAT in recent months is welcome, businesses in tier 3 will be unable to benefit from the extended scheme. Therefore, in addition to the comprehensive support package, will the Minister consider extending the reduced VAT scheme further in areas that go into tier 3, so that they can do business on that basis for as long as businesses in other parts of the country?
As my hon. Friend will know, it has already been extended and she will also be aware that we have put in place a scheme for people who have VAT debt, to allow a payment process that fits their schedule. As the Chancellor has said, to support local authorities at very high alert and to protect public health and local economies, an additional £5 a head, £8 in total, has been made available. That means we have committed up to £465 million in funding for English local authorities through the tiering scheme, and we will announce further details of the eligible expenditures under this scheme.
Universal Credit: Covid-19
The £20 per week increase in the universal credit standard allowance and working tax credit basic element forms just one part of the package of support the Government have provided to protect people’s jobs and incomes, including income support schemes.
The Government were right to increase universal credit and working tax credit by £20 a week. Surely, it would now be inconceivable to remove those increases in April as planned, before the pandemic is even over. Does the Minister accept that of the indirect levers available to the Government to stimulate what is, as we have heard already, going to be a weak economy for some time, measures that raise the incomes of low-income households are the most effective, and benefit increases are a good example?
I am grateful that the right hon. Gentleman recognises the additional £9 billion of support that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has put into welfare. That is reflected, as the right hon. Gentleman will further recognise, in the distributional analysis showing that that has protected those on the lowest incomes. That support is temporary, but it does extend to the spring, and it helps those families facing covid with the challenges over the coming months.
Fiscal Support: Covid-19
The Government have provided an unprecedented package of support for people, businesses and public services throughout the UK, totalling more than £200 billion. That has included helping to pay the wages of 9.6 million people through the job retention scheme and protecting the livelihoods of 2.6 million self-employed workers through the self-employment income support scheme.
The Scottish Government are doing what they can to support individuals, businesses and those who have been excluded by the Chancellor from receiving any grants, loans or payment holidays. They are hampered in doing so by not having the autonomy of borrowing powers to meet the unique requirements of the Scottish economy. Will the Government heed repeated calls for the devolution of borrowing powers to enable the Scottish Government to provide additional targeted assistance to those individuals and sectors that they have identified as most in need?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the current state of affairs was agreed between the Scottish Government and the UK Government after exhaustive consultation and discussion by the Silk commission, and that remains the set-up to which the Scottish Government have committed themselves.[Official Report, 23 October 2020, Vol. 682, c. 4MC.]
With the dual viruses of Brexit and covid-19, we are heading for a winter of discontent and a longer period of mass unemployment. With no Budget announcement, what are the Chancellor’s economic advisers telling him about the Government’s preparations for mass unemployment and the sectors that will be worst hit?
The Chancellor has been very clear that because we are in the midst of a pandemic, we are likely to see, and we are indeed already seeing, some redundancies. There is no doubt about the seriousness of the financial and economic situation that we are in. I remind the hon. Gentleman with regard to Scotland that there has been some £7 billion of support for the Scottish Government in dealing with the pandemic and its economic effects, over and above the £21.3 billion provided through the regular Barnett process.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. In regions facing tier 3 restrictions, many businesses have been forced to close. In tier 2 regions, many businesses, especially in hospitality, are open in name only, running up all the costs without the customers. What do the Government have to say to those businesses that realistically cannot operate but are not legally required to close?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. I mourn the loss to his new job of her predecessor, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), with whom I happily fenced over many sessions on the Finance Bill.
The answer to the hon. Lady’s question is, of course, that we are acutely aware of the financial costs on those businesses, as we are of those on businesses that have been forced to close, and that is why we have put in place an evolving and comprehensive programme of support for business.
Business Support Grant: Local Authorities
I hold regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. The original national business grant schemes provided support to small businesses that faced fixed property-related costs during the strict lockdown period.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but is he aware that in Enfield only 189 small businesses received a discretionary grant, even though 330 applied for one? In view of further restrictions in London, will the Minister commit to urgently releasing extra funding to Enfield Council to ensure that those businesses that previously missed out can reapply for financial support?
The previous grant was for businesses that had been forced to close. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has allocated additional funding through the local restrictions support grant scheme for businesses that are forced to close, with an additional £1,500 per two-week closure period. As the hon. Lady said, the previous grant was discretionary and local authorities therefore had discretion as to how many firms benefited from it.
Self-employed People: Covid-19
The Government have taken unprecedented steps to support the self-employed, as the House will be aware. So far, the Government have paid out £13.4 billion of support through the self-employment income support scheme.
I recently had a Zoom call with Deborah Annetts, the CEO of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, and Jordan and Steve from a local Northampton band called The Keepers, and they highlighted the problems that self-employed musicians currently face. Will my right hon. Friend support struggling musicians such as The Keepers by considering either a freelance support scheme or a box office top-up to help to make socially distanced gigs feasible?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. With a name like Jesse Norman—my hon. Friend will know that there was an American opera singer, now alas dead, of the same name—and as someone who has been involved in arts organisations and, indeed, as a pretty incompetent musician myself, I am extremely aware of the concern that he raises, and rightly so. He will know that the Government have announced a £1.57 billion culture recovery fund, of which some £330 million has been awarded to date to nearly 2,000 cultural organisations. That funding is designed to help performances to restart, to protect jobs and to create opportunities for freelancers across the country. It is also worth mentioning that we have done a considerable amount of work on the film and TV production restart scheme, much of which will have the same effect when it is properly up and running.
I have been contacted every day by sole traders and small independents who have fallen through the Government’s schemes. They are excluded and do not qualify for Government support. According to ExcludedUK, 1.6 million people are excluded from any of the Government’s self-support schemes. Last week, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), the Chief Secretary said that these people had now been covered. They have not been covered. They are excluded and they are desperate for help. Will the Minister set out what support he will provide to the people who are excluded in this country from self-support grants?
I am sure that whatever the Chief Secretary said last week was absolutely correct. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the scheme we have is designed to be as comprehensive as we can make it, consistent with the wider package we are offering and with support rapidly for the largest number of the most vulnerable people. That was the purpose of the scheme. We have continued the theme of supporting the self-employed through the job support scheme, and of course, that itself forms part of a much wider pattern of support for the industry and for businesses.
I very much welcome everything the Chancellor has done to protect jobs, businesses and livelihoods in my constituency and across Scotland. Many of the self-employed constituents in my area will be very grateful for the third grant that is now available to them. Can the Minister set out the number of people who will be eligible for the grant in Scotland?
We are unable to predict the exact take-up of the SEISS grant extension across the United Kingdom, but the latest statistics on the second grant demonstrate that self-employed people in Scotland are continuing to receive unprecedented levels of support under the scheme. As of 20 September, 64% of assessed individuals were found to be eligible in Scotland, with 126,000 claims being made, amounting to £318 million of Government support.
My constituent Rebecca launched a new business, Purdy’s Pet Shop, in Coventry North West just before the lockdown. Rebecca was told that she was ineligible for the self-employment income support scheme and faced a frustrating few weeks until she was eventually granted a coronavirus business interruption loan. That is just one business among many that fell through the gaping holes of the first self-employment income support scheme. Now it, and many other businesses in my constituency, will also fall through the gaps in the new extension.
Constituents have contacted me about how anxious they feel about how they will survive now that support has dropped to just 70%. Can the Minister tell me how adequate he believes the extension of the self-employment income support scheme is? What will he do to support my constituents who are falling through the gaps of the current scheme and are worried about the reduced financial support it offers?
I salute the hon. Lady’s constituent for setting up a new business and for showing the entrepreneurship and aspiration that characterise British business at its best. As she will be aware, we are engaged in the process of supporting vulnerable businesses and people. In the self-employment area, we are doing that through the extension to the job support scheme. She will know that that forms just one element of a much wider picture, including the loans that she has described, tax deferrals, rental support and increased levels of universal credit.
I associate myself with the concerns raised by colleagues cross-party on this issue. It is interesting that every time the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box, he bats off extra support for those people, yet some of them may have qualified for bounce back loans. I am interested to know whether the Treasury knows how many qualified for bounce back loans, because a recent National Audit Office report suggests that the Treasury does not know where the money has gone and what it is being used for, so perhaps he can elucidate.
I admire the hon. Lady’s ingenuity in introducing a conversation about bounce back loans to a discussion about the self-employed scheme. The answer is that I do not have the numbers to hand, but of course, if those numbers are available, I will make sure that we write to her with the detail.
Job Support Scheme
Over the course of the coronavirus job retention scheme, more than 9 million jobs were protected through the furlough scheme. The job support scheme that replaces it will come into force on 1 November. Of course, it is impossible to predict today how many people will benefit. That will depend on the exact path of the virus and the restrictions in place.
Since March, unemployment has doubled in Coventry South. The Government are replacing furlough with the utterly inadequate job support scheme. Research from the Institute for Public Policy Research found that, of the 2 million jobs at risk, it will save only 10%. Where it is used by businesses that are required to close, two thirds of wages is simply not enough for low-paid workers. Is the Chancellor happy to see 1.8 million jobs go? Could he live on two thirds of the minimum wage? If not, he should extend the furlough scheme for the industries that desperately need it.
When we announced the job support scheme, it was, in fact, warmly welcomed by several business groups and trade unions, with which I was happy to work in designing the scheme. I take the issue of jobs very seriously; it remains my highest priority. Although I cannot protect every single job, we will throw absolutely everything we can at protecting, saving and creating as many jobs as possible, which is why we have a comprehensive plan for jobs. The job support scheme is just one element of that. Indeed, I am pleased to say that the kickstart scheme is shortly due to launch, which will provide hope and opportunity to hundreds of thousands of young people.
A report published this week by the political consultancy WPI Strategy, commissioned by Tesco, ranked Bradford West at No. 3 in its need to be levelled up. Last week, another report found that my constituency has the highest rise in the rate of child poverty in Yorkshire and Humber. The Chancellor will be well aware that it also ranks seventh highest in the country for unemployment. With all that going on, and having been under local restrictions for almost three months, I ask the Chancellor whether he feels that Bradford West can afford any more job losses and whether he believes that it is in need of targeted support from the Treasury.
In Bradford and elsewhere, we would not like to see any job losses, but the reality is that what is happening to our economy means that, sadly, many people—almost three quarters of a million—have already lost their job and many more will. That is why our comprehensive plan for jobs aims to protect, support and create jobs in every part of our United Kingdom. That will provide hope and opportunity to people, whether it is the kickstart scheme, as I mentioned, or the opportunity for new training and skills delivered through the Prime Minister’s announcement of a lifetime skills guarantee.
