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Chinese and East Asian Communities: Racism during Covid-19

Volume 682: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2020

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Chinese and East Asian communities’ experience of racism during the covid-19 pandemic.

I thank Members for joining this debate, which is the first parliamentary debate to look specifically at racism against the Chinese, East Asians and South-East Asians. I will use those terms throughout my speech, because it is vital to get the language right. Chinese, East Asians and South-East Asians have been subjected to horrific hate crimes, especially recently due to the pandemic. I wish we did not have to have this debate, but it is particularly fitting that this is National Hate Crime Awareness Week. Given the sharp rise in hate crime against British East and South-East Asians and the trebling of racist attacks since the covid pandemic, it is absolutely necessary.

I am proud of my roots and my mixed heritage, both Asian and British. It allows me the best of both worlds but, unfortunately, it also allows me to experience some of the worst. Racism against Chinese and South-East Asians is absolutely nothing new. An undercurrent of anti-Asian racism plagued this country before the pandemic started, but now the lid has been lifted and the far right has wrongly been given legitimacy to air its derision, violence and hatred.

From an early age, it was made clear to me that I was seen as different. Sitting backstage at the age of about seven or eight, waiting to perform in a play set in a Chinese courtroom, the person doing our make-up pointed at me and said, “Make the other kids look like her.” The other children had their hair covered in black tights, their eyes coated in exaggerated black eyeliner and I remember sitting there thinking, “Do I really look like that?” Thirty years later, sadly, we still see examples of yellow face all over western culture, whether it is Ting Tong in “Little Britain”, productions of “Madame Butterfly”, Scarlett Johansson or countless examples on Amazon, which has yet to take down its offensive adverts.

Only in my teens, though, did I feel that my racial identity meant that my safety was threatened, when a student brought a knife into school to stab me with because she did not like it when races mixed. I therefore understand the fear and frustration that many British East and South-East Asians are feeling right now, as racists add another powerful tool to their arsenal: coronavirus. A month ago, police chiefs warned that the far right is using covid-19 as an excuse to attack what the Metropolitan police describe as “oriental people”. We do not have enough time in this debate to unpack what is wrong with that term, but it is 2020, not 1920.

The figures obtained by the organisation End the Virus of Racism showed that there were 261 hate crimes against Asians in April, 323 in May and 395 in June, rising each time as lockdown eased. Those do not include the number of hate crimes that have gone under-reported, so I expect the real figures to be much higher, and they are rising across the board: covid-related racism has increased for the Jewish and Muslim communities as well. Protection Approaches reported that this July saw the highest ever numbers of recorded hate crime against protected groups—40% higher than even after 7/7.

In March, Jonathan Mok, a 23-year-old student from Singapore, was punched and kicked in the face on Oxford Street by a group of men. He heard shouts of “Coronavirus!” and was told, “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country!” British-Chinese filmmaker Lucy Sheen was on her way to rehearsals on a bus, when a white male passenger whispered in her ear—forgive me for the unparliamentary language: “Why don’t you f-off back to China and take your filth with you?” In Hitchin, just down the road from my constituency, a takeaway owner was spat at and repeatedly asked if he had coronavirus. In Luton, people have been shouted at from cars. One woman wrote to me to say that she no longer feels safe, and walks about with her mask on and a hood up to cover her face.

That is all without looking at the cesspit of social media. During the pandemic, blatant racism and conspiracy theories have been allowed to spread, unchecked and unaccountable. I report racist videos I am sent of people eating live animals or claiming that I am some part of a global conspiracy, but it is exhausting and the onus is on the wrong person. I hope that the Government will address that in the forthcoming online harms Bill. Social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook should be held responsible for what is published on their sites.

Coronavirus has been given the face of a Chinese Asian person. This sort of racism punches up as well as it punches down. Asians are equally dehumanised, to the extent that we are all the same and all eat live animals, as well as somehow being part of a global conspiracy. The mainstream media have added fuel to the fire. The petition started by the fantastic Viv Yau, Mai-anh Peterson, Amy Phung, Charley Wong and Karlie Wu called for media outlets to stop using East and South-East Asian-related imagery when discussing covid-19. Their work has revealed that some 33% of images used to report covid-19 in the British media have used the image of someone who looks like me, completely unnecessarily and unrelated to the story. The problem has been compounded by our under-representation in the UK media, so the negative coverage has no balance by positive representation.

