[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
I am pleased to be having this debate on the day that the United Nations has declared an international day for the elimination of racial discrimination. The theme this year is racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration. I wonder whether the UN had any particular person in mind when it came up with that theme. I hope that, if Donald Trump is watching, he might send us a tweet.
Why this day? On 21 March 1960, at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, police turned their guns on protesters and started shooting. They killed 69 people and injured hundreds more. Therefore, each year, the international community comes together to observe this day. In South Africa, it is human rights day, a public holiday to commemorate the lives lost in the fight for democracy and equal human rights. Until now, Parliament has not fully and formally acknowledged this day. As the MP for Brent Central, the most diverse constituency in Europe, I am pleased to be leading this debate.
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbouring MP for bringing this important debate to the House. She mentions the diverse constituency that she is proud to represent here in Parliament. Our constituencies are close to each other and share areas such as Kilburn High Road, where there is a lot of racial profiling of black men. I am sure that she will come to this in her speech, but does she agree that something must be done about the racial profiling of young black men in the Kilburn and Brent area? It is adding to the disillusionment of many in our society.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Racial profiling is not a good way to police communities; in fact, it builds resentment and adds to the problem. On this day when we acknowledge and try to eliminate racial discrimination, that issue should and must be addressed.
It is important that our Parliament marks this day. Until we live in a post-racial world, we must be vigilant. I am sure that that world will happen, but I am also sure that it will not happen in my lifetime. Our UK Parliament is the mother of all Parliaments, and we are at our best when we lead the way. While I am talking about leading the way, I thank Mr Speaker for allowing us to acknowledge this day in the state rooms at a wonderful reception last week.
I hear people say all the time, “I’m not racist; I have black friends. I haven’t got a racist bone in my body.” We need to wake up. I am not sure how many people watched ITV last night, but I did. It showed an undercover sting against a right-wing terrorist group that, although banned from the UK, still exists. We must be careful. Given the imminent triggering of article 50 and the election of President Trump, whom I mentioned earlier, this day is becoming extremely important.
We are witnessing a surge in intolerance, lack of understanding of different communities and dehumanising of individuals. Dehumanising a person makes it easier to justify inhumane actions towards them: “They’re not like us. They’re different. They have different colour skin. They have an accent. How can we trust them?” We should be embracing differences; they make us stronger, not weaker. We should be fighting poverty and global warming, not other human beings.
I sometimes wonder what UKIP expected when it published that awful “Breaking Point” poster depicting a crowd of brown-skinned refugees. Yes, UKIP’s side won the referendum, but racist views have increased, along with hatred and violence. Sexism, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-refugee sentiment—all the tools of hate are on the rise.
My hon. Friend is being generous with her time. Does she agree that the Government should be doing more to take in refugees, that the abandonment of the Dubs amendment, under which we were meant to help unaccompanied children around the world to come to our country, should be condemned and that we should be doing more?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The thing about hate and racism is that it will stop only when we stop it. The Dubs amendment was important. It gave hope to people fleeing circumstances that we too would flee if we were faced with them. Rowing back on that commitment was hugely disappointing.
We must stand up for the rights and dignity of all. An attack on one minority community is an attack on all communities. Every person is entitled to human rights without discrimination. Protecting somebody else’s rights does not in any way diminish our own. Last week, I asked a question on the Floor of the House using British Sign Language. I did it to raise awareness for deaf and hard of hearing people, so that their language could have legal status. That in no way diminished my rights; it only enhanced theirs.
Next week, when the Prime Minister triggers article 50, Parliament will close for two weeks for Easter. During that two weeks, it is even more important that we are vigilant for signs of the aftermath. We must look out for our friends, our neighbours and people we do not even know. We must not forget that we are all a minority at some point, and we should treat people as we would like to be treated.
Angela Davis said that
“it is not enough to be non-racist; we must be anti-racist.”
Hate crimes have spiked since 23 June 2016. Reported hate crime rose by 57%. Seventy-nine per cent. were race hate crimes, 12% were sexual orientation hate crimes, 7% were religious hate crimes, 6% were disability hate crimes and 1% were transgender hate crimes. However, those are just numbers, which do not tell the full horror of those hate crimes, so here are a few examples of incidents that have occurred over the past few months.
Anti-Semitic stickers were plastered on a Cambridge synagogue. Three young males racially abused a US army veteran on a Manchester tram, telling him to go back to Africa. A British Muslim woman was grabbed by her hijab as she was having dinner in a fish and chip shop. A letter was sent telling Poles to go home as a fire was started in their Plymouth home. An Edinburgh taxi driver from Bangladesh was dragged by his beard. A 40-year-old Polish national was killed because he was allegedly heard speaking Polish. A 31-year-old pregnant woman was kicked in her stomach and lost her baby. On Valentine’s day, a gay couple were attacked by five men for falling asleep on each other. I could go on.
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this critically important debate. She will know that, in Newcastle, we are celebrating Freedom City 2017, marking 50 years since Martin Luther King came to Newcastle to accept an honorary doctorate and spoke about the three great evils: poverty, racism and war. The examples that she has given show us, if we did not know already, that we must embed the legacy of Martin Luther King’s work and continue the struggle, because we are far from living in a country where people are judged by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin.
I absolutely concur. Martin Luther King was a great orator. He also said:
“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be...this is the interrelated structure of reality…all mankind is tied together…in a single garment of destiny.”
Until we realise that, we will never live in the post-racial world that we hope for and that was Martin Luther King’s dream.
Some racial discrimination is from unconscious bias, but some is overt. There are elected people who hold overtly racist views, such as the councillor who argued that she was not racist—even after proclaiming that she had a “problem” with “negroes” because there was “something about their faces”. You could not make it up! Racial and ethnic discrimination occurs every day, hindering progress for millions of people around the world. Racism and intolerance take various forms, from denying individuals the basic principles of equality to fuelling ethnic hatred. At their worst, they can turn people to violence and even genocide. They destroy lives and communities and poison people’s minds. The struggle against racism and discrimination is a priority, not just for us in the UK but for the international community.
For anyone who has experienced racism, not much of what I have said today will shock them, but it highlights just how far we still have to go and the importance of educating the young and facing the uncomfortable truth so that history does not repeat itself. Sometimes we have to fight a new, mutant strain of racism, so we always have to be aware of what is going on around us and stand up for other people as well as ourselves.