People on Low Incomes: Covid-19
The Government have provided significant support to those on low incomes. We have introduced additional support through the welfare system, estimated by the OBR to be worth more than £9 billion this year, including increasing universal credit and working tax credit by £20 per week, as well as £500 million of local authority hardship funding and £500 payments for those in low income households who have to self-isolate.
Over the weekend, I visited numerous businesses in Horbury, such as the Green Berry and the Black Olive delicatessen. Mr Speaker, they form a fantastic independent retail offering, and perhaps on your next visit to Wakefield to witness Trinity prevail over your club, a little retail therapy could be a soothing balm before your long journey home across the Pennines. But failing your patronage, Mr Speaker, business owners there have told me that the imposition of tier 2 measures has sapped consumer confidence, which is the oil with which the economy is greased. Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that he will use all his creativity to focus HMT strategy on stimulating confidence in the consumer economy to support these businesses, and to consider tax reform, should it be conducive to those aims?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the support that we have put in place, but also to the challenges that remain. In his own constituency, 14,500 have benefited from the furlough scheme, £28.4 million of business grants have been made available, and £20.3 million of business rates relief has been provided. Looking to the future, I can assure him that all Treasury Ministers will be using rigorous analysis and thinking as we work with the Chancellor as we approach the next Budget.
Fiscal Support: Job Retention and Incomes
The pandemic has unfolded at different paces in countries around the world, and countries have acted in a way that works best for their respective economies. In this country, the Government have put in place more than £200 billion-worth of support to protect people’s jobs, businesses and incomes, and that is one of the most comprehensive economic responses of its kind anywhere in the world. Our goal remains to continue to protect those livelihoods, those jobs and those businesses while we allow the economy to adapt to the changing circumstances.
Britain’s fiscal support outshines that of our European neighbours, but constituencies such as mine have never really emerged from the economic lockdown. Employment and many businesses are being stretched, and the Mayor of Greater Manchester needs to learn from Bolton Wanderers and start playing ball. Will the Treasury constantly review the financial help on offer for those faced with tier 3 restrictions and, indeed, consider some of the ideas that were forthcoming from my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) in relation to VAT reduction for the hospitality industry?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend draws Bolton Wanderers into a discussion on the Floor of the House of Commons—it is a very fine club. He will know that we have committed almost £500 million of support to English local authorities through the tiering system, and that that comes on top of the £300 million already allocated to local authorities for test, trace and contain activity. He should also be aware that there are grants of up to £3,000 per month, depending on rateable value, through the local restrictions support grant, as well as the expansion that the Chancellor has recently announced to the job support scheme. All of that forms part of our comprehensive package.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the OECD forecast that unemployment in the UK would rise to 9.1% by the end of this year. It recently revised its forecast down to 5.3%. Can the Minister confirm that the winter jobs plan will continue to provide the right kind of support to help our flexible labour market to adapt to the pandemic?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the point about the OECD’s forecasts, and also the astonishing flexibility and effectiveness of our labour markets. She will know that the Government continue to adapt their response and, as the Chancellor mentioned a few minutes ago, we will shortly be launching the £2 billion kickstarter scheme alongside the job support scheme. That will be a tremendous boost for the prospects of young people across the country.
Economic Growth and Productivity: UK Nations and Regions
The Government are committed to levelling up opportunity so that all people and places across the UK benefit from economic growth, and covid-19’s impact has made that more important. From the £2 billion new kickstart scheme to create new jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds to the £1 billion for local projects to boost local recovery, we see that the Department will protect jobs, support economic growth and boost productivity across all nations and regions of the UK.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. One of the best tools to level up economic opportunity across the UK after we leave the European Union will be free ports. Does she recognise the strong case for designating Teesport, and will she praise the work of PD Ports and my friend the Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, in preparing a very strong bid?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that free ports will benefit communities across the UK by unleashing the economic potential of our ports, as he will very well know, having been one of my predecessors in this role. I thank him, the Mayor of Tees Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) for their support on this agenda. Our consultation response, published on 7 October, confirms our intent to deliver free ports by 2021, and the free port locations will be selected according to an open, transparent bidding process.
This Government have put in place a £200 billion programme of support to help jobs and businesses throughout this crisis. Although we will not be able to save every job or business, we remain committed to doing what we can to protect the economy and people’s livelihoods at this difficult time.
This Government have taken extraordinary steps to protect the economy and now we must take the extraordinary steps to unlock it. Uncertainty stemming from coronavirus and the volatility of the oil price is leading to delayed investment in the Tees Valley. One thing that could break the deadlock in that investment would be the announcement of a free port in Teesside. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will not delay the roll-out of 10 new free ports? Does he agree that a free port in Teesside could lead to thousands of new jobs for my constituents in Redcar and Cleveland?
My hon. Friend—like my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) and the Mayor of the Tees Valley, Ben Houchen—is a fantastic champion for the free ports agenda. They are all absolutely right: this policy can unlock investment and growth, and therefore create jobs in parts of our country that want to see that growth. I can assure my hon. Friend that I look forward to receiving the bid that, no doubt, he and his colleagues are putting together for us.
I am sure the Chancellor will agree that confidence will not return to our economy until we are able to control the virus with an effective test, trace and isolate system, yet the current system is not working and was described by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies as having a “marginal impact” on transmission. Will he explain why, although he has funded the system generously, it is failing so badly?
I am glad that the hon. Lady recognises that we have provided substantial funding for the test and trace system. Although there have been times when we would all have wished that the response would be faster—that is indeed what is happening now—it is worth bearing in mind how far we have come since the beginning of this crisis, when 10,000 or so tests a day were being done. We are now marching towards our target of half a million daily tests. That is enormous progress and it will make a difference in our ability to suppress the spread of this virus.
In March, the Chancellor was clear that if people could not earn a living by going out to work, it was the Government’s job to step in, “whatever it takes”. By July, he was moving away from that belief and today he has moved so far that his employment support schemes have more holes than a Swiss cheese. Will he tell the House: was he wrong in March or is he wrong now?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We should have an eye on our recovery and he is absolutely right that entrepreneurship can play an important part in driving that recovery, which is why during the crisis we announced the future fund to help to provide financing for start-up entrepreneurial companies. I am also happy to have a look at the enterprise allowance scheme. My hon. Friend will be aware of the start-up loan scheme, which does something similar by providing Government-discounted and funded loans to the budding entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
The hon. Gentleman will know that, as a result of Liverpool entering tier 3 restrictions, those conversations have happened with representatives from the Government and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that Liverpool gets the resources it needs to provide extra compliance enforcement and, indeed, extra funding to provide support for businesses and people during what is, I appreciate, a very difficult time for his constituents.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work on that important initiative. She is a champion of levelling up in Cornwall and the Government are committed to working with her, which is why among the package of measures of support is included the Cornwall social housing retrofit acceleration and the Cornwall institute for space artificial intelligence. That is part of a suite of measures that will work with the welcome initiative that my hon. Friend has championed.
We recognise the concern for the valuable arts sector that the hon. Lady describes, which is why we have put £1.57 billion towards it. As I have said, £330 million of that has been released, and a further release will be made in the next few weeks. That is because we believe in that sector and support those people. Of course, other schemes are already in place—I have highlighted the support for independent production and films, for example—from which those affected can derive benefit.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are businesses that are experiencing a difficult time, especially in the sectors he mentioned. Our comprehensive set of interventions, whether loans, grants or business-rates holidays, will all provide help in different ways, but the most important thing that we can all focus on is supressing the spread of the virus and unlocking those parts of our economy that are unable to function. That is the surest and only way, in the long run, to protect the jobs that we all care about.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. As someone with an airport in my own constituency, I fully understand the issues. I have had various meetings with many stakeholders and am happy to offer Southampton airport a meeting with Treasury officials to discuss the changes. At the same time as removing tax-free sales from 1 January 2020, the Government are extending duty-free sales to EU-bound passengers for the first time in more than 20 years. That will be a significant boost to regional airports, such as the one in Southampton, which serve significantly more EU than non-EU destinations and have not previously been able to offer duty-free sales to EU-bound passengers.
I thank the hon. Lady very much for the concern that she describes. I understand the problem. As she will know, the situation with people on lower income levels who may also be on universal credit is that it is a flexible benefit, which allows the top-up to income received. That is also true with the support received through the support scheme for self-employed people.
I know that my hon. Friend has championed this issue and I look forward to further discussions with him on it. He will also know that the Government and the mineworkers’ pension scheme have agreed to guarantee the core pension rates in the case of a deficit in the scheme, and have further agreed to protect bonus pensions that have accrued to date. Therefore, clear progress has been made, but I am happy to have further discussions with him.
The hon. Lady will know that this Government remain absolutely committed to our ambitious plans to double research and development funding over the course of the next few years. We have made enormous progress on that this year, with a huge and, I think, unprecedented increase in R&D funding that goes not only to basic science research, which she talked about, but ensures that we can develop that research into actionable ideas that benefit people and create jobs. She can rest assured that that remains an important aim of this Government, to ensure that this is the best place in the world in which to research.
The Government appreciate the work that the Energy Research Accelerator has been undertaking across the midlands on energy innovation. We have set out our ambition to invest up to £22 billion in R&D by 2024-25. The Chancellor also announced in the spring Budget that the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy innovation programme will at least double to £1 billion-plus. R&D investment will continue to have a strong regional impact and benefit areas across the UK, including the midlands.
It is in order to address such pressures that we have set out such a comprehensive package of support that applies universally, including to the businesses to which my right hon. Friend refers. Through his question, he points to another substantive point, which is that suppliers supply to different sectors. One of the challenges with the Opposition’s proposals to extend the furlough was that they were never clear which sector they wanted to extend it to. The fact that suppliers supply multiple sectors, including the public sector, is a good illustration of why that proposal is flawed.
The Chancellor will be aware that wholesalers play a fundamental role in the food and drink supply chain, and, among other things, provide vital resources to our schools, hospitals and care homes; yet many are still struggling and do not have enough Government support. Bidfood, which is based in my Slough constituency, has seen an almost 50% downturn in its sales volumes, and has been forced to make 7% of its workforce redundant. Why has this company been ignored? Given the increased lockdown measures that are proposed, what measures will the Chancellor put in place to support struggling wholesalers—
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman raises a similar point to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)—in a co-ordinated attack. Such businesses have not been ignored. I appreciate that they are treated slightly differently from the hospitality businesses which they serve, but, for the reasons that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury set out, it is tricky when there are businesses involved in the supply chain. The hon. Gentleman talked specifically about the business in his constituency facing reduced demand. The job support scheme is specifically there for businesses that are open but facing a reduced demand. That will allow them, rather than making redundancies, to receive a wage subsidy from the Government to help top up those employees’ wages. I hope that the company will look at that.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).