I am grateful to the Minister for Digital and Culture, the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), for her recent meeting with us to find a way forward on the Government’s own advertising around covid-19. But political leadership, standing up for and standing alongside British East Asians and South-East Asians has been virtually non-existent, and at its worst it has incited further hatred.

Donald Trump this week called covid-19 the “China plague”. We have seen Tory Ministers sharing covid-19 jokes with caricatures of a person in a Chinese pointy hat, bucked teeth and slanting eyes, yet this was not addressed by the party. A Tory council leader said in a meeting that this was all because someone was eating undercooked bat soup in China. Again, that was not addressed by the party.

A couple of weeks ago, two MPs sat in the same room as me and referred to the Chinese—I will quote this unparliamentary language—as “those evil bastards”, and “oh, you know how they look.” They were rightly discussing the awful human rights abuses being carried out by the Chinese state, but this is an othering of an entire ethnicity, which should have no place in society, let alone this House. We need to lead by example. We should absolutely criticise the Chinese state for its appalling abuses against the Uyghur people and actions in Hong Kong, but we need to find a way that does not fuel racism or make Chinese-British East Asians even more vulnerable or fair game to racists. I believe that we can and must do better.

First, we need a clear statement from the Minister that she condemns anti-Asian and anti-Chinese racism. It is a basic ask but it is a start, and something that we have yet to hear officially. Secondly, our community must be supported to tackle this unprecedented rise in hate crime. We need targeted support for anti-racism organisations working with the British East and South-East Asian communities. Thirdly, the Government need to work with media outlets to stop the lazy overuse of East Asian imagery in their reporting of covid-19, especially when it bears no relation to the story, and to hold social media companies to account when it comes to ridding their sites of racism and conspiracy theories. Fourthly, include our community in the conversation—give us a seat at the table. Whether it is about financial support, health or messaging on covid-19, the black, Asian and minority ethnic community has been left out of the conversation altogether.

Lastly, I ask the Minister not just to tell us that she is grateful for our contributions, our culture, our skills, our healthcare workers and our businesses. Please act on it. Act on it and let us end the virus of racism for good.

May I say what a delight it is to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins, and how great it is to have a rugby league champion in the Chair?

That was a powerful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen), who found the time and the passion to secure the debate. It is fitting that the debate is taking place this week, not just because it is looking at hate crime but in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the last couple of years we can all admit that bigotry has been emboldened, whether against the Jewish community, Muslim communities or the East Asian community here in the UK, who are the subject of today’s debate. This is not just about the UK; we have heard first hand from my hon. Friend about her experiences, but we know that the issue goes across many different cultures. She mentioned Mr Trump, and I want to touch on the background to the current trade war between China and the US. There are legitimate issues to be debated about trade and commerce, but that must never be confused with racism against Chinese people.

Some of the debate turns into the “Chinese Communist party.” We know that some Chinese people based in the People’s Republic of China do not have a choice about whether they are party members or not. It is not good enough to say the “Chinese Communist party”—we should just say “the Government”, in the same way that we might criticise another Government for other things. My hon. Friend mentioned some of the issues we are currently worried about in the People’s Republic of China—about Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet—but equally we need to talk today about the fact that many East Asians are under so much pressure.

I was delighted to go and see the chairman of our local mental health trust, Mr Mark Lam, an experienced computer technician at the height of his career who is giving his time and energy to lead the mental health trust at a challenging time. As a result of covid, there is a 20% increase in demand. At the end of the meeting I said that I was going to participate in today’s debate. He said that he has experienced anti-Chinese feeling a number of times. Many Chinese people in our communities, when they are asked, say that they have experienced a terrible sense of discrimination.

I am afraid it is not just words. There have been physical attacks, spitting, trying to run people over and a number of very violent and despicable acts. Today is our opportunity in Parliament to say that we do not stand for it, that we want equality and that we want the bigotry to stop.

My second point is about the lack of role models. I would love to see more Chinese people in our media, being our anchors and newsreaders, and in our soaps. Our soaps do an amazing job; I am thinking about “Hollyoaks,” as we have some Liverpudlians with us today. They tackle difficult social issues and I wonder whether this might be something for one of our dramas to take up, to try to challenge views and teach our community in a real way, showing the hurt and how the issue is holding back community cohesion.