My parents were migrants who came to this country and suffered racism. Actually, I like to call them expats, because they left their home in the warm, sunny climes of Jamaica to come to cold England, full of smog and fog, to help the country to rebuild after the war. When we speak to our elders, we are acutely aware that racism and hate are not necessarily new. There are pictures of racists here on the walls of Parliament. I remember my first office; I had to look at Enoch Powell’s face every time I walked in, because it was right there at the entrance. Sometimes I would make a rude sign at the photo when I walked in, but in general it upset me. I decided that I did not want to start my day by being upset, so I insisted that the picture was moved. If the House authorities had not removed it, I would have removed it permanently.
We must also remember Britain’s part in the slave trade, which is the foundation of much of our national prosperity. It was justified by the empire and the language of racial superiority, but that is not what defines us. It is a part of our shameful history, but surely there must come a time when it stops—when it no longer matters that a person is different from us and when we appreciate what we have in common. The Mayor of London has spoken about choosing
“hope over fear and unity over division”.
When we see only hate, that hate becomes so great that it transforms into something else, where the problem is not just the colour of someone’s skin, but their accent or the fact that they are committed to fight for someone else’s rights.
At the height of the xenophobic atmosphere, an MP and leading migrants advocate was murdered. The murderer gave his name in court as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. That MP, Jo Cox, was my friend and the friend of others in this place and beyond. Even after the hateful, despicable crime by that terrorist, her family wanted us to “love like Jo” and repeat her mantra that
“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 674-75.]
That is why it is important to acknowledge this day with the rest of the international community. We must unite together with one voice and build bridges, not walls. As William Shakespeare wrote:
“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”
My theme tune when I face discrimination is a song written and recorded by the British singer-songwriter Labi Siffre. It was inspired by a television documentary on apartheid in South Africa that showed a film of police killing black people. It is “(Something Inside) So Strong”. These are the words:
“The higher you build your barriers, the taller I become
The further you take my rights away, the faster I will run
You can deny me, you can decide to turn your face away
No matter, ’cause there’s something inside so strong
I know that I can make it, though you’re doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone—oh no
There’s something inside so strong
The more you refuse to hear my voice, the louder I will sing
You hide behind walls of Jericho—your lies will come tumbling
Deny my place in time, you squander wealth that’s mine
My light will shine so brightly it will blind you
Because there’s something inside so strong.”
I hope that the Government commit to marking this day each year, so we never forget to remember those who gave their lives for equal rights and to celebrate the beauty of our diversity. After all, we have only a short time on this earth.
Colleagues, we have about eight minutes for each Back-Bench speech.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I particularly thank the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for bringing such an important debate to Westminster Hall today. Her speech was delivered so eloquently and with such high emotion, which is only right, given the topic. It will be remembered in Parliament for years to come.
Rights to equality and non-discrimination are cornerstones of human rights law. Today, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is asking people to “Stand up for Someone’s Rights Today”, which is an important step that I believe we should all be taking. I will speak briefly about three main issues today: the impact of discrimination on the individual, the impact on refugee communities, which are extremely vulnerable, and why we must learn lessons from the past and never forget them.
Racial discrimination is surely toxic, not only for the individual who experiences it, but for society. It has an impact on people’s self-esteem and it can even lead to mental health issues, such as depression, loneliness, isolation or feeling ostracised. Discrimination closes us to experience, rather than opening our appreciation for diversity, culture and religion. It is an unhealthy position to take: it undermines the self-worth of those who experience it, but it is also unhealthy for those who discriminate, because it closes them off from experiences of culture, religion and tolerance that would enhance their own being.
Education is key, particularly for younger generations at school and beyond. The internet can widen our horizons, but it can also be a place where people experience discrimination and intolerance. Surely we should be looking at the UK Government’s policy on that and at how they work with providers. The internet can help us to connect. It can be positive; it can help us to speak to people from different nations, understand their experiences and learn about their lives. It can be a doorway to understanding, but it must be used appropriately. It can be very important in the future, given the way in which we can link with people from right across the world in an interactive manner.
Secondly, racial discrimination can impact upon disenfranchised communities, particularly refugee populations. It is not helpful to ban particular races from entering countries, and I implore the President of the United States to reconsider his actions in that regard, because his policy has no actual basis in risk assessment or risk management. Such a heuristic measure does nothing to promote understanding, tolerance or integration, and in the long run it does little for security.
We must understand that often refugees are fleeing conflict, torture, starvation, malnutrition or other significant life-impacting situations—things that we would never want ourselves or our families to experience. As a member of the International Development Committee, I was privileged to visit the refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon at the end of last year and to meet and speak with refugee families and their children. I was able to interact with the young children in their schools, including those who were traumatised and had not been able to speak for days or even weeks, and needed mental health care—those needed expert help and assistance. I was told about the difficulties that host communities experienced in integrating large numbers of refugees, and the strains that Governments felt were being placed on local jobs and on education and health systems. Both Jordan and Lebanon have done much to address these issues, but there is much more to do.
When Governments do not allow refugees to live, work or engage properly in local communities, it creates a “them and us” attitude. It reduces tolerance and understanding. Integration, tolerance-building and learning from each other, are key to the way forward. We should encourage Governments to progress in this manner, but we also need to look at our own role, particularly over the Dubs amendment, and our attitude to refugees. Lone children in Europe; those who need our assistance; those who are vulnerable; those who may be disabled; those who have no parents to help to look after them—surely we must be able to open our hearts to those children and, more importantly, offer them refuge.
One thing that severely worries me is that I get many letters from constituents who say that the matter of children coming into this country is of deep concern to them. I write back and say, “I have not had one constituent who has said to me, ‘I will take a child into my house’.” That really worries me, when we compare it with what happened in 1938-39 with the Kindertransport. We have changed in the way we approach this sort of thing.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We must open our hearts and our homes to lone children. It is incumbent upon us as a progressive society to do so, and I know that local authorities in Scotland are keen to accept more children and more child refugees.
Local authorities, not families.
I know from speaking to Save the Children that those children are very much in need. Many of them are going missing; we do not know what has become of them. As a country with a responsibility in the world, surely we must take that very seriously.
Thirdly, learning lessons from the past is important. If we cannot learn lessons from the holocaust and ensure that such dehumanisation of a race never occurs again, then there is little that we can learn in this world at all. It is incumbent upon us to challenge discrimination wherever it occurs—in schools, colleges, the workplace and beyond. Political leaders must lead and ensure that anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination are challenged in all of our systems.