Equal Pay (Information and Claims)
Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to introduce a Bill to make provision for a right for employees to obtain information relating to the pay of a comparator; to reform remedies and time limits relating to equal pay; to provide a right to equal pay where a single source can rectify unequal pay; to amend the statutory statement of particulars to include equal pay; to provide for requirements on certain employers to publish information about the differences in pay between male and female employees and between employees of different ethnic origins; and for connected purposes.
Members could be forgiven for thinking that we have been here before, because women have been asking for equal pay since 1833. The first recorded instance was in Robert Owen’s labour exchange. I am sorry to say, as a Co-op MP, that it was not answered positively—I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed) would feel the same. One hundred and eighty-eight years later, we are still waiting. Last year alone, 30,000 equal pay claims were made at tribunal, and this year we have seen that the gender pay gap is increasing, not closing. That means that, in 2020, nine out of 10 women in this country work in companies or organisations that pay them less on average than their male counterparts.
I want to start by nailing the myth that it is the fault of the women themselves. It is not because they have kids or because they do not ask for pay rises. The evidence is crystal clear. Absolutely, there is a pay penalty for having a kid—I think we are all beginning to realise that—but it was there before the children were born. The evidence is also clear that women ask just as often as men for a pay rise, but men are four times more likely to receive it. The research shows that the impact of the gender pay gap comes from a mixture of things, including working for less productive companies, wanting to work part time, and good, old-fashioned discrimination. Even being a graduate does not help, as the pay gap begins early in many women’s careers.
We all miss out as a result of those inequalities. The Bank of England forecasts that ending the gender pay gap would add £600 billion to our economy by 2025, and ending discrimination against those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds in the workplace, as this Bill seeks to do, would add £24 billion a year to our GDP. Given that we are now facing an economic crisis, there has never been a better time finally to grapple with why, even in 2020, not everybody gets an equal day’s pay for an equal day’s work.
It is not as if women have not tried to act through the centuries. Following the impact of the Dagenham Ford strikers, Barbara Castle’s legendary Equal Pay Act 1970 was passed before I was even born. The subsequent film, “Made in Dagenham”, may have won awards, but an equal pay award in this country is often much harder to come by, because it requires legal action.
Pay discrimination is prevalent because it is hard to get pay transparency. Unless a woman knows that a man who is doing equal work to her is being paid more, she cannot know whether she is being paid equally. At present, getting that information all too often requires going to court because it is not available. Equal pay tribunals make up 12% of employment claims in this country, but 40% of claimants settle because it is more stressful to continue and a third withdraw their cases due to cost. Only 41% of claimants are legally represented at the tribunals. Little wonder that many companies have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach and never analyse the pay in the company or the pay gap for fear of generating the information that might assist a claim in the first place.
That strategy works. As the Fawcett Society, which is working on this Bill, points out, six in 10 working women do not know whether they are being paid less than a male counterpart, and only three in 10 agreed that their employer would be honest with them and tell them if they were. Little wonder that some major household names, from the BBC to Tesco and Asda, have dragged their heels on these issues, making legal action the only option for women. That is why I pay tribute to women such as Carrie Gracie and Samira Ahmed, who have been prepared to stick their neck out on this, because it is really difficult to do so.
When I introduced this Bill, one woman wrote to me—hon. Members will understand why this is an anonymous case study—“In my previous role, I hired two junior staff members within six months of each other: one male, one female, both the same age, the same pedigree, the same salary expectations, hired to do the same role, sitting side by side. When I sought sign-off from my male boss to pay the female candidate the same salary, I was asked to offer her a starting salary at the bottom of the salary range. They told me in the business they pay people the least they think they can get away with, and they think she will accept less.” When the woman challenged that behaviour and pointed out the equal pay disparity, and that it could lead to a tribunal, she found her own career stymied. The promotion that she had been promised was denied to her because she was told that she had been too pushy on equal pay.
The Bill is about righting those wrongs. It has been drafted by a panel of legal and human resources experts, chaired by the amazing Daphne Romney QC. It seeks to break the culture of discrimination and the culture of secrecy that causes it. I pay tribute to Baroness Margaret Prosser, who has led this work in the other place and is a fearless champion of equal pay. The Bill implements a right to know, to give women the right to request the pay data of their male counterparts. If they suspect that an individual or group may constitute a comparator, they would have a right to know that information so that they could make the comparison without having to go to court and make a formal request. This is something that is supported by the British public. A new poll from Savanta shows that 62% of people think that if a woman is not paid equally for doing the same job as a man, she should be given the information so that she can challenge the situation.
The Bill is not just about equal pay. Women of colour, for too long, have been left out of the conversation about equality in the workplace. Without examining both race and gender we fail to understand the intersectionality of pay discrimination. The Bank of England estimates that the black and ethnic-minority pay gap is 10%. It has narrowed even less than the gender pay gap in the past 25 years, and is 25% in London. Restoring gender pay-gap reporting and expanding the principle to ethnicity pay-gap reporting will help to open up action on the barriers that mean that talent is denied throughout businesses and the public sector.
The Government said that they would act on the ethnicity pay gap, but action has not been forthcoming. Indeed, it is troubling that in the pandemic the only bit of business reporting and accountability that the Government said that businesses did not need to undertake was gender pay-gap reporting. What happens when we remove that focus on tackling inequality in the workplace? Two weeks after this year’s deadline, having been told that they did not have to do it, 10,000 eligible companies had not submitted their figures.
When we look at the figures, we see that the gap has increased. If we continue just to ask nicely, nothing will happen and our economy will miss out as a result. The Minister for Equalities told me that she wanted more data before she improved the way we did gender pay-gap reporting and ethnicity reporting, but if we are not even asking for that, we will never get anywhere on this.
Addressing this inequality could not be more timely. A survey by Pregnant Then Screwed shows that it was mainly mothers who faced redundancy and inequality in the workplace in the pandemic, partly because they could not secure childcare so that they could go back to work. As early as May, a study by PwC showed that 78% of people who had lost their job during the pandemic were women. Axing the gender pay-gap reporting process sends the message that that does not matter, but it should matter to all of us, because of the impact on our economy and society.
For nearly 200 years, women have been asking for parity, and with the pandemic bearing down on us, we cannot afford to wait any longer for action. I may be signing my own political death warrant if history is anything to go by in raising these issues. Like the anonymous case study that I cited, the history on this is not good. In contrast to that film, the strikers in 1968 were not looking for equal pay—they had been unjustly graded at work—and they did not get equal pay; they received 92% of the pay received by their male counterparts. The resulting investigation and fury from raising the issue led to the Equal Pay Act 1970—at the cost of Barbara Castle’s career. We should never forget to pay tribute to her. Despite opposition from those in the Labour Government at the time to amendments on equal pay, she stuck her neck out for other women and forced that Bill through, but she was lost from the Cabinet as a result, prompting her to tell a sponsor of the Bill—and another legend when it comes to fighting for women’s rights—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman),
“remember all Labour Prime Ministers are bastards”.
I hope that that will not be true, and I certainly hope that the Prime Minister will not fall into that type. My right hon. and learned Friend has made the case that this is a pro-business measure—we should all support it—which is why I am proud that it has support across the House.
That is not enough. The Minister needs to say, “Deeds not Words.” In 50 years, I hope that we have moved towards recognising that Barbara Castle was right. That discrimination is bad not just for those affected—it is bad for businesses and the economy as well. The measure now needs political will, so that we make sure that equal pay is not just a great fiction but a lived reality for everyone in this country.
Quite right, too!
Question put and agreed to.
That Stella Creasy, Caroline Nokes, Neil Gray, Nadia Whittome, Chris Bryant, Florence Eshalomi, Anne McLaughlin, Chris Evans, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Christine Jardine, Caroline Lucas and Ms Harriet Harman present the Bill.
Stella Creasy accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read the Second time on Friday 13 November and to be printed (Bill 199).
Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) (No. 2) Bill
Considered in Committee
[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]
I should explain that in these exceptional circumstances, although the Chair of the Committee would normally sit in the Clerk’s chair during Committee stages, in order to comply with social distancing requirements, I will remain in the Speaker’s Chair although I will be carrying out the role not of Deputy Speaker but of Chairman of the Committee. Therefore, I and whoever else occupies the Chair should be referred as Chairs and not as Deputy Speakers.
Compilation of rating lists
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
One can tell by the enormous crowd in the Chamber that the NDR Bill is going to be the highlight of this parliamentary week. Nevertheless, given that the average local authority delivers over 800 different services which, during this covid crisis, are being brought into sharp focus as to how essential they are as part of the warp and weft of our communities, it is important that we get this right.
This matter has been extensively debated previously, and it is largely of a technical nature. However, I would be pleased to hear the Minister address a point about the timing that has emerged during the Bill’s passage through the House. Among those 800 different services, local authorities provide the billing process to local businesses to ensure that business rates are both accurate and able to be paid on time. It is absolutely critical that they have sufficient time within that process to receive the data from the Valuation Office Agency, to test that with the software supplier who ensures that the bills are physically dispatched to businesses, to resolve any disputes that may subsequently emerge—it is not uncommon for businesses to come back with queries—and then to be in a position to ensure that payment is made in a timely manner.
I entirely understand why, from a Government perspective, it is important to align that process with a fiscal event, which is likely to be an autumn Budget. However, as we have seen, especially in these recent times, there is often a situation whereby the timing of those events needs to move around and change. I hope that the Minister will be able to address the need to ensure that this information is available to local authorities in a timely manner so that businesses have certainty and accuracy regarding these bills. I would like an assurance that if there is a need to change the date of the autumn Budget, there will then be scope within the timetable to provide the information to local authorities, prior to the Budget taking place, to ensure that the bills are available to local businesses in a timely manner, and, indeed, can be paid, so as to be part of the critical funding arrangements for local authorities.
With those observations, I take my seat and look forward to hearing the furious and enthusiastically engaged debate that will doubtless follow.
This is not a controversial measure, as the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) has made clear, but I want to put a few points on the record while confirming that the Opposition continue to support the proposals.
Since Second Reading, there have been at least a couple of developments. The first is that the rate of covid infection is rising again, and that makes the case for supporting businesses and local authorities, including through business rate reform, even stronger. The second is that organisations with an interest in this Bill have made it even clearer in conversations with us that although they support the Bill, they are looking for yet more meaningful change. The Bill must be the beginning of root-and-branch reform of the business rate system. Right now, the jobs of people in the arts, retail, hospitality and many other sectors are under threat from the economic impact of the covid-19 pandemic. Those sectors and others need help to get through the rising wave of infections, and they need that help as urgently as possible.