My final point is about the local picture. One of the terrible results of the global financial crash was the cuts to local government. Local government used to provide a small amount of funding for a number of different services—a meals on wheels service or a day centre, for example. It was a way of mixing everyone up—“Come and have a meal together. Come and have a game of mah-jong or chess. Let’s talk to each other and get to know each other.”

Since the cutbacks to local government, I have noticed how lonely people are and how they are not experiencing the fun things about their neighbours. They are not trying each other’s food or going shopping as much. It is heartbreaking to see older people in particular sitting on their own outside a supermarket or in a café, when they could be with other people and getting to know one another.

I hope that some of the money coming out of the Treasury now can go towards local government and community cohesion and, in particular, that we will look at ways within the political parties to promote role models. We obviously have a role model here, in my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North—and the hon. Member for Havant (Alan Mak) is a Minister in the Government, I believe. I am sure that there are others whom I have not remembered today. We have a few councillors, but we should be looking much more carefully at how we in politics can promote role models. It is the way we learned about Black Lives Matter: by listening to others. It is the way we have learned about racism against other Asian communities: by having role models in politics or other fields.

I hope that we can look not just at the geopolitics of covid and the role that important leaders such as the President of the US play. I hope that we can also look at the local picture, the fragmentation of our society, and the lack of services to bring people together. Finally, I hope that we can look at role models within politics so that we can promote diversity and in particular make a study of why we do not have more Chinese role models within our politics. I will conclude there because I am keen to hear other contributions. I thank everyone for taking part in the debate and I just wish a few more had joined us today from the Conservatives. Maybe next time.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate on hate crime faced by Chinese and East Asian communities since the start of the pandemic—hatred stoked, as we have just heard, by people who should know better: Tory politicians and Donald Trump.

I am honoured to represent Liverpool, Riverside, which includes Chinatown, one of the oldest established Chinese communities across Europe. The trade links between China and Britain via the ports of Shanghai and Liverpool were instrumental in the establishment of a Chinese community in the city. The first ship arrived in Liverpool direct from China in 1834 and the first wave of Chinese immigrants arrived in 1866, with the establishment of the Blue Funnel shipping line, which ran a line of steamers directly from Liverpool to China.

Chinese sailors decided to stay in Liverpool and worked from a settled area in the city that was close to the docks. Boarding houses were first opened by the shipping company to accommodate its workers. It was there that the first Chinese settlers started their own businesses supplying services to their community. The British merchant navy recruited sailors from its allies across the world, and Liverpool became a reserve pool for Chinese merchant sailors, with up to 20,000 registered.

In 1906 Liverpool City Council commissioned a report on Chinese settlement. There were 49 laundries, 13 boarding houses and seven shops owned by members of the Chinese community. However, the Chinese community remains invisible in Liverpool, like so many others among our long-established diverse communities—lacking political representation, and neither being seen in shops in the city centre nor gaining access to key services such as adult health and social care.

The far right has used the coronavirus as an excuse to attack Chinese and East Asian communities, with hate crime increasing by a third since the lockdown was eased in May and figures significantly higher than in previous years. In Liverpool, community associations have expressed concern about the increased levels of bullying and intimidation and have started a low-level helpline, because unfortunately members of the community are very unlikely to report those incidents.

The Chinese community in Liverpool has been subject to racism dating back to the 1940s. In 1946, after the war, when so many Chinese seamen put their lives on the line to keep this country going and maintain the war effort, more than 1,300 Chinese sailors were forcibly repatriated to China. Over 48 hours the Liverpool constabulary implemented orders from the British Government to deport Chinese sailors in Liverpool who had travelled to England as part of the war effort. Liverpool families were never told what happened to those Chinese sailors. Their wives and children believed they had been deserted until the release of the declassified records 50 years later revealed the shocking truth. Surviving descendants, now in their 70s, felt cheated out of a relationship with their fathers and unable to connect with their Chinese roots; they felt abandoned, only finding out too late the horrendous events that led to their separation. It is important to raise awareness of the issue and educate the wider community about the shocking events of 1946. It is part of British history. I also call on the Government to make an unreserved apology for their part in destroying so many Liverpool Chinese family lives and to look at the racism that has increased as a result of the pandemic.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins, on what I believe to be your first occasion in the Chair. I want to congratulate my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen), on securing this important debate on Chinese and East Asian communities’ experience of racism during the covid-19 pandemic, particularly this week, during National Hate Crime Awareness Week. It is important to take the opportunity to raise the importance of reporting incidents of hate crime when they happen, as that will help prevent them happening to others and help the police and other agencies better understand the extent of hate crime in a local area and, therefore, better respond to it. I hasten to add that all public services must also be properly resourced to do so.