We all have a part to play, from the nursery teacher teaching our toddlers to the university lecturer to politicians. We must challenge discrimination at all levels of society. Only then will we achieve true equality: when we stand up, stand together and ensure that we are no longer divided but that we celebrate diversity.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for securing this debate. Her powerful words made me emotional. This debate is so timely. This day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the past, the present and the future, and to address the stark discrimination that so many people in this country face. While we have made some strides to improve opportunities for those of all races, we have to recognise the challenges and the disparity that remain. We have so much more to do.
The past has been marked by successes—individual successes, like the police chief superintendent from West Yorkshire police, Mabs Hussain, who is one of only two officers from a black and minority ethnic background to attain that rank in Yorkshire. I recently held an event to celebrate him, but he said then that he hopes to see a day when there is no longer a need to celebrate the success of individuals from BME backgrounds and when people like him are just the norm, but sadly they are not. He is an exception to the rule. He has overcome more difficult odds than those faced by his white counterparts. The truth is that although we see individual successes that can inspire, they are sadly only a footnote to the systematic failures that we see. That is a harsh truth and a harsh reality.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. On the success of some and the lack of success of many, does she agree that the loss of potential and achievement from which the United Kingdom suffers because of the challenges faced by this generation and particularly by the previous generation—the generation of the parents of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler)—means that the UK suffers economically as well as socially? It is in our economic interests as well as our social interests to ensure that everyone can realise their potential.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I absolutely agree with her sentiments.
It is a harsh reality that many young black and Asian children, and children of other ethnicity, grow up in this country without the same opportunities as their peers. It is a harsh truth for those who will work just as hard but will be paid less—those who have their chances stifled from birth because of the colour of their skin.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission report from last year that showed that BME people with degrees are two and a half times less likely to have a job than their white counterparts, and are more likely to be paid less—an average of 21.3% less—than their white counterparts when they enter the employment world?
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I will mention that later in my speech—I am very much aware of it and I agree with her.
Sadly, what I have described is a well-evidenced truth, as my hon. Friend has just pointed out. We only need to look at the House of Commons research on representation in public life from June 2016 to see the scale of the challenge before us. Those from BME backgrounds are severely under-represented in all the professions—not only here, in both Houses, but as judges, teachers, in local government, in the armed forces, and particularly as police. BME representation in police forces is 5.5%. Twenty-four years since Stephen Lawrence and 18 years since the Macpherson review, we are no closer to having a representative police force. That is not progress. BME representation in public life shows marginalisation at best and pure discrimination at worst.
In August 2016, the EHRC published a major review of race equality in Britain. It revealed a post-Brexit rise in hate crime and long-term systemic unfairness and race inequality, including a justice system where black people are more likely to be the victims of crime while also being three times more likely to be charged and sentenced if they commit a crime. Race remains the most commonly recorded motivation of hate crime in England and Wales, at 82%. That is not equality.
Despite educational improvements, black, Asian and ethnic minority people with a degree are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than their white equivalents, and black workers with degrees are likely to be paid 23.1% less than their white equivalents. That wage gap exists at all levels of education, but it increases as people become more qualified. That is not equality, and it shows that the challenge is increasing. Since 2010, there has been a 49% increase in unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds from ethnic minority backgrounds compared with a fall of 2% among those who are white. White workers have seen an increase of 16% in insecure work, while the rise among black and Asian workers has been 40%. Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black adults are more likely to live in substandard accommodation than white people. Black African women in the UK have a mortality rate four times higher than that of white women and are seven times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act 2007. That is not equality; it is systematic failure.
While we stand here today and mark the UN’s international day for the elimination of racial discrimination, we must be mindful of the challenges. We must remember the reality that people of ethnicity face, even in developed countries such as ours. In February 2017, Baroness McGregor-Smith’s review of race in the workplace was published. It demonstrated how unequal our workplaces are, how the chances of those from BME backgrounds are stifled and how over-qualified BME workers are less likely to be promoted than less qualified employees. The review makes 26 recommendations, all of which I call upon the Government to implement.
Leaving the EU gives us an opportunity to decide what kind of country we want to be. A report by the Women and Equalities Committee considered the need for strong equality legislation after we leave the EU and made key recommendations, which, I would argue, the Government are morally obliged to enact. [Interruption.] I am not sure of the time of my speech.
You have plenty of time. Carry on, please.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who is no longer in his seat, mentioned constituencies, and it is important to touch upon that issue before I close my speech. He said that we in Britain have changed regarding refugees, in that families do not want to take Syrian refugee children. I am very proud to come from Bradford. It is a city of sanctuary. We have held events in Bradford specifically aimed at people taking refugee children, and families are coming forward. I have had numerous messages from individuals asking how they can take in children from Syria and play their part. Why has it taken so long? I am a member of the Home Affairs Committee, and we have taken evidence from councils that say they have spaces. Regarding the Dubs amendment and how Britain has changed, I feel there is a venomous narrative, created by the likes of parties such as the UK Independence party, but we as Britain are greater than that. We as people are greater than that. Post-Trump and post-Brexit, we must concentrate even more on ensuring that we build those bridges.
I call on the Minister to consider all three of the reports I have mentioned, as a stepping stone which, if followed through, could help to steer us on a different path—one of real, not just imagined, equality. As Baroness McGregor-Smith wrote in her review, the time for talking is over; now is the time to act. That will require a concerted and sustained effort from us all, but the solutions are already there, if we choose to apply them.
Thank you, Mr Streeter. I am very pleased to contribute to the debate, and I join others in commending the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on her passionate and deeply personal speech.
I still vividly remember when I first discovered what race discrimination was. At the age of eight or nine, I was watching the TV in my granny’s house and I realised that there was a lot of stuff in the news about something called anti-apartheid protests, which at the time I could not even pronounce. I asked my mum what it meant, and she explained that it was about a system in which black children and white children were not allowed to go to the same school or play against or with each other in football matches, a system in which black people and white people were not allowed to go on the same bus or to the same shops. Basically, they were supposed to live their entire lives without ever interacting with each other, except, of course, where black people were working as domestic servants, or near-slaves, for white people. Even as a wee boy—I was not an angel; I was still telling the kind of jokes in the playground that we now try to persuade children not to tell—I could not imagine anyone wanting to live in a society like that. Where I grew up there was not a big ethnic minority population, but I could not imagine wanting to see people divided by barbed wire fences because of the colour of their skin, and almost 50 years later I still cannot understand that. I cannot imagine why anyone would choose that as a way to run a society.