Business rates, as currently set up, do not fairly reflect the rental value of the premises occupied, and they have created regional imbalances. A further and growing unfairness is that retailers that occupy shops in high streets pay far more in tax than online retailers do—that situation is, disappointingly, incentivising the decline of our high streets. Research by Revo shows just how acute the regional imbalance can be. In the north and the midlands, the rate rise is almost 12.5 times greater than the rise in rental values, compared with just four times greater in the south. If the Government are serious about levelling up, they need to address that anomaly.
Getting the business rate system right is essential, and it should be seen as part of the support that the Government must provide to businesses and local authorities to help the economy to recover fully. The Government have been too slow to support businesses and local authorities during the pandemic. According to the Local Government Association, the Government have left councils facing a £3 billion funding gap, which means that support for local economic recovery may be cut precisely when it is needed most.
The country is facing a long, hard winter ahead as we contend with the effects of covid-19, and we must provide all the support we can to local authorities and local businesses to get our communities through this safely.
I know that the Bill is to do with England and Wales, but given that we face potentially the greatest recession that we have had in our lifetimes, there is a need for flexibility in non-domestic rating. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that with the Bill, the Government have given us the flexibility to respond to whatever the future may give us?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the need for flexibility. The situation ahead is very unpredictable and uncertain, and we need the flexibility to support businesses and local economies, whatever circumstances we find ourselves in in a few weeks’ or months’ time.
On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Kate Hollern) asked the Minister a question that has not yet been answered, so I politely invite him to respond to it today. Given that the Valuation Office Agency has a backlog of 50,000 appeals, some dating back as far as 2010, will he share with the House what conversations he has had with the Treasury about how that backlog will be tackled? Because of the pending appeals, councils, which are responsible for collecting business rates on behalf of the Government, have had to divert more than £3 billion away from frontline services. That figure is very close to the in-year funding gap that is leading to cuts in frontline services across the country, as the second wave of infection rises and the economy slips into recession. What a difference that funding would make, if the Government would only make it available to local authorities and public services on the frontline.
Fixing the business rates system is essential if our high streets are to survive, but the Government must also recognise the key role that local government will play in driving local economic recovery. The Government’s broken promises on council funding will restrict town halls’ ability to support struggling local businesses. I am sure I do not need to remind the Minister just how important local authorities have been throughout the pandemic, and that is why it is so important that they are supported financially. Councils have lost £953 million from business rates income between March and July this year alone, according to the Local Government Association, and that accounts for more than a quarter of all income losses for councils over that period.
The Opposition welcome the measures in the Bill, but only as a first step in the much wider reform that is needed to create a level playing field for businesses and to support our high streets to recover.
I thank the shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), and my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) for their contributions.
We are now familiar with the two improvements that the Bill makes to the business rates system. It moves the date for implementation of the next revaluation in England and Wales to 1 April 2023, and it moves the latest date by which draft rateable values must be prepared in England and Wales to 31 December preceding the revaluation. Both changes can be found in clause 1. Clause 2 simply sets the extent and name of the legislation.
In order to understand clause 1, we first need to consider the main primary legislation for business rates, which is the Local Government Finance Act 1988. All of clause 1 is concerned with amendments to the 1988 Act. Part III of that Act concerns business rates, and it currently requires revaluations in England and Wales to take place every five years from 1 April 2017. Therefore, without amendment to the current law, it would require revaluation to take place in England and Wales on 1 April 2022. The Bill changes that date in a straightforward way by amending the 1988 Act to instead provide for the next revaluation in England and Wales to be on 1 April 2023. It does that both for local rating lists and for central rating lists held by my Department and the Welsh Government. Central lists contain large network properties, such as the electricity supply companies.
We can see the change in the Bill—clause 1(2)(a) adds the words “on 1 April 2023”; clause 1(3)(a) makes the change for England and clause 1(4) does so for Wales. The change to the timing of the draft rating list from no later than the 30 September to 31 December can be seen in equally simple terms in clause 1(2)(b) for local rating lists and clause 1(3)(b) for central rating lists.
That date is the deadline—the latest date by when draft rateable values must be prepared. The Bill will still allow the Valuation Office Agency to publish rateable values earlier than the end of December. We fully intend to give ratepayers as much notice as possible of their draft rateable values, the new multipliers and any transitional arrangements that might be included. Historically, these have been confirmed at the time of the autumn fiscal event, so ratepayers will continue to have several months to pay their bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner raised a point about fiscal events and what might happen in different instances. It is worth putting on the record that it is required within law that the multipliers are produced as part of the local government finance settlement, but we are of course cognisant of the fact that a date in February would be too late. I restate our intention to make sure that they are provided earlier than that—in good time—if events transpire as my hon. Friend described.
Moving the date of the draft rating list also has implications for local government, which has a share in business rates income through the business rates retention scheme. On that point, I assure the Committee that my Department has held discussions with representatives of local government, including the Local Government Association. We intend to make any adjustments as are necessary to the rates retention scheme to ensure that locally retained income is, as far as practicable, unaffected by the revaluation. That will give councils the assurances they need over locally retained rates income. In the revaluation, we will also ensure that local government will have what it needs to issue the new bills in a timely way.
The hon. Member for Croydon North raised an important point about VOA appeals and was quite right to do so. It is worth saying that the new business rates appeals system introduced in 2017 is operating smoothly and ratepayers have been able to make appeals throughout this difficult period. The large volume of appeals under the previous list system showed why the system was in need of reform, with large numbers of speculative appeals clogging up the system and over 70% of appeals leading to no change. The VOA recently delivered some key improvements to the system, addressing specific concerns from stakeholders, including new features frequently requested by customers and agents to make the system easier to use.
The hon. Member for Croydon North is right to highlight that there are still some outstanding cases from 2010. The majority of those cases have been held up by litigation pending the outcome of a Supreme Court case concerning the rateability of ATMs. The Supreme Court issued a decision on the matter on 20 May this year, and the outstanding cases are now being settled. The VOA is engaging with stakeholders and has agreed a timetable to deal with these cases, and I will keep it under close review. He is right to raise that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, when it comes to the Valuation Office Agency, there is a need to recognise that some business rates appeals concern very significant amounts of money—so significant in some cases that they can imperil the financial viability of a local authority? We can cast our minds back to the circumstances of West Somerset District Council, with which I had some involvement in my time at the Local Government Association. The business rates appeal relating to the nuclear power station in that area, which was the main source of business rates for the local authority, was so big that local government reorganisation was the only solution to make the delivery of local government services in that area viable. In my area, Heathrow airport is the biggest single source of business rate payments, and changes in those payments can lead to significant in-year variations in business rates. Can he give me some assurance that his Department is focused on making clear to the VOA the importance of processing these appeals in a timely manner and giving sufficient scope for local authorities to manage the impact?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He is entirely right to highlight some of the challenges, and I can give him that assurance. The fundamental review of business rates is considering a number of issues, including the frequency of future revaluations. He is right to make that important point.
I am afraid I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Croydon North about local government funding. We have had exchanges on that important point, and we have different views. The Prime Minister announced last week an extra £1 billion of funding for local government. I am aware of the need for certainty, and we plan to explain the distribution of that funding as quickly as we can. The £4.8 billion that has been provided to local government, including £3.7 billion of un-ring-fenced funding, has been a big support to councils, which are doing an incredible job up and down the country and delivering first-class public services in an extremely difficult and challenging environment.
Does the Minister recognise that the complexity of local government finance is a huge part of addressing public concerns? A top-tier authority such as a London borough will have responsibility for a parking revenue account and a housing revenue account, and it will have business rates income and council tax income. Over and above that, it will expect to see regular income from fees and charges for services that it provides to the public on a traded basis. Although some of that is captured by the core spending power measure, which is usually used by his Department as the critical way to explain the financial position of local authorities specifically and the local government sector in general, does he agree that that could be improved, so that Members and our constituents could grasp in a little more detail the impact that these changes have in their town hall or civic centre?
My hon. Friend makes a fair point about the need for clarity of message about the spending power of councils, and I am happy to continue conversations with him about how we can look at that. We believe that core spending power remains the most accurate available method to discuss local government finance. That is why we use it when highlighting, for instance, the 4.4% real-terms increase in local government finance this year as part of the local government finance settlement. I thank him for that intervention. He is absolutely right to put that on the record.
We are trying to give councils the tools they need to ensure that they can implement this revaluation, cognisant of the need to provide clarity as part of a fiscal spending event. I restate the point that if that was not possible, we would follow our obligations.
Will my hon. Friend give some consideration to updating the list, which was originally conceived in the days of Lord Pickles when he was Secretary of State at the Ministry? He sought to gather best practice from across the local government sector. While we recognise that the reduction in the cost of biscuits at meetings was not going to bridge any budget gaps, many in the sector—I pay particular tribute to Sir Ray Puddifoot, the leader of Hillingdon, who has just announced his retirement—are masters of the art of looking at different ways to maximise local authority income within the framework provided by the Ministry, to provide the greatest possible consistency and financial stability to their local authority.
My hon. Friend makes a hugely important point, and it is probably one that could be looked at in the even wider context of sharing good practice by local authorities that are doing such an incredible job. That is why we have tried to ensure, in the support we have tried to give councils during the pandemic, that they have the tools and ability to share best practice. We also facilitate that through my Department and our Government, whether that is the Brexit delivery board, for instance, or any of the other vehicles that we use to share good practice.
I put on record my thanks and appreciation to council representatives, groups and the sector as a whole for their role in sharing and providing good practice. The Local Government Association does an incredible job of bringing that type of guidance and support together and ensuring that there are good forums for councils to meet and discuss a wide range of issues, including the one that my hon. Friend rightly highlights on council funding and finances.
We know that it has been a challenging time for councils throughout this pandemic, but that is why we have distributed the funding in the way that we have, working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care. We are cognisant of the pressures still faced by local authorities, which is why our income scheme, the infection control fund and others have been so important to supporting local authorities throughout this pandemic.