A 2019 House of Commons Library briefing shows that police-recorded hate crime offences have continually risen since 2012-13. The rate of hate crimes against Chinese people between January and March this year was nearly three times that of the previous two years, according to data released by UK police forces to Sky News. The far right is constantly seeking to normalise racist attitudes and behaviours, and we have seen legitimate criticisms of the actions of the Chinese Government being hijacked by those people who want to sow division in society. Moonshot, which specialises in monitoring extremist content online, found that between February and April there was a 300% increase in racist and violent hashtags against China and Chinese people. They analysed more than 600 million tweets, of which 200,000 contained hate speech or anti-Chinese conspiracy theories. I urge the Government to address the horrendous abuse online in the upcoming online harms Bill. Facebook and Twitter must be accountable for what is published on their websites.

Does my hon. Friend agree that international students who are in the UK, who travel to many of our constituencies, are often subject to very bad racist abuse and that something needs to be done about that as well?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention. With the University of Bedfordshire in my constituency of Luton South, we welcome many international students from China and other East Asian countries. They are welcome in our town and we do not want the rise in hate crime towards East Asian and Chinese people to deter them from coming to the UK to study. It is a great opportunity, so I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point.

We are also increasingly, and sadly, seeing hard-right politicians and movements across the world using racist language. That has been mentioned already. It is a disgrace to hear Donald Trump call coronavirus the Chinese virus or the Chinese plague. However, racism towards East Asian, South-East Asian and Chinese people is not restricted to politicians abroad. It is a disgrace that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), the International Development Secretary, shared a racist meme. Racism is never a joke, and sharing that meme shows the judgment of the individuals running our country.

The Chinese state must be held accountable for its failings and human rights abuses, but the far right is being encouraged by media reporting that has provided ammunition to far-right activists seeking to normalise racism. In Germany, Der Spiegel magazine ran a cover image of a person in a protective red suit and gas mask, under the headline “Made in China”. In the UK, The Economist also ran a front page with an image of the earth wrapped in a face mask adorned with a Chinese flag. The Government must tackle hate crime by making social media and media outlets accountable for how they spread hate or fuel division. We need accurate health messaging that does not discriminate against a community.

Finally, building on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) about role models for young people, my final comments are on the importance of anti-racist education. I am a supporter of the UK’s leading anti-racist education charity Show Racism the Red Card and a member of the all-party parliamentary group for showing racism the red card. This Friday is Wear Red Day and I encourage everybody to show their commitment to anti-racism education and to tackling all forms of racism by wearing red on Friday.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins. I think this is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship, and it is good to be here.

I start by warmly congratulating the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) on securing this debate. She spoke powerfully in what has been an excellent, if short, discussion. I echo the comment that it would have been nice if more of us were here. I do not say that to be party political. I have been in this place since 2017, and I actually think that Westminster Hall is probably one of the better places for discussing policy. It is a bit of a shame that numbers are limited, but none the less, what we have not had in quantity we have certainly had in quality.

I also place on the record my thanks to the hon. Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) and for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins), who all made passionate speeches from the Back Benches. Their constituents can be incredibly proud that they came here today to stand up for social justice and against racism.

The covid-19 crisis has had untold consequences on all our lives, from the vast redundancies across the UK to the many families facing poverty and, of course, to the huge loss of life. However, another consequence has been the rampant and utterly unacceptable racism against Chinese and East Asian communities. In the first few months of the covid-19 crisis, racist offences against Chinese and East Asian people rose rapidly, including assaults, robberies, harassment and criminal damage. The hon. Member for Luton South rightly brought some of those numbers to the attention of the House, and it was right that, in response to the intervention from the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, she focused on international students. My own city of Glasgow is blessed with three universities, and in the past few weeks a number of people have arrived in our city. I have some anecdotal concerns from what I see on social media and the comments that people have overheard in the city centre. As we go into a new academic year, that could be a real problem. There is an onus on us all, as community leaders, to call that out for what it is: utterly unacceptable.