Sometimes it is not even anything as much as the colour of someone’s skin. Another clear memory I have, again about South Africa, is that as a teenager I was watching a TV documentary about a wee girl whose parents were white Afrikaners. She was born with white skin, but somehow manged to get facial features that meant she was classed as a negro under the South African system. Her parents refused to let her mix with the blacks, but other white parents did not want their children mixing with her because they thought that she was a negro, so the poor wee soul went to about five different schools as a result of the outcomes of court cases and education board appeals. I could not understand why the parents did not see that as an indictment of the apartheid system under which they lived. The case even led to a change in the race laws in South Africa, not to let black children and white children play together in the playground—that would never have happened—but to say that if two parents were certified white Afrikaner, their children could not be classified as anything else. That completely destroys any shred of credibility that the argument that people are somehow born to be superior or inferior ever had. It is a bit like Crufts having to pass a law saying that it is not permitted to breed two pedigree springer spaniels and call the offspring an Alsatian or a poodle. So even as almost a young man, I was aware that people were trying to put some kind of scientific justification on racism, and I could also see that anything approaching common sense said that that just did not add up.
Something else I saw in that documentary helped me to understand not where racism comes from but how it can be perpetuated. A teacher of a class of white six-year-olds was explaining why the blacks were inferior, talking about how the “funny” shape of their eyes, ears, mouths and noses, and the unclean colour of their skin, meant that they had clearly been made to be inferior. Today, that would, I hope, horrify even white South Africans, but at that time it was how one of the wealthiest and supposedly most developed countries was bringing up its children. It is not surprising that it is taking a long time for those children to realise the error of their ways.
Of course, we do not do that these days, we do not bring up our children to support racial prejudices—except that we do. Perhaps we do not do it in the same way, by getting teachers to teach the creed of racism to our children, but we do it through what we print on the front pages of our newspapers. If we look back through the past year or two of front-page headlines in some newspapers, the word “migrant” appears more than almost any other word, and never in any context other than to create fear and hatred and continue to paint the myth that if someone is an immigrant they are somehow a danger, rather than a benefit, to society. I have even heard Members of the House of Commons speaking in debates in the Chamber in such a way that makes an explicit assumption that we have to vet every single Syrian refugee because the fact that they come from a predominantly Muslim country somehow makes them more likely to be a danger to us than the criminals we are quite capable of growing among the white working-class and middle-class populations around the UK’s towns and cities.
It is that kind of assumption that has been identified as the main theme of this UN international day for the elimination of racial discrimination. The UN talks about racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration, and as someone said earlier, there are one or two people who could do with heeding those words very carefully indeed. I do not think it is a mistake to link racial profiling with incitement to hatred, because I cannot see any purpose behind such profiling other than racial discrimination, and I cannot see any way that racial discrimination can ever avoid going towards incitement of hatred, racial violence and even worse.
Somebody has already mentioned the New York declaration for refugees and migrants. It is worth reminding ourselves of what that says:
“We strongly condemn acts and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against refugees and migrants, and the stereotypes often applied to them...Demonizing refugees or migrants offends profoundly against the values of dignity and equality for every human being, to which we have committed ourselves.”
Those are very fine words. Sadly, too many of the Governments whose heads signed up to those words show something different by their actions. Imagine if every child in America was asked to recite those words as well as singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the start of the school day. Imagine if every politician in these islands or elsewhere had to recite those words as part of their oath of office. Imagine that as well as—some people would say instead of—a brief period of communal prayer in the Christian tradition in this Chamber, we all stood on camera and recited those or similar words each and every day before we set about our deliberations. That would at least send a message that what we are here for is to promote the equality of human beings and not to promote inequality and discrimination. Why can we not do something like that?
The horrific statistics that the Equality and Human Rights Commission produced in its report last year have been mentioned. Although the statistics are based on research in England and Wales, it would be foolish and complacent to suggest we would find anything significantly different in most parts of Scotland or in most parts of the rest of the United Kingdom. For all the fine words, and for all the length of time that we have been claiming to be an equal society, we are not.
I want to finish with some personal comments from Baroness McGregor-Smith in the foreword to the document that was referred to earlier. She says:
“Speaking on behalf of so many from a minority background, I can simply say that all we ever wanted was to be seen as an individual, just like anyone else.”
There is no reason on earth why that simple dream should ever be beyond the reach of any human being on God’s earth.
It is pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Streeter. I also commend the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) for securing this debate and for her truly excellent speech today.
I was interested to read that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reminded Governments around the world that they have a legal obligation to stop hate speech and hate crimes, and has called on people everywhere to
“stand up for someone’s rights.”
“Politics of division and the rhetoric of intolerance are targeting racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, and migrants and refugees. Words of fear and loathing can, and do, have real consequences.”
The hon. Member for Brent Central spoke eloquently about those killed in Sharpeville, South Africa, when they demonstrated against apartheid laws. In recognising that and then proclaiming the international day in 1966, the UN General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. But here we are, 57 years on, with so much to do. This issue affects everything. For so many people all over the world, the spectre of racism and discrimination looms large over their daily lives.
On that point, in a 2016 ruling the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination asked the UK Government to facilitate the Chagossians’ return to their islands home and also to properly compensate them. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government must respect the rights of the Chagossian people? The Government must uphold international law and take proper action to allow them to return home.
I thank my hon. Friend for that useful intervention. I entirely agree with her point.
For many more people racism is an occasional concern, but that concern still has the potential to destroy their lives. It stifles their potential and that of their children. It causes people to live in fear and despair. How can it be that after all these years, so many people today still have such cause for concern here and around the world, and such starkly different life chances, simply because of their race, their religious beliefs or where they came from?
I make no apology for repeating today the concerns that I highlighted in another debate in this Chamber recently. I said I was worried and fearful in a way I had never been previously for the future of my children, who are mixed-race. That speech resulted in my receiving my very own racist abuse, but that is absolutely nothing to how people must feel when they are routinely treated differently and unfairly, and abused, because of their racial or religious background.
Let us be quite clear. Here and now there is a feeling bubbling away that it is somehow becoming more acceptable than it has been in my lifetime to treat people differently because of the colour of their skin, because they are seen as different. That needs to be acknowledged and addressed. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the way to address it is for Governments and people in our position in Parliaments all over the world to stand up and speak out, and, as the hon. Member for Brent Central put it, to be anti-racist. The silence of politicians and the lack of concern and action is exactly what is needed to let racism and discrimination grow and take hold.
The politics of Trump and the politics of UKIP are sleekit, and there is a huge danger that we will allow their nasty racist nonsense to creep into our daily lives. It is absolutely our job here to push against that and to make sure that people know that we will always do so.