We believe that this is a small but important Bill. We are extremely grateful for the support of Members across the House. We believe it is a common-sense solution to the problem faced by councils. I take on board the wider points about business rates that Members have raised today, and I therefore highlight the wider review of business rates that is being conducted. I am always willing to take further representations about the importance of that review. This is a common-sense Bill, and I am grateful for the support of the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill reported, without amendment.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Although small, this Bill delivers on an important commitment that is vital for ensuring a fair outcome for ratepayers, and I am glad it has been accepted by all Members across the House. I am grateful for the contributions of Members both on Second Reading and in Committee. I would certainly like to put on record my thanks to them for their support of the Bill. I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), and to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Kate Hollern), who has done a lot of work on the Bill and will know it backwards by the end of its passage. Finally, I put on record my thanks to the Clerks and the excellent civil servants in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for helping to steer this piece of legislation through the House. This is an important Bill that represents just one part of the Government support provided to business across this country, and I commend it to the House.
I will not rehearse my points on the wider issues of local government finance where there is disagreement across the Benches; that is all on the record. I will just welcome this Bill and the changes that it proposes to the system. They are needed, but as has been accepted on all sides, they cannot be a substitute for the much wider changes that will be required to support our high streets through some very difficult times in the months and years to come. In particular, we need to focus on how we support bricks-and-mortar retailers to compete on a level playing field with online retailers if we want our towns, high streets and districts not just to survive, but to thrive long into the future.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Third time and passed.
In order for everybody to leave the Chamber safely and for the main players in the next debate to take their positions, we will suspend the sitting for a relatively brief period. If it is possible to have the Dispatch Boxes sanitised as well, I would be very grateful.
Black History Month
[Relevant documents: e-petition 324092, entitled Teach Britain’s colonial past as part of the UK’s compulsory curriculum; e-petition 323808, entitled Add education on diversity and racism to all school curriculums; and e-petition 323961, entitled Making the UK education curriculum more inclusive of BAME history.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Black History Month.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important issue today, and I thank Members on both sides of the House for their support in securing the debate. Specifically, I would like to thank the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), the hon. Members for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). I also thank the shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), for her commitment to addressing this issue. I am pleased that there was cross-party support for this debate to take place during Black History Month.
My sincere thanks go to Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a co-ordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council in 1987, who organised the first recognition of this month. It must have taken extraordinary courage to speak out against racism and discrimination in order to pave the way for me and others.
Black History Month is about celebrating and highlighting black heroes, such as Petronella Breinburg, one of the first black female authors in Britain to write a children’s book with a black protagonist; Dr Harold Moody, a Jamaican-born physician who emigrated to the United Kingdom, where he campaigned against racial prejudice and established the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931; Mary Prince, a British abolitionist, who was the first black woman to write an autobiography and present an anti-slavery petition; Asquith Camile Xavier, a West Indian-born Briton who ended the colour bar at British Rail in London by fighting to become the first non-white train guard at Euston station in 1966; David Pitt, the second peer of African descent to sit in the House of Lords; Dr Erinma Bell, a community peace activist, and Yomi Mambu, the first black person to hold the title of Lord Mayor in England.
But I must also mention the trailblazers who came before us in this place: Lord Boateng, Bernie Grant, Baroness Amos and, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). Their legacy in the House can be seen throughout the Chamber today.
We celebrate all those trailblazers not just because they are black individuals, but because they are great Britons, and not just because they are great black Britons but because they are great Britons in Black History Month. We truly celebrate them, because everyone benefits from recognising the important contributions they make in laying pathways for others who look like them and follow in their footsteps. This is what this debate is about, and this is why I came into this place: to speak for those who barely get a voice in this society.
When we look at many aspects of society, including the jewel in our national crown, the NHS, we see that we are overly represented in the workforce, although, sadly, not at the top. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are far more likely to work in key worker roles, and those workers are more likely to be pressured to work in dangerous circumstances. In the NHS, 63% of BAME doctors reported that they had been pressured to work in wards with covid patients, compared with 32% of their white counterparts.
These examples of institutional discrimination have destroyed the lives of black people across the UK. I know of one nurse in my constituency who unfortunately lost her life to covid-19, leaving behind a heartbroken family. After hearing claims of racial discrimination in the workplace and seeing research pointing to long-term structural racism as a factor in the disproportionate covid deaths, I have to question how many lives might have been needlessly lost due to the lack of action on tackling racism over the past decade. Today, when we talk about Black History Month as a celebration, we should also reflect on the persistent racial inequalities that this Government must address as a matter of immediate concern. This is an opportunity to speak on behalf of all those voices in society that we celebrate this month.
Black people have faced discrimination in the UK for as long as history can remember, but racism is not a thing of the past. I am sad to have to stand here and describe how discrimination has continued into the present. Its impact is still felt on so many lives: black women are five times more likely to die in pregnancy; black Caribbean children are three times more likely to be excluded from school; black workers with degrees earn almost a quarter less than their counterparts; black people make up just 3% of the UK population but 12% of those in prison. Why is it that year on year these statistics are read out in a debate or in news and no action is taken? That it is still necessary in 2020 for young people to take to the streets to remind us that black lives matter should bring shame on us all. Black lives matter; we are in this House and we must recognise that.
I have two asks of the Government and I want them to give me a direct answer today. The first is to implement a race equality strategy and action plan that will cover areas such as education, health and employment, something that Operation Black Vote has called for. The second is to set up a taskforce that will look to diversify the curriculum—to really diversify the curriculum. We want all our kids—all our children, black and white, in every single corner of this country—to better understand our history, so that our children have a true sense of belonging within British culture and British history, because at the moment it does not reflect that.
Teach First reported that the biggest exam board does not include a single book by a black author in English literature specifications, and 75% of English teachers have concerns about the lack of ethnic diversity in the curriculum. Let me break that down: that means pupils can complete their GCSEs and leave secondary school without having studied a single literary work by a non-white author. If we have a better understanding of our history, everyone is better off. It also means that we will not make the same mistakes as we did with the Windrush scandal. It will help us better to know ourselves and how this country got to this place, and what work still needs to be done.
That is why I am saying to the Government now that we need a race equality strategy because, as furlough ends, the redundancies will be coming hard and fast. If we do nothing again, once again, black communities will suffer. In education, we cannot leave a generation behind with this digital divide, and in health, as the pandemic wreaks havoc, we are dying in great numbers. An educational taskforce will look at our curriculum honestly, ensuring that the books our children read, learn from and develop from have a clearer analysis of our history—the good, the bad and the ugly—and the values they can take to become future leaders. It is this grounding that will ensure that all our children, black and white, will have the opportunity to fulfil their full potential. We need to get the curriculum right, so that we have more black teachers and so that more people from diverse backgrounds will get to the top, which will mean a fairer playing field—not one that locks the privileged in and the disadvantaged out.
The past year has been deeply traumatic for black people, who have failed to be supported by the Government. I have called on the House today to do more to tackle racism, but we can all do more to be active in the future, so I say to my fellow black brothers and sisters: if you are watching today, if you do one thing, make sure you register to vote so that in the local elections, mayoral elections and the general election, you can have your say and make your voice heard.
As hon. Members can see, the call list is quite extensive but I do not intend to put a time limit on initially. However, if Members go on way beyond five or six minutes, they will either be knocking people off at the other end or reducing the time that they have, so please be mindful of other Members who will want to make contributions later.
I am delighted to be speaking in this debate during Black History Month, as the first black Conservative MP on these Benches in 2005. It is great to look around the Chamber today, on both sides, because the complexion is new. Certainly on the Government Benches, every one of us is here based on hard work, merit and, yes, of course, a little bit of luck from time to time.
When I was growing up in a single-parent household in south-east London, racism was pretty crude. It was in your face. It was insults, casual violence, and it was very direct and very physical, including being spat at on buses and all sorts of things. I never dreamt, back in those days, that there would be any opportunity to get to the law-making apparatus of our entire nation. What an amazing thing to achieve—I am sure that everyone here of any background and persuasion feels exactly the same, especially if they came from a challenging background.
The beauty of this Chamber and the strength of our United Kingdom is its rich diversity. Our country and our Parliament have demonstrated the ability to evolve, adapt and integrate good people who share our values and aspirations. It also demonstrates that we reject beliefs and practices that run counter to our values and those that seek to undermine democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law. But British history is long and diverse, and it is undeniable—Magna Carta, democracy, the agrarian and industrial revolutions, the uniting of our kingdom, free trade, the abolition of slavery, emancipation, the defeat of Hitler and fascism, freedom of speech and plurality of media, and, in recent days, thank goodness, race relations and equal opportunities.
The constitution of our country consists of waves of people coming and going over millennia—Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Flemings, Huguenots, Indians, Kenyans, Russians, and, in more recent times, Americans, Australians and—soon—Hong Kong Chinese. Let us face it: at some point in the past 12,000 years, every one of our ancestors was an immigrant to these islands. If anyone is daring enough to take a DNA test, they might make some interesting discoveries. They might discover that, actually, we are all related. If we go back 70,000 years, we discover that modern human beings are all from the same stock. Black history is as rich and varied a part of our history as Asian, Jewish, Chinese and Mediterranean history, and the history of sex, gender, sexual preference, disability and class. I am delighted to see that the contribution of non-white Brits is increasingly recognised across society, and Black History Month is a good opportunity to make those recognitions.
We cannot erase uncomfortable parts of our history, but we can learn from them. As a former governor of the Museum of London, I am deeply conscious of the many and varied histories that run through the streets of London and flow through the veins of our nation, and it is important that these contributions and historical interactions between people across the globe are acknowledged in the teaching of history and culture. As every teacher will know, timetables are tight, so this is a good time to reflect on whether we have the right balance of lessons in the context of our history and of the composition of present day Britain. History should not be whitewashed, but it should also not be blackwashed. Acknowledging black histories in schools should not crowd out other histories but highlight the rich diversity of all the histories that we share.
So I add a little note of caution: it is all too easy to say that a single characteristic, such as skin colour, eclipses and overshadows everything else. It is all too easy to fall for the dangerous identity politics, where individuals are kettled into stereotypical communities, often for the benefit of self-appointed spokesmen and leaders. It is all too easy to focus on difference to generate a sense of grievance for political gain—I think we all recognise that—but I believe that what unites us as British citizens is far greater than what divides. So for me, Black History Month is a good time for reflection. I want us to live in a country where a person
“will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”,
and that goal is very much more within our reach than it was when I was a child in the ’60s and ’70s. For me, black history is not about segregating communities or about the racist, dehumanising, infantilising politics of identity; it is about recognising different histories and embracing our common humanity as equal citizens today. With a solid adherence to our values, our culture will continue its subtle evolution. Consensual integration will arise on the gentle currents of myriad individual free choices.