Members of the Chinese and the East Asian community have described the attacks against them, with restaurants and take-outs being vandalised and boycotted and victims being punched, spat at and coughed on in the street and even verbally abused and blamed for the coronavirus pandemic. With even the President of the United States dubbing covid-19 the Chinese virus, and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, calling it the Wuhan virus, I make it clear that no one race or ethnic group is responsible for the outbreak of coronavirus, and that absolutely everybody has a right to be protected from targeted abuse. Indeed, President Trump’s foolish remarks are a total insult to the families of the 4,634 people in China who to date have lost their life as a result of coronavirus.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended that Governments adopt national action plans against racial discrimination, laying out specific approaches to combat racism and discrimination, from enhanced policing of hate crimes to public messaging and education programming encouraging tolerance. Like others, I encourage the Government to take action and adopt new action plans to address the wave of racism and xenophobia that has occurred as a result of the covid-19 crisis. I also echo the calls made by End the Virus of Racism urging the Government to condemn the growing hate crime and to give extra protections to targeted communities.

As was touched on by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, the UK must acknowledge its painful history of racism, from the slave trade that originated at our ports, to Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech, to the hostile environment created by the current UK Government. That racism still exists in the UK. It is nuanced, it is striking, but it is still, none the less, completely intolerable.

Racism will not disappear overnight. We must all work actively to stamp it out from our society. The vile xenophobia against the Chinese and East Asian people is completely unacceptable, and I hope that all parties in the House will come together in unity to condemn racism in all its forms and to work towards tackling the issue head-on. One simple way of doing that, as the hon. Member for Luton North said, is to wear red on Friday, to at least make the point that we stand united on the most fundamental issue of humanity.

It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) on securing this very important debate and on her passionate, thought-provoking and groundbreaking speech, and I thank her for sharing her shocking childhood experiences of racism. That was a telling and very poignant part of the debate.

As hon. Members have so eloquently highlighted, one of the social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic has been the alarming rise in online hate speech against the Chinese and East Asian community. The pandemic has provided fertile ground for extremists. Conspiracy theorists have fuelled hatred and are exploiting people’s fears. Left unchecked, fake news about minority communities has circulated online, sowing the seeds of hatred. That causes division and damages community relations in our society and it has been allowed to grow to such an extent that some are emboldened to abuse and attack the Chinese and East Asian community. Those in positions of responsibility have done very little to call out the racism or to challenge the fake news and hate speech.

Does my hon. Friend the shadow Minister agree that those in authority, including police colleagues, could have better training on this specific sort of racism, given the pandemic?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point on an issue that I will come to later in my speech. Training is absolutely essential so that people recognise and treat seriously any forms of racism, so that it is dealt with swiftly and so that people are not frightened to report it.

It is deeply disappointing to hear the President of the United States, Donald Trump, call coronavirus the China virus and give legitimacy to this racist trope. It is also deeply regrettable that nothing has been done to challenge this view by our Government. Nobody has spoken out against it, and that desperately needs to happen. I hope that the Minister will deal with that in her remarks.

The Government have a moral duty to keep our communities safe, and that includes speaking out against hate speech and dispelling falsehoods no matter where they come from. The explosion of hate speech on social media has been alarming. I know that the most mainstream platforms are taking steps to remove false information and hateful content. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) mentioned the 200,000 hashtags of hate speech and conspiracy theories against the Chinese and East Asian communities, which was quite alarming. Recently, the Select Committee on Home Affairs had a session in which it heard that Facebook had deleted 9.6 million hate speech posts in the first quarter of 2020; 9.6 million is an alarming number, and that is just the ones that it has removed.

The issue is not just content removal. That is not enough on its own. More needs to be done to dismantle the microtargeting of ads and the algorithms that recommend the next piece of visible content, which may be just as harmful. This rabbit hole is compounding the effects of online hate speech and fake news. The ads and algorithms make decisions for users about what they can see online, and essentially that amplifies the content, so that is an issue that also needs to be addressed.

We need wider regulation of social media platforms to tackle hate speech and its wider distribution. Although I appreciate that the online harms Bill will come before Parliament next year, action is needed now. I highly recommend the Institute for Strategic Dialogue’s impressive report, “The First 100 Days: Coronavirus and Crisis Management on Social Media Platforms”. That goes into detail as to how hate crime and hate speech are spread on social media platforms.