The more irresponsible political language and discourse becomes, the worse the impact on anyone who appears different or who can so easily be stereotyped and put into somebody else’s makey-uppy box. As the UN has made clear, such issues face people all over the world and, as we have heard, people who are fleeing across the world. Imagine fleeing persecution, war and terror and meeting with hostility, suspicion and discrimination. Is that really what we are all about?
Every time we turn our backs on people who are being treated badly or fleeing for their lives, we make the situation worse for many people, even beyond those directly affected. What about the child refugees, all alone, whom the UK Government cannot bring themselves to let in? Turning them away sends a very powerful message: if you are different, you are not wanted. Thank God they are not my children.
Every time a politician who should know better—who does know better—uses race as a political tool, they are not only failing themselves, but failing so many other people who deserve for all of us to be focused on fighting discrimination. Yes, Sadiq Khan, that is you. I wish that he would hear the eloquent words of the hon. Member for Brent Central.
Maybe it would be easy for me to say, “Look at Scotland; look at the Scottish Government.” It is true that one of the big things that attracted me to join the SNP was the focus on diversity and inclusion. It is true that the Scottish Government have done much to foster a positive sense of diversity and to welcome those fleeing, and I am proud of all of that. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) said, this is not an area where we can have any degree of complacency. For all the important work that has been done, there is always more to do and there are always more issues to be addressed. So we work hard at that all the time because it is important, and because it is the right thing to do for all of us.
In concluding, I want to reflect on someone who made a big impression on me, who I was delighted to hear our First Minister quote in her welcoming and inclusive speech to our conference on Saturday. The late Bashir Ahmad MSP was a truly inspirational man. He embodied much of what is best about our modern, diverse, open Scotland. Born in Amritsar, he came to Scotland from Pakistan and was elected as our first Asian MSP in 2003. He campaigned tirelessly to give a voice to communities that had been little heard from, and we all benefit now from the steps he took then. When he launched Scots Asians for Independence, he gave a speech saying:
“It isn't important where you come from, what matters is where we are going together as a nation.”
Now more than ever that should resonate with all of us here and give us pause for thought as we go about our jobs.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on making me cry twice in a week. Thanks very much for that. The first time was last week at the beautiful event held at the Speaker’s House to mark this day. Today, it was understandable that there were few dry eyes in here.
On 21 March 1960 an 82-year-old stonemason in Pretoria, South Africa, wrote a poem in Scottish Gaelic with a Swahili refrain condemning the bloody massacre in Sharpeville of 69 black South Africans, many of them shot in the back. Originally from the Isle of Mull, Duncan Livingstone was a Boer war veteran who had worked and lived in Glasgow before emigrating to South Africa and spending the rest of his life there. What was clear to that Hebridean Glaswegian, whose work is still visible in the city today, was clear to right-thinking people across the world, and in 1966 the UN declared 21 March the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination.
While we seldom see such blatant and violent racism on such a scale in developed countries, at least today, pernicious racial discrimination remains in most if not all societies. Just because most of us will never experience it and most of us will rarely witness it, that does not mean it does not happen. Some of it is in a blatant form. I did not want to intervene on the hon. Member for Brent Central, because the point she was making about race hate crimes was too important, but I will say that the increase in Scotland was very much less. I say that not to say “Scotland good, England and Wales bad”; I say it because I think it has an awful lot to do with the difference in political rhetoric from each Government. It does make a difference.
We have not eliminated racism in Scotland. Far from it. Let me fast-forward to Glasgow, 50 years on from when Duncan Livingstone wrote that Gaelic-Swahili poem. About eight years ago I accompanied a Sudanese friend to the housing office, because I could not understand why, as a homeless person, he had not been offered accommodation—anything at all—one year on from becoming homeless, which happened as a result of his refugee status being granted. The housing office informed me that he was not classed as homeless because he was staying with a friend. “But he’s sleeping on a yoga mat on the living room floor, and has been for a year,” I said. What did they say in response? They told me that that did not necessarily constitute homelessness—actually it does—because “lots of Africans are used to sleeping on the ground. They like it.” That is blatant. He was denied his legal rights. It was only eight years ago. That is racial discrimination.
I think the really dangerous racism, other than institutionalised racism, is that which is under the radar. It is so subtle that unless you are the recipient, you probably would not pick up on it. It is not always intentional—most people do not want to be racist—but I have heard people speak about black friends of mine not in critical terms, but saying how they are quite aggressive and forceful, when they are nothing of the sort—they are simply expressing themselves. We all need to be honest with ourselves about it, because confronting our own thinking is the best way to change it. I am not excluding myself from that. My partner is black and I have had people telling me that therefore I must not be capable of racism; but that is such a dangerous way to think. I am subjected to media images and propaganda the same as anyone else. None of us is immune to thinking or acting in a racially discriminatory fashion, but we are all capable of challenging our own thoughts and monitoring our actions, and morally obliged to do so.
When I say none of us is immune, I primarily mean none of us who are white. I sometimes read comments from white people who say “But black people are just as racist”. I keep saying we need to learn and educate ourselves, and I am going to share something about my education around 20 years ago when I would hear people say that. I did not really agree with the statement, but I was not sure why. It did not sound right to me, but I would have agreed at the very least that there was racism from some black people towards white people. Then a good friend—a Mancunian Pakistani with a bit of Glaswegian thrown in—explained that while there might be prejudice from a black person to a white person, as that black person probably is not as propped up by the levers of power, as embedded in the UK’s institutions, as immersed in the establishment of the UK, it cannot be called racism. It is simply an opinion that ordinarily has little impact on the white person’s life. Racism—I am not trying to define it here—is about the desire and ability to exercise power over someone because of the colour of their skin and the colour of one’s own skin. The world is still weighted in favour of white people. The UK is still weighted in favour of white people.
That brings me to the biggest problem as I see it, which is institutionalised racism. Who runs the judiciary? White people. Who runs the Government? Primarily white people. The civil service, Churches and media? White people. As for some sections of the media and the responsibility they have, we can talk about the irresponsible way they behave—most Scots will remember when every drunk person in a TV drama series or a film had to be Scottish. We hated that, unless it was “Rab C. Nesbitt”, of course, but at least we had positive role models too. Black children growing up rarely had positive black role models. It was not that they did not exist, just that they never got to see them. Just as importantly, neither did we. Instead, when black people were on TV it was generally a negative portrayal. My partner Graham—he is Jamaican, and his mother is from Grenada—told me that when Trevor McDonald came on the news, it was an event. There he was, a black man being listened to and taken seriously. Now, he says, it does not even register with him when a black person is on TV and being taken seriously. He did add, however, that it is absolutely right that the next step has to be for them to get parity in their industry.