So let us celebrate the rich and evolving nature of our great nation. Let us celebrate those people of various heritages who have made it in mainstream life in Britain—including many of us in this Chamber today. Let us not forget where we were before the ’70s and Bernie Grant. Before we made our changes here, this Chamber had a very different complexion. We have made huge advances. We have non-white people at the top of science, at the top of the media and at the top of scientific academies; we have the editor of Vogue. There are so many good examples—[Hon. Members: “The Minister!”] And the Minister—forgive me! We have so many examples of how far we have come, but I acknowledge that there is still further to go. Let us celebrate the rich and evolving nature of our great nation: one nation awash with difference but united on the foundations of democracy, free speech and equality under the law.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) on securing this debate today, and it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie). He said that if we were to take a DNA test, we might find that we were related. Well, I can tell him that all of us in the world share 99.9% of our DNA.
I would like to start with a quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” Every year, I set a theme for my Black History Month, and this year my theme is allies. I thank all the allies around the world and the country who have joined Black Lives Matter marches, who have decided that they will be anti-racist, not just not racist, and who have made a consistent effort to fight the good fight, whether they are black, white or brown. What we have in common is that we are fighting for justice.
The pandemic has shone a light on many injustices that exist in the world. I hope that the Government will ensure that they follow the data when they allocate investment and funds. Too often, in areas such as Brent, a disproportionate amount of cuts leads to bad housing, fewer services and more deaths when it comes to covid-19.
I am passionate about history and how history is taught in our country. At the moment, history is taught to make one group of people feel inferior and another group of people feel superior, which has to stop. We need to look at history and improve it. Labour’s Emancipation Educational Trust is vital and a long overdue investment. Part of the solution is recognising the role that each of us plays in each other’s life and understanding that progress should mean not the destruction or dehumanisation of another person, but an understanding of each other.
History needs to be decolonised. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead has already discussed how people can go through the whole of their GCSE and not hear reference to any black authors. They can go through history thinking that the people who were enslaved were not part of the uprising, without understanding the richness of Africa and the Caribbean, and without understanding all the leaders in the black community. I am surprised that the Minister has asked me that because it is so well documented that history needs to be decolonised. If we look at organisations such as the Runnymede Trust, it is absolutely amazing.
I will address the issues around decolonising the curriculum at the end of my speech, but the hon. Lady will acknowledge that, even though there may not be enough black authors, there are other racial groups, such as Chinese, Asian and so on, who we do not believe are inferior. So if it is just the number of people who look like you who have written books that is making you inferior, why are black children different from all those other racial groups?
There is no other group where people have been systematically stripped of their humanity throughout history, where colonisation has meant that people have gone to their country, captured them and taken them by force to another country, where they have been raped and thrown overboard in the sea. There is no other group that that has happened to. I am going to explain in my speech why it is so important that history is taught in its fullness. If the Minister takes the time to listen, I think I might just teach her a little something.
The hon. Lady mentioned that no other group in history has been singled out and dehumanised in the way that she has outlined. Without question, such activities are repugnant to all of us. However, we should not exceptionalise Africans or people of African descent. Sadly, slavery has been endemic in virtually all societies. As recently as the 19th century, Barbary pirates from north Africa enslaved more than 1,300 Cornishmen and women and subjugated them to slavery. We find it in China, the Indian subcontinent and the Americas, such as in south America with the Aztecs, Incas and so on. It is a beastly ghastly thing that we must categorically condemn for all people. Does she agree that there is no exclusive nature, as she was suggesting?
I pause, Mr Deputy Speaker, because whenever there is a discussion about black history and an enslavement that lasted for decades and was built on the economy, which is very different from any other type of enslavement, people always try to compare one form of slavery with another. Sometimes, especially during Black History Month, it would be progress if one could just acknowledge the inhumanity that happened and the systemic racism that not only existed then but has a lasting legacy now in our structures, which it does not for any other group.
This is a dark time for our history and if we do not stand up to racists now, it will get worse. We need only open the paper and look on social media to see the racist abuse. We know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) gets more racist abuse than all the MPs in this place put together. People, including myself, are subjected to vile threats every day; somebody who threatened to kill me was jailed. People are being attacked in the streets, and hate crime is rising. People have been raped and beaten up just because they have a different point of view, skin colour or religion, or even just because of who they love.
This is why the teaching of history is so important—in its complete form, not with these rose-tinted glasses that say that white is supreme to any other group. When the plot to murder Labour MP Rosie Cooper was foiled, the judge said—and this is important—that the criminal had a
“perverted view of history and current politics”.
The Crown Prosecution Service said that he was
“prepared to act on his white supremacist world view and plotted to kill a Member of Parliament”.
This person also said horrendous things about Jewish people. This neo-Nazi has been sentenced to life imprisonment. We stand here with Jo Cox’s plaque on the wall, and her murderer had far-right extremist views. He also thought that Jo was just too kind a person—he was probably right there; she was. He was also sentenced to life imprisonment. The person who tried to kill the Mayor of London and my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) had a perverted view of history and white supremacy. This is why it is important that history is taught in a balanced way and you do not ignore the reality of what is happening just to make a political point. This is why the teaching of a decolonised history and the inclusion of black history is so important.
I have often delivered learning and development courses, where I have accumulated three top responses when people have been told that they are racist. If someone has been accused of racism or they have been racist, that does not mean they have to stay a racist for their entire life—they can change and educate themselves. These are the top three reactions, besides some of the stuff we have heard today, when people compare, contrast or try to explain it all away. This is how people respond: first, “I don’t see colour.” The goal is not for people not to see colour; we do not want people to be colour blind. If people do not see colour, the likelihood is that they will not see the discrimination that comes off the back of it. We need the acknowledgement, and we need people to be non-judgmental when they see colour, not to prejudge someone because of the colour of their skin. We need people not to be colour blind.
The second is, “I haven’t got a racist bone in my body.” Technically, that is probably correct because racism does not exist in the bones—it is in the mind. Racism is taught. Race is a social construct. It was created so that a group of people can be dehumanised because of the colour of their skin. Racism, however, is very real and very dangerous. The third, which I have heard time and time again, is, “I have a black friend.”
Having a black friend does not excuse racism. In fact, this is not Monopoly. Having a black friend is not a “get out of racist jail free” card. Having a black friend and being a racist just means that you need to do better.
As I have said, my theme this year is thanking our allies. There are so many people who have stood up to racism—whether they be black, white, or brown. They have stood up to racists in their families and among their friends, and that takes real courage. They have stood up to racists in this place, and that takes real courage. Sometimes we might be in a room where everybody is thinking the same and acting the same and we might have to speak out and be uncomfortable. That takes courage and those are the people whom I thank—not the people who tried to explain it away. I want to thank those people who have gone before me on whose shoulders I stand.
I end with the words of the first black man to ever vote in Britain: Ignatius Sancho. He said:
“as you are not to be a boy all your life, and I trust would not be reckoned a fool, use your every endeavour to be a good man.”
I thank the hon. Members who have secured this important debate at a time when the discussion of British history and its connection to race has been more prominent than I can remember in my lifetime.
History is itself imperfect because it belongs to those who hold the pen. We can see that in the rewriting of history by Roman emperors to eradicate their rivals, and, in truth, in the lack of representation of minorities at some of the key moments in British history such as the empire, the Victorian era and the world wars. I wholeheartedly agree that we should include the stories of black, Asian and other minorities who were there at these critical points in our shared nation’s past. That is already outlined in the history curriculum, and it is right that teachers are empowered to choose on which sections they focus.
Although we should seek to present a balanced view of our history, including all of those representations, at the same time we should unashamedly teach our children about British progress, and we should be proud of the country that we are today. Yes, we should teach the horrors of slavery, but we should also teach people about William Wilberforce’s work in this place over 30 years to pass the first abolition of slavery Act. That was no small feat. We should teach the constraints on women in history and the courage of the suffragettes. We should teach children about the brave participation of the Indians, Africans and people across the Caribbean in the world wars, when Britain and the Commonwealth did so much to protect the freedoms of the people of Europe. We should teach about the heroes, the pioneers, the inventors—the public servants so aptly described by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare).
That balance should follow through when we talk about racism in schools. To understate racism is to do a great wrong, because we do not confront that prejudice, we do not give comfort and hope to people that their adversity has been heard. However, to overstate racism is also a problem, because it teaches people that the deck is stacked against them when it might not be. It also damages individual aspiration and trust in institutions, and both of those are key to a person’s success.
When it comes to tackling racial disadvantage, we should be able to hold the nuance and detail at the forefront of our mind. Some voices in the current debate across society want us to say that the country is structurally racist, and I see people who say that there is absolutely nothing wrong and that we do not need to talk about race. I do not agree with either.
The three best performing races at GCSE level are ethnic minorities, and black African children outperform the average. We should be proud of that. We are one of only three countries in Europe—along with Ireland and Finland—that are obliged to collect racial and ethnic data. We should be proud of that. We have made great strides in diversity in Parliament and in the Conservative party. I see the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), on the Front Bench. I am sure that during my time in Parliament she will be in the Cabinet, and that will be through her own sheer talent and the opportunity that this country has afforded us, which is why both of our families decided to move here and make this country their home.
However, the worst performing group at GCSE is black Caribbean children. When we look at race across society, we can see there is much more that we need to do in building stronger families, in education, in employment, in the criminal justice system, in health and, in particular, in career progression. I am really glad that the Minister is working on the race and ethnic disparity commission, because she will be looking at the details, and at the pockets and places where we need to do more. I am sure that she will help to continue the progress that this country is making. If someone is bright, no matter what their background, their race or which part of the country they come from, they should be able to succeed. We are making great strides in that regard, but, as ever, we need to keep our heads in the detail to continue making progress.
Before I begin my speech, I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) for securing this important debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) for constantly championing women and equalities across the Chamber whenever she gets a chance.
Mr Deputy Speaker, today you will probably hear lots of personal stories from MPs, especially MPs of colour. I want briefly to outline what happened to me when I decided to stand in Hampstead and Kilburn—the area where my parents got married in the 1970s, when I went to school and where I have had my two children. I was constantly warned that someone called Tulip Siddiq, with a Muslim last name, would not get elected in Hampstead and Kilburn because we have a significant Jewish community. I was told over and over again to take my husband’s last name; but, honestly, who wants to be Mrs Percy? I was told that I would bring the Labour party into shame, and that even Glenda Jackson had almost lost the seat before I took it on. But the truth is that people underestimated the population in Hampstead and Kilburn, and the many communities that we have there. I now have a 14,000 majority and got elected with my Muslim last name—and I may not have two Oscars, but I am working on it. But the comments that I had to put up with were nothing compared with another BME politician who stood for election in my constituency.