I was going to talk about increasing income disparity between people of different ethnicities as they become more qualified, but the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) covered that for me, so I shall take the time instead to respond to a comment from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) about letters he gets telling him that child refugees should be brought here; he said none of the letters offers to give them a bed. Who would write to their MP to go through that process? That is not what people do. No one writes to me offering to give a bed. It does not mean that those people are not out there. As we have heard, local authorities and Governments across these islands have said that they have places available, and people available to take children in.
I cannot give any personal constituency experience, but I have good friends in a neighbouring constituency who wanted to offer their entire house to Syrian refugees. At that point the reason they could not was that the Home Office was not planning to let in enough Syrian refugees for Fife’s quota to fill one big house in North East Fife. That may be why people have not offered to provide houses—because there simply were not enough refugees being allowed in to need the houses in the first place.
I sometimes do not know whether to laugh or cry in this place.
In my constituency lots of people want to take in children, but the sad truth is that the Government have said no more children are allowed in. Does the hon. Lady agree that perhaps the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) needs to have a word with the Government about the Dubs amendment before he starts talking about how people have changed in this country?
I agree. I wish that the hon. Member for Beckenham had stayed to listen, but perhaps we shall encourage him to read Hansard.
To return to the hiding of positive black role models, it is obviously worse for those who are not just black but women as well. I want to tell the story of Mary Seacole, in case hon. Members do not know it. She was a Scots Jamaican nurse who raised the money to go to the Crimean war and nurse war-wounded soldiers. What she did was not hugely different from what Florence Nightingale did, although some argue it was a lot better; I am not one of them. However, they were remembered differently. Mary Seacole finally got a statue last year. It sits outside St Thomas’s Hospital facing the House of Commons. MPs will remember getting letters from the Nightingale Society saying “Seacole was no nurse. Fine, give her a statue, but not there—not in such a prominent place. Hide it away somewhere.” I thought, given that she was the first black woman in the UK to be honoured in such a way, that that behaviour was an absolute disgrace. What is also disgraceful is the fact that in 2016 she was the first black woman to have a named statue in her honour. The history books are full of white people—men, mainly, but white all the same—but history itself is full of inspiring people of all ethnicities.
I want us to be able to look back in not too many years’ time and be horrified at some of the subtle racism we have heard about today. I want us to be embarrassed that only a tiny percentage of the Members of this House were from BME communities in 2017, and to ask how on earth we allowed our great institutions to be so white. If future generations look back at us and shake their heads in disbelief, so be it, because at least they will be living in a better time—a time when, I hope, discrimination based on someone’s ethnicity will have been completely eliminated.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on securing the debate and on setting the scene so beautifully and eloquently, as always, and so passionately as we observe this day. It is of course important to mark this day. She said that we should be united together with one voice. In turbulent political times, it is wonderful to find any kind of platform where we can join together in one voice, so we should embrace that. My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) rightly spoke about education being key, as it can widen horizons, but there is an increasing propensity for discrimination online. We should be concerned about young people’s exposure to that.
The hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) spoke about black, Asian and minority ethnic representation in public life. It is absolutely clear that we need to address that face on. She also gave some shocking statistics on employment. My hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) gave an international perspective and said that we clearly are not an equal society. We are not, unless women are given their due and rightful place, are paid accordingly and have equal representation across society.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) always speaks out on these issues. She faced abuse when she spoke out for people suffering racial abuse. Unfortunately, that is what happens when we raise our voices—we find ourselves also the subject of abuse. She rightly expressed concern for her children, but she also spoke, rightly, of the need to help those in need, wherever they may be. She also spoke of the late Bashir Ahmad, who was my friend and a friend of my family. He is greatly missed, and his words ring true today, just as they did so many years ago.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), while stealing some of my time—I am always happy to give it to her—gave her personal insight, as usual. She has fought for equality all her life and has never been afraid to speak out. I say to all those who speak out that it means so very much to us as members of the BAME community that people are prepared to do so. I make that point as a BAME MP. I am proud to be standing here with my fellow parliamentarians from the Scottish National party, who are all non-BAME parliamentarians but are happy to raise their voices and speak up for what is right.
I often face the question, “Where do you come from, Tasmina?”, which is followed up with the question, “No, but where do you really come from?” I want to take a couple of minutes to speak about the impact of racism on young people and children, because it endures and lasts a lifetime. You may not have considered this to be so, Mr Streeter, but as a child in Edinburgh—I was one of the first children of mixed marriage, which started to take place a number of years ago—I faced an awful lot of racial discrimination. I was called many names: golliwog, black Sambo, Paki—you name it, I got all of it. I was bullied at school, beaten up and so on, and I did my very best to keep it from my parents. My late father was from Pakistan, and the last thing I wanted as a young child was for him to feel guilty that it was because of him that I was facing that abuse. There are young children who feel the same way today.
What is of even greater concern in relation to my children and those of Members in the Chamber and those listening in to the debate is that, as well as that racial discrimination based on where someone comes from or the country someone’s parents are thought to come from, there is religion discrimination, too, which is of great concern to us all. Discrimination makes people feel inferior. What is the impact on later life? Women spend their whole lives working doubly hard to show they are good enough—triply hard if they are from the BAME community. They feel they have to do so much more than anyone else to earn their stripes. That is certainly something that I feel.
Women who have chosen to wear the hijab have experienced much discrimination, which is unacceptable. As we have heard from Members from all parties, it is a woman’s right to wear what she wants, when she wants, whatever that might be. We should always stand up for women in that respect. Racial discrimination and racial profiling do exist. I have been on international trips with fellows MPs, and it might horrify you to learn, Mr Streeter, that the only person who gets stopped at immigration is me. I get taken away for questioning, and it is embarrassing. Let us be honest about what exists. My colleagues, including one who is sitting with us in Westminster Hall, have watched it happen.
In her conference speech at the weekend, our First Minister asked:
“What kind of country do we want to be?”
She has asked that on many an occasion, and a Member here today asked that. We should continually ask ourselves that question: what do we want our country to look like? What kind of impression do we want people to have of us, whether that is us in the UK or from our perspective in Scotland? I hope that we want to be an outward-looking country. We in Scotland pride ourselves on that. At our conference at the weekend, we had a fantastic session where we highlighted and profiled our BAME candidates who are standing in the forthcoming council elections. That was not a sideshow or a fringe event; it was main stage, because that is where BAME people should be in public life. I hope and trust that they found it as fulfilling as I did to watch. I am sure those in the audience enjoyed their contribution, as well.
The UK Government have allowed an obsession on immigration, targets and toxic rhetoric to develop. The phrases have become all too common. Those with power have tremendous platforms, and they should use their words to impact positively on people’s lives. If they do not do that, they impact negatively. They have to talk about being an inclusive, welcoming society on all the stages and at every opportunity they have. If they fail to do so, it is the people from BAME communities who face the consequences—our children, their children, refugees and people who are fleeing conflict and war to make this country their home—not them. We are so much better than that. If we are in a society where people are questioning whether we should be taking in refugees, we have to take a good look at ourselves and wonder, “What kind of platform have we created? What kind of society have we created that people even think they can say such things?”
There is much work to do, and I hope we can work together across the House on that. I ask the Minister to implore his colleagues in Government to use every platform they have to engage positively on the importance of immigration and how people from different backgrounds contribute not only to the economy, but to tradition, culture and all the things that should be making Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom great.
I thank every Member who has contributed this afternoon, but most especially I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler). Sadly, this debate is more important than ever before, as we try to eliminate that which divides us and celebrate that which unites us.
I had the privilege of being born and growing up in my hon. Friend’s constituency, in Willesden Green. The first 19 years of my life were spent there. Even in the 1960s, it was one of the most multicultural parts of Great Britain. It was something that we celebrated. Growing up there in the 1960s, it was normal to see people of all backgrounds, faiths, skin colours and religions, whether that was in my street, my school or my home, where my father operated his office as a local solicitor. It was a shock to go to the University of York in 1974, where I seemed to be the blackest person in the city.
My father’s experience in fleeing Europe in 1934 and coming to this country unable to speak English was very important in my upbringing and my understanding of what discrimination is about. He was fleeing an increasingly Nazi Europe, increasing intolerance towards Jews and increasing violence against Jews. He came to this country seeking sanctuary, which he was given. After school, he joined the British army. He had become a British citizen, and by then of course he spoke very good English. Fighting in occupied France was a lesson for him in why a united Europe was important and why racism and discrimination must be eliminated. He never spoke of that time in France, but he helped to set up the Willesden Friendship Society in the 1960s. People from all backgrounds and from all over the world came to our house in Jeymer Avenue and talked about how we could make our community much more multicultural and less discriminatory.
I am proud to now represent one of the most multicultural constituencies in Yorkshire, apart from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), of course. In north-east Leeds, we have perhaps a greater diversity, if not a greater majority of people from different backgrounds. Chapeltown is historically the place where people have come to seek refuge from other countries and from persecution to make a better life in Great Britain. They include Jews escaping the pogroms of the nineteenth century and people coming from parts of Africa to escape persecution today.
I was chair of the Leeds City Council race equality committee for six years and learned how we could adopt policies to try to bring our citizens together to share what we had in the great city of Leeds, my adopted home, and to create a better society for everybody. Chapeltown has the oldest West Indian carnival in the country; I am glad to say it is older even than that in Notting Hill, by one year. We celebrate our 50th anniversary this year. It is a coming together of people from all different backgrounds to celebrate carnival among ourselves, even if we have never visited the Caribbean.
A middle-aged woman, originally from the Philippines, came to see me shortly after the referendum campaign. She was in deep distress. This will echo a lot of the contributions made this afternoon: her distress was based on the fact that her next-door neighbour came up to her the day after the referendum, 24 June, and said, “Have you packed your bags yet?” She explained that she was British and had lived in this country for 20 years; she works as a nurse at Leeds General Infirmary. He said, “But have you packed your bags yet?” She said, “Why? I am not European.” He said, “No. We voted yesterday for all of you lot to leave the country.” That is the kind of division that we are seeing up and down our nation, from Scotland right down to Cornwall, and it is something that I know everyone in this room and in this House would agree is entirely reprehensible.
The struggle against apartheid, which many have referred to this afternoon, galvanised many of us in the ’70s when I was growing up and when I was at university and becoming politically aware—many of my friends and family were, too. South Africa and the struggle against apartheid brought many people into the Labour party and many other political parties—I would say all political parties represented in this House today. It was the struggle against the blatant discrimination and injustice that we saw on our TV screens that galvanised many of us into political action. It was certainly my political awakening.
We have heard some excellent contributions today. I was also almost in tears listening to the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central. I thank her very much for that. She said enhancing other people’s rights does not diminish our rights. That should be a motto for all of us. Enhancing other people’s rights does not affect us—it makes and helps to create the better society that we are all here to try to create.
In her typically gentle way, my good friend— I hope she will not mind my calling her that—the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) made a powerful point about her visit to the refugee families in Jordan and Lebanon with the International Development Committee. I have also made such a visit: I went to Azraq in Jordan in January, as a member of the Front-Bench team. She also said something important that relates back to the holocaust: that we must learn the lessons of the holocaust, to celebrate the diversity of our society. Just last Sunday, I was with the holocaust Survivors Friendship Association, in my constituency in Leeds, meeting with men and women now in their 90s—the youngest was 88—who survived the holocaust and still live today to tell the stories and to share the experience that they suffered. That is something we must never forget.
We heard excellent contributions from, for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West, who always speaks so powerfully, on this subject and many others. We heard from the hon. Members for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) and for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin). We heard an intervention from the gallant Member, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). I am sorry he is not in his place. I have had many dealings with him. He is someone I admire enormously for what he has done in his military career and since he has been here in the House. He said something interesting about Syrian children. He said that not one of his constituents pleading for Syrian children to come and be looked after here by his constituents or anyone else has actually offered their home. One contribution this afternoon pointed out that people would not write to their MP to offer their home for a Syrian child or family, but I can tell you that I have received those letters. I am sure many of us have.
So have I.
Many of us have had constituents saying, “I have spare bedrooms; come and use my bedroom. I am offering it to those families.”
Let me conclude so that the Minister can answer the many excellent points that have been made this afternoon. We have heard condemnation—rightly so—of Nigel Farage’s infamous “Breaking Point” poster, which was, of course, incredibly offensive to all of us, so I will not say any more about that, but I would like to ask the Minister about the lack of support for the rights of EU nationals living in the UK after we leave the European Union. Can he can say something about whether he believes that that has contributed to an increasingly hostile environment for EU nationals still living in the UK? What are the Government going to do to ensure that a message of zero tolerance towards racially motivated crimes in general gets broadcast? I know that the Minister is committed to that, but I would like to hear more about what he is going to do.