Many people will not know this story, but when the general election of 1959 was held, Dr David Pitt made history by being the first person of African descent to stand for Parliament in the constituency of Hampstead, which is now part of my constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn. Perhaps it was always meant to be that he would stand for election in Hampstead since he came from Hampstead, Grenada. Pitt arrived in Britain from the Caribbean before the Empire Windrush. He won a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and, during the years of the great depression in the 1930s, his contemporaries said that he saw with his own eyes the links between poverty and ill health, which is when he first became involved in politics.
In 1957, Dr Pitt was selected as the Labour party candidate in the then Conservative seat of Hampstead—let me just emphasise, the then Conservative seat. Even before he won the nomination, it was reported that he had been threatened three times by the British Ku Klux Klan. He had to put up with racist slurs at a hustings, where White Defence League members kept shouting “Keep Britain white” and there was fighting throughout. It was reported that Dr Pitt remained calm and smiling throughout the fighting. The Broadhurst Gardens committee rooms, which I sometimes use, were plastered with posters saying—it shook me when I read this—“Don’t vote for any supporters of coloured immigration”.
Dr Pitt received racist death threats and was told over and over again not to stand for election, but he refused to stand down as a Labour candidate. He tried again to be an MP in 1970, when he stood for Labour in Clapham, but was defeated by a Conservative. During the campaign, an anonymous leaflet was circulated featuring the slogan, “If you desire a coloured for your neighbour vote Labour. If you are already burdened with one vote Tory.”
Dr Pitt did not end up becoming an MP, but he went on to have an illustrious career, including as the head of the British Medical Association, and ultimately ended up becoming a Lord. He was the second person of African descent to become a Lord, and played a leading role in campaigning for the Race Relations Act 1976.
There are times when I feel very frustrated by the lack of diversity in politics. Even in my own party, there are times when I feel worn down by the constant Islamophobia, and the constant online bullying, trolling and racist comments that we endure on a daily basis. I get sick of being asked, “But, no, where are you really from?” and responding, “Frognal Gardens, NW3, Hampstead, if you want to go and check”, or “Why don’t you go back to your own country?” and replying, “It’s 20 minutes on the Jubilee line.” I get sick of all that, but then I remember that I stand on the shoulders of giants such as Dr David Pitt. He had to put up with so much more than I have had to put up with. I hope that, wherever he is now, he is looking at the Chamber and at the first person of colour representing the constituency that he sought to serve. I hope he is proud of the country to which he gave so much of himself.
Black History Month is a significant opportunity to celebrate the efforts of Britons from diverse backgrounds who helped to build our great nation, shine a spotlight on their stories, and demonstrate our country’s tolerance and diversity. We are raised to celebrate pluralism, opportunity and aspiration, and we should all be exceptionally proud of our history—I know I am.
Since the Romans, people of colour have represented many of the gold and silver threads that run through our nation’s rich and glorious national tapestry. Over the past 200 years or so, Britain’s history has been marked by the emancipation of people from poverty and tyranny. In 1808, the Royal Navy established the West Africa Squadron, with the objective of tackling the Atlantic slave trade through patrolling the waters off west Africa. Between 1808 and 1860, the West Africa Squadron freed in excess of 150,000 Africans. More recently, in the second world war, Britain stood with her imperial family and allies against the tyranny of Nazism and totalitarianism, and led the fight to emancipate Europe from Hitler’s grasp and Asia from the Japanese empire.
Under this Conservative Government, and frankly for as long as I can remember, those from ethnic minorities have been doing better. We are doing better at school and are entering universities in ever higher numbers. More people from BAME backgrounds are entering apprenticeships, which equip them with the vital skills they need to secure employment. At the same time, the number of black people being stopped and searched has dropped from 117 incidents per 1,000 black people in 2009-10 to 38 in 2018-19.
The Conservatives focus on the individual, regardless of their ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. Let us not forget that the first black, mixed-race Member of Parliament was John Stewart, a Conservative, who was elected after the Great Reform Act 1832. Mancherjee Bhownaggree from the Indian subcontinent was the first British Indian Conservative MP, elected in 1895—a third of a century before Labour’s first Indian-origin Member of Parliament.
Although the Labour party has not yet managed to have a female Prime Minister and was the third or fourth party to have a non-white Member of Parliament, it has one record, which is that Bill Morris was the first major black trade union leader. He got that position by doing his job well. People on both sides of the House are trying to put forward that merit issue.
I always feel an immense privilege when the Father of the House intercedes; it is a great honour to raise his interest in anything I have to say.
Despite such delightful interjections and the Conservatives’ long history of advancing pluralism and diversity, there is still a long road to travel and a great journey ahead of us to achieve an ever more equal society. I believe that that can be achieved, and that journey can be made, only through the power of the individual, individual liberties and free markets, and by celebrating and learning about our history. Those are the ways to arrive at the destination. For reasons way beyond my limited understanding, Labour believes that it has some form of ownership over immigrant populations and the descendants of those immigrant populations, such as myself. It thinks it can permanently rely on our vote. Yet it is the Conservatives who today champion and have always championed aspiration and opportunity, regardless of one’s background or any other characteristics. It is for that exact reason that my late father, who travelled from the North-West Frontier of what was then British India, now Pakistan, and served in the NHS, was a lifelong Conservative supporter.
During the recent Black Lives Matter protests, I was disheartened to read banners stating, “Capitalism demands inequality”. They were clear for the world to see. I have rarely seen such a poor understanding of capitalism or inequality. Let us not forget—it behoves Opposition Members to listen to this point—that the key principle of capitalism is the voluntary exchange of goods and services between parties. There is no obligation, no coercion—only consent. Attacking the economic system that has unequivocally improved the lives of billions across the world will only lead to us all being far worse off. There has been a great misapprehension among many people confusing capitalism with mercantilism. For that, I would suggest a little bit of economic history would be helpful.
For those who wish to have state controls and impositions on free trade globally, let us also not forget that it is free trade more than any Government policy, ever, of any country in the world, that has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty throughout the third world, throughout Africa, throughout the sub-continent of India and elsewhere. It is through the power of fair trade that, while in 1950, 1.8 billion people of the entire global population of only 2.52 billion lived in extreme poverty, by 2015, 0.7 billion people of a population of 7.35 billion lived in extreme poverty. That is a very strong argument for free market economics, the power of free trade and Conservative values. If we are to achieve a society where everyone, regardless of any physical trait, thrives and succeeds, the only route is through Conservative values of enhancing individual liberty and championing free market economics.
I will be brief, because I have not got much choice. Following that last speech, I would just point out that the early MPs whom the hon. Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) mentioned served in here decades before the Labour party even existed. It would have been a bit tricky for us to get any MPs elected, white or non-white, before we even existed. The Labour party was created in its present structure in 1918 and it was only four years later that the first Labour Indian MP was elected, Shapurji Saklatvala, who was the MP for Battersea.
I would like to talk today about a very specific area of Black History Month and that is the black curriculum, with specific reference to the Caribbean and the struggle for independence. On the 60th anniversary of Jamaican independence—eight years ago—I attended a ceremony in Waltham Forest town hall marking that anniversary. Even then, eight years ago, the generation who fought for independence and to throw off the shackles of colonialism was slipping from memory, into history, and that period of the late 1950s and early 1960s is now slipping from memory into history even more. That is a dangerous situation, where we might lose that collective memory.
I would like to pay tribute to my friend Bernie Grant, who, as has been mentioned, came in here in 1987. Unusually among British politicians, Bernie moved to Britain as an adult. He grew up in Guyana and came here when he was 19 years old, in 1963. He took part in the struggle for independence and he continued to do that, as a trade unionist and a councillor, when he came here. He came here just after Jamaican independence and just before his own country, Guyana, gained independence in the mid-1960s.
The loss of the generation who were instrumental in gaining independence and self-government was further brought home to me in the summer with the death of Everton Weekes, the great West Indian cricketer. He was one of the few remaining links between our era and the post-war era in the Caribbean, where such strides were made politically and in sport. The Caribbean became the dominant force in the world in cricket, which has been the one force that has driven unity in the Caribbean. There was a dream—Michael Manley’s dream—that the Caribbean would have some sort of unity. The Federation of the West Indies was created around 1960 but, partly because of the opportunism of rivals, it lasted only four years and then collapsed.
Sporting endeavour has been a unifying link between the islands of the West Indies. In the West Indies, sport and politics are more closely linked than they are probably anywhere else on the planet, and I suspect that Jamaica is the only country that could produce a Prime Minister such as Michael Manley. Not only was he a great leader and a great advocate of emancipation, but he wrote the magisterial volume “A History of West Indies Cricket”. It is a great big doorstop of a book, but it is a real page-turner and a superb history book. He was a scholar and a giant among mid-20th century politicians around the world.
It seems extraordinary now, but it is well within living memory that there was a great controversy in the West Indies over the appointment of the first black player as the captain of its cricket team—an appointment that was made only after a long campaign led by C.L.R James, the great writer, historian and journalist. It was a big deal in the Caribbean at the time, and it was seen as one of the great stepping stones to throwing off the shackles of colonialism and imperialism. The beneficiary of that appointment was the great Frank Worrell; whenever I mention him, I want to call him the immortal Frank Worrell, but if he had been immortal, I suppose he would not have gone and died. He can lay claim to being one of the greatest leaders that any sport has produced, and he is a great example for future generations.
C.L.R James, who lived in Brixton in his later years, began the campaign for independence in the Caribbean in the 1920s and 1930s, when it was hardly talked about in this country. He came to Britain in 1932 with Learie Constantine, who was a great cricketer, a politician and a barrister. A few years before David Pitt—he was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq)—went to the House of Lords, Learie Constantine became the first non-white peer.
My central point is this: all the people I have talked about—C.L.R. James, Frank Worrell, Bernie Grant and the great Jamaican writer and journalist Una Marson—have gone. They are no longer with us, so the links with the struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, which saw emancipation and independence in the Caribbean, are withering. I would hate to see a generation come up—particularly the children and grandchildren of migrants—who do not have that collective memory to inherit, and who do not know about the struggles for independence. The best way of honouring those who led the struggle for independence is by incorporating that history into the curriculum today.
A few people have come in since I gave the advice as to why there is no time limit. The call list is quite extensive, so please exercise a little bit of self-discipline—everybody has been very good during this debate—to ensure that you do not go on too long, otherwise you will reduce the time that is available for other people later on.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow many other hon. Members. We have talked a little bit about black history—that is appropriate, as it is, indeed, Black History Month—and I would like to echo some of the things that have been said so far. We have already talked about how black history is British history, and British history is black history; these things are synonymous. I want to say right at the beginning that, whatever our different political views—this got a little bit tetchy for a while, but I hope it has calmed down—the one thing on which we can all agree is that black history is British history. That shared bond that people in these wonderful four nations all share together—whether they be white, black, Asian or whatever ethnicity—is critically important. Indeed, it is one of the reasons why I think the Union we have is so precious.