We have heard that the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has adopted, like Donald Trump, vitriolic rhetoric towards refugees and migrants, threatening to refuse entry to any non-Christian, while also putting up barbed wire fences and using tear gas to disperse crowds of refugees and migrants. Yet Hungary is still in the European Union. I hope the EU is able to do something about that.
It is worth remembering that, in many Western societies, it is still often the case that racial and religious minorities are one and the same. We need to adopt an approach to foreign policy challenges such as the refugee crisis that is based on a fundamental rejection of religious bias as well as racial bias.
Finally, I press the Minister to set out in more detail how the Government plan to co-ordinate with the European Union after Brexit on major foreign policy issues and potentially on asylum reform. Those should be key issues in the article 50 negotiations, but to date the Government have said next to nothing about them—a concern that was highlighted last week by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, among others. In our society, there is no place for racism. We believe—I am sure we all believe—that there is one race: the human race.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on securing the debate. I genuinely commend her for the moving way in which she presented her case and the words of her song—I have to say there was a moment when I thought she was going to sing it.
I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) mention the great Mary Seacole. It is right that we remember her contribution. We remember her in Government too. The Home Office building in Westminster is made up of three buildings—one is named after Robert Peel, one after Elizabeth Fry and the other after Mary Seacole—so Ministers and officials are reminded of her every day as they go about their work, much of which may well be on the issue we are debating today.
On the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination—a day on which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made a very definitive statement—we also remember what happened in the township of Sharpville in South Africa in March 1960 and those who died in what was supposed to have been a peaceful protest. We express our total solidarity with all victims of racism and reiterate our determination to challenge discrimination in whatever form it takes, at home and abroad. Combating all forms of racism remains an important part of this Government’s international human rights policy. I would like to set out some of the work that we are doing around the world.
The UN convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination underpins international co-operation to prevent, combat and eradicate racism. Effective implementation of the convention is essential if we are to achieve its aims. That is why the UN General Assembly reviews that implementation through a UN resolution. As a co-sponsor of the resolution, the UK takes a leading role in the United Nations’ work to counter racism worldwide. Through the UN, we work to ensure the international community focuses on strengthening national, regional and international legal frameworks to make a reality of the protections contained in the convention. During the current Human Rights Council session in Geneva, we are working very hard to build international consensus about the importance of fighting racism and the best ways to do it.
The UN is not our only channel for that work. We are also working through other key international institutions. For instance, through the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe we are supporting countries with a disaggregation of hate crimes data. It is fair to say that the UK has become a world leader in this area. Furthermore, last year we co-hosted, with Poland, an OSCE event in which we shared the lessons learned in our response to the absolutely unacceptable spike in reported hate crime following the EU referendum.
We are also supporting projects that tackle anti-Semitism. For example, we are funding the translation into Polish and Romanian of the “Police Officer’s Guide to Judaism”. That guide to Jewish religious practice is published by the Community Security Trust to help police officers to effectively and sensitively investigate anti-Semitic crimes. As part of our continued commitment to fight anti-Semitism, we remain an active member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The UK is also represented by our independent expert, Michael Whine, on the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. That organisation monitors racism, xenophobia and other forms of hate crime, and prepares reports and issues recommendations to Council of Europe member states. Having the UK represented by an expert ensures that the UK’s approach to race equality issues is heard and properly understood in the Council of Europe.
The UK’s strong international reputation in the fight against racism is underpinned by our long and proud tradition as an open and tolerant nation. Although work remains to be done, we can credibly claim that Britain today is a successful multi-ethnic country. Members of our African, Caribbean, Asian and other ethnic minority communities are represented in every area of British society—in business, academia, sport, the arts and politics.
The UK also has some of the strongest equalities legislation in the world, but we know that on its own it is not enough. We have to recognise and challenge racism and discrimination whenever they occur. The Prime Minister has made clear her determination to do just that. One of her first acts in office was to launch an unprecedented audit of public services to reveal racial disparities. That audit is being conducted right across our public services, from health, education, employment, skills and criminal justice. It may reveal difficult truths, but we should not be apologetic about shining a light on any injustice. It is only by doing so that we can make this a country that works for absolutely everyone.
As has been mentioned today, the despicable rise in racist incidents after the EU referendum highlighted even more strongly the need to tackle the scourge of hate crime. That is why in July we published a new hate crime action plan that focuses on reducing incidents, increasing reporting and improving support for victims. It was accompanied by an additional £1 million for prevention work. We will review the plan next year to ensure it is delivering on its commitments. In January, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced a further £375,000 of new funding to tackle hate crime. The new package will support a range of organisations working with faith and minority communities that have historically faced challenges in reporting hate crime.
As part of the Government’s continued commitment to building strong, united communities, we have spent more than £60 million since 2010 on our integration programme to bring communities together. We have provided more than £5 million since 2010-11 to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust as part of our ongoing commitment to holocaust remembrance and education, and just under 6,000 local commemorative events took place in January. We are also proud to fund Tell MAMA—Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks—the first service to record anti-Muslim incidents and support the victims. So far, we have provided more than £1 million to fund it. In the coming months, the Government will bring forward plans for tackling the issues raised in Dame Louise Casey’s report into integration and opportunity in isolated and deprived communities.
Once again, I thank the hon. Member for Brent Central for initiating this debate. I and the Government believe that every individual, regardless of their racial or ethnic origin, should be able to fulfil his or her potential through the enjoyment of equal rights, equal opportunities and fair responsibilities. The Government reiterate our commitment to stand up against injustice and inequality wherever it occurs. As the Prime Minister said, it is by tackling the injustice and unfairness that drives us apart and by nurturing the responsibilities of citizenship that we can build a shared society and make it the bedrock of a stronger and fairer Britain that truly works for everyone.
It has been a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mr Streeter. I am disappointed that the Minister has not committed to ensuring that we mark this day every year in our calendar in the UK. The Government have some programmes, but I can tell the Minister that the audit will find that the system is flawed, and Government legislation is compounding the situation for people from minority communities. The cost of tribunal fees is stopping people getting justice when they deserve it. I can also tell the Minister that most of the laws for promoting equality were passed under a Labour Government.
I thank the Minister for agreeing that we will mark this day—the Government are willing to mark it—every year. I may have missed it, but I hope he will write to me at a later date to confirm that the Government are indeed committed to marking this day as the UN international day for the elimination of racial discrimination. I thank everybody who contributed to the debate. Their excellent contributions show that there is a deep understanding of the issue and what needs to be done to work towards achieving our goal of fairness in society.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.