In that spirit of camaraderie and friendship, I would like very gently to take on some of the points that we have heard from certain Labour Members—very gently. I have heard very moving speeches from Labour Members, including the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), who is always very passionate about this issue. She knows a lot about it and campaigns a lot about it, and I think everybody in this House respects her for that. However, as somebody who loves history—I studied it as a boy and at Oxford University—I think it is fair to say that, when I entered Oxford University in 2004, this issue, if I were to paraphrase it, of decolonising the curriculum, which has been mentioned, was not a common issue and was not talked about very much. I studied history at that university and enjoyed it very much, and my studies included this issue and a range of different things in all different continents and different countries. I also studied a lot of British history, and I can tell hon. Members that, throughout my whole life, the study of this country’s history has not made me feel inferior. It has not made me feel that I do not belong here. It has not made me feel that somehow my unique part in the story of this country—indeed, the unique part that all of us of every ethnicity has in this country—is not recognised.
My hon. Friend is making a very important point about who we identify with. Given what the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) feels about children who read books by authors of a different colour to them, would he agree with me that most children do not actually know the colour of the skin of the author of a book they are reading, and in fact we do not need to have people who share the same skin colour as us to identify with them?
I thank the Minister for her intervention. It is interesting because I have three boys—they are mixed race boys—and my wife told me something recently. I do not know whether I am meant to announce this in the Chamber, but why not? [Interruption.] Yes, I should be careful. She remarked to me recently that when she was trying to identify the black individual in an illustrated book with people of different colours—dark, mixed race, white, Asian: it was a complete mosaic—my son did not know what she was talking about. He could not conceive—[Interruption.] No. He did not understand how we would think about one individual as different from another simply on the basis of the colour of their skin. It is worth saying that he is very young, but my broader point is—
No, no. My broader point is that it is very important that we do not allow the teaching and interpretation of our necessarily complex and diverse, yet brilliant and great British history to become very ideologically divisive. I would therefore reject comments from those who say that somehow we need comprehensively to reframe the entire nature of our history to address what they suggest. I believe that what we need to do—
I will continue. What we actually need to do is to look forward, understand our past, understand where we have failed and understand that we have made progress, but accept that there is much further to go.
I would like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), who was the first black Conservative MP in the modern era; I do not want to get involved in the historical debate about when the first non-white MP was elected, because we will get ourselves tied up. He has done credit to himself and his family through his service in this House, his record as a successful businessman before coming to the House and the kind advice, wisdom and guidance that he gives to all Members as a senior Member. I remember watching him on “Question Time”—I think it was even before he had been elected, such was the reliability of the voters in Windsor that people were sufficiently confident he would win as a Conservative. I remember watching him and thinking, “Maybe I can become a black Conservative MP as well.” I pay tribute to him.
Okay; let’s address this. The hon. Lady shouts from a sedentary position, “That’s what they teach at Eton.” First, I am not sure that they did, but regardless of that point, yes, I went to Eton College. It is a good school. I am proud of being able to go to that school. I am proud of the fact that people of all backgrounds and all races are able to go to that school. I reject the idea that if someone is black or non-white, there are certain places that they are not able to go.
I will say this gently, because I like the hon. Member. I have a lot of time for him, and he has been making a gentle argument. Is there not a difference between young Asian girls and young black boys who have our backgrounds and our parental role models—I say “our” because I had a middle-class, privileged background as well—and the young black men and young Asian women growing up in the council estate in Kilburn in my constituency, who are constantly stopped and searched? Is racism not about intersectionality? We came from different backgrounds and had different advantages, and it is just not the same for everyone.
I am very open about the privilege and opportunities that I had growing up, which is why I want to make life better for those who have not had those opportunities. There is a big difference between being a middle-class Asian woman and being working-class, growing up in poverty and facing double discrimination. Intersectionality is what I am trying to bring to the argument, because I feel like the hon. Member is completely missing the point. My point about Eton is—
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I like the hon. Lady as well. What she says has a huge amount of truth. Of course there is a difference between people of different backgrounds, and it is in that diversity that we find strength as a country. I accept that I have had advantages that certain white working-class boys or girls may not have had, and I have had advantages that certain black people from working-class backgrounds may also not have had. Of course that is true, but at the same time—and I think this view is shared on both sides of the House; it is not partisan—we need to make sure that everybody can aspire to everything and there are no no-go areas, whatever someone’s race or background. That message of aspiration is one of the key reasons why I became a Conservative.
We have made progress. I do not want to repeat what others have said about where we have fallen short and need to make progress. I look at what my friend the noble Lady Morrissey, has done over the last few years with the 30% Club to get more women into senior positions in big public companies. We should look at that sort of approach and think about how we can increase the number of black people and other minorities in leadership positions.
I will continue, because time is short.
That sort of aspiration is important, but the question is often how we get there. As I have said, we need to seek out and identify talent wherever it appears, support people who do not necessarily have the advantages that others have—that is people from all types of background and of all races—and accept the diversity and intersectionality that the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn described. At the same time, we must reject the fundamental principle of identity politics, that we are mostly black, Asian, white—one of those characteristics. We must allow individuality to be the primary focus of how we think about diversity, opportunity, support and aspiration. I reject the idea, for example, that we should have quotas. I believe in targets and help in identifying where people need support.
I see that the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) is on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. She has not made a speech yet, so I will not criticise her, and I am sure that she will address the point that I am about to make. Liberal Democrats say—and many people in Labour have suggested this in the past—that we should have all-black shortlists, but I reject that approach. Quotas are a bad idea, because that means that everyone else will look at the Minister, or at me, or at my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and say, “They are only there because of their race.” That is a dangerous thing. We need to recognise the past, welcome our progress and look forward to the future with confidence as a United Kingdom.
Like others, I will to be brief, so that everyone who has applied to speak in the debate is called. It is brilliant that the debate is oversubscribed, because that shows how the debate has developed around the country, as well as the pressure on MPs.
We are in this debate at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has become big and strong in the United States and around the world. After George Floyd was killed, demonstrations took place, as we know, across the USA and, indeed, across the world. Many people—indigenous people in different parts of the world and minorities all over the world—saw themselves in the treatment of George Floyd at the hands of American police. We would do well to remember that this movement is not going to disappear—it empowers and unites people around the world.
We should approach the debate with a sense of reality. The House of Commons Library has produced an excellent briefing paper, as all its briefing papers are, entitled “Race and Ethnic Disparities”. I urge Members to read it carefully, because it shows the situation in health, education, housing, stop and search, poverty, the criminal justice system and so much else in our society. If someone is young and black, they are more likely to be poor, to be stopped and searched and to underachieve in school; less likely to go to college and even less likely to go to university; and more likely to have a lower life expectancy and lower income in future.
Those are devastating statistics—here, in 2020, all those years after we introduced the first race relations legislation under a Labour Government in the 1960s. We should not be complacent, and this debate—I hope that it will become an annual event—should provide a review of the progress, or not, that has been made in these matters. I urge Members to look carefully at that document.
I have heard the speeches from Government Members, who talk quite reasonably about the huge achievements of individuals who have broken out of the cycle of poverty. For Opposition Members, it is not individuals we want to break out; we want a collective response to develop a system that provides decent education, housing and health opportunities for all, recognising that we have to provide services that deal with the inequalities that people face.
As a councillor in Haringey in the 1970s, it was my honour to chair the community development committee. The successor chair of that committee was my great friend Bernie Grant. We saw in that the way in which we could put public resources into the most disadvantaged communities to empower and strengthen them and help their young people get the same chances as others all across the borough. Our approach on the Labour Benches is essentially a collective one. That is why we founded the national health service. That is why we developed council housing. That is why we developed so many other of our collective services in this country.
This debate takes place not that long after the scandal of the Windrush business hit the headlines and hit this House. It was a deliberately created hostile environment that led to the injustice of the Windrush generation—a generation that came to this country and gave so much in health, in education, in engineering and in so much other work, and helped to improve the living standards of all of us. Ministers should not be unaware of the hurt that is felt among that generation about the way they were treated by that hostile environment.
We should look at the way in which we treat migrants to our society. Why do we have so many people in immigration detention with no charge against them, held effectively in prison with an indeterminate sentence until the Home Office gets round to dealing with their case? We should not be so proud or so complacent about what we do. When we have a Home Secretary who talks about using the Navy to repel desperate asylum seekers and refugees who have risked all to cross the world’s busiest shipping lanes to try to get to a place of safety, can we replace that rhetoric with the principle of humanity and an open heart to people all around this world?
In my constituency, like many others, I do not have to walk very far from my house to find asylum seekers whose process is endlessly lost somewhere in the miasma of the Home Office filing system, with no recourse to public funds, sleeping on the streets, begging and looking for a meal from a church, a synagogue or a mosque in order just to get by. Let us have a sense of reality about what modern Britain is like, and the degree of racism that is still there, sadly, in our society—and the way in which the far right is organising to try to make the situation worse.
We should be full of admiration for those in the black community who have organised themselves, and those in the former colonies who organised to defeat the occupations by Britain, France, Italy, Spain and so many other European colonial powers, and bring about independence. I would like our children in our schools to understand, and see as a central part of the curriculum, the significance of the Pan-African Congress held in 1945 at Chorlton-cum-Hardy town hall in Manchester. It was largely ignored at the time, but the future leaders of many African countries were there at that conference. Indeed, less than 12 years later, Ghana achieved its independence as the first African colony to do so. The generation that came and organised the black community in Britain in the 1950s and ’60s included John La Rose and other great poets from the Caribbean who founded New Beacon Books in my area of London. They did so much to empower and used the work of Claudia Jones and many others in order to give cultural strength and cultural value, through carnival and so much else, to what the Caribbean community were achieving here.
The black self-organisation that was opposed, and then eventually accepted, in the Labour party meant that we had black sections and that my right hon. Friend—my great friend—the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was elected to Parliament in 1987, along with Keith Vaz, Paul Boateng and of course Bernie Grant, so sadly no longer with us. Those people did so much. Others paved the way by going into Parliament, including Dadabhai Naoroji in Finsbury at the turn of the century and, of course, the great Saklatvala in Battersea later on.
We should look at the history that our children learn, and not just in one month of the year. I beg to differ with some of the Members who have spoken already: I do want to see the decolonisation of our history. I want our children to understand how black communities came together—how people stood up against the abuse that colonialism was and is against their lives and brought about independence.