I mentioned earlier in my speech that online hate speech has evolved into physical hate crime, and we heard a number of examples from hon. Members in today’s debate. Figures from police forces across England and Wales have revealed that at least 267 offences against, I quote, “Chinese people” were recorded between January and March during the covid-19 crisis. That included assaults, robberies, harassment and criminal damage. The rate is nearly three times that of the previous two years. I believe that those figures are just the tip of the iceberg. In conversations that I have had with representatives from the Chinese community in London, I have been told that attacks are far more common. They are under-reported, because the community do not believe that the police take their complaints seriously. To allude to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), the issue is about training as well.

The lack of vocal Government support and the severe cuts to policing over the last decade have left the community despondent. They feel that they have no empathy or understanding of the effect that such attacks have. I am pleased to see that the community are getting organised on this issue and demanding action. One group that they have formed is End the Virus of Racism. I congratulate it on calling for zero tolerance for racism and for the full protection of the law following the threefold increase in hate crime towards people of South-East Asian and Chinese heritage during the coronavirus crisis. The police must take hate crime seriously and listen to victims; otherwise, it will continue to be under-reported.

From his previous job as a lawyer, is the shadow Minister aware of a lot of cases that have been prosecuted, or is this an under-prosecuted area?

Again, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Where there is a lack of empathy, there is also a lack of cases that proceed to trial. I am not aware of the actual figures for this issue, but rape is also an issue where the lack of empathy with victims leads to fewer cases going to trial. The victims do not want to take it further because they do not feel they will be treated seriously. There is an excellent rape review by the Victims’ Commissioner for London, which I highly recommend.

I welcome the calls for greater research, a national strategy and a taskforce to scrutinise the data and address the impact on community cohesion—hon. Members also raised the need for more community cohesion. The increase in hate crime has fuelled a steep rise in demand for victim support and has put additional pressure on community groups, but at the same time their income has been slashed and their resources are more stretched than they have ever been. Any solution to hate crime must include the Government funding of those vital services. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) made a point about the need for helplines, and these communities need funding so that the helplines can function in this time of great need.

In July, the Commission for Countering Extremism produced an excellent paper entitled “How hateful extremists are exploiting the pandemic”. It highlighted how different communities were experiencing racism due to the pandemic. It said:

“Government needs to include clear plans to counter extremism in their response to this and future crises. It should also publish a new counter-extremism strategy urgently to ensure that it can strategically respond to the activities of extremists in our country. This strategy should include:…An assessment of how extremism manifests locally, the harm it causes, the scale of support for extremist narratives and how best to pre-empt extremist activity. This should also include a mechanism to provide bespoke support to local authorities most affected…An assessment of who is most susceptible to extremist narratives and a plan of what interventions they will put in place to engage and support those people…A commitment to ensure hateful extremism falls within the remit of the new online harms regulator and that existing laws on inciting hatred should be enforceable online…Plans to build an understanding of how conspiracy theories contribute to extremism. Including how they are utilised by extremists, what the scale, impact and harm is, and how to counter them…Separately, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government must drive forward a COVID-19 cohesion strategy to help bring different communities together to prevent extremist narratives from having significant reach and influence.”

That is from a Government-funded body.

Racism has no part in any civilised society and should be stamped out completely. To do that, we urgently need sustained action. We need to call it out, tackle it online and physically, and show solidarity with our communities that are experiencing racism. We need to ensure that complaints are properly dealt with and that our communities are supported.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister, when will the Government publicly speak out to condemn the anti-Chinese hate speech and the racism against the Chinese and East Asian community? When will she speak to her ministerial colleagues to ensure that more is done to remove online hate speech and algorithms that fuel hateful content? Will she speak to her colleagues to ensure that the police take the reporting of hate speech seriously and work to build trust with the communities affected? Finally, will she support the additional funding for community groups representing those affected by racism and hate crime, and those providing support services?

It is no surprise that the annual hate crime statistics, which were released this morning, show an 8% increase in reported hate crime over the past 12 months. Unless something is done now, there will be long-term damage to community relations, which will take years, if not decades, to repair. I urge the Minister to take action now.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins, on your first day in the Chair. I thank the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) for securing this vital debate, and hon. Members for their many contributions. It was powerful to hear about the experiences of the hon. Lady, particularly when she was at school, and the frightening experiences that she was subjected to. Also, however, the account of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), including the experience of one of the mental health workers in her constituency, was very powerful, as was the speech by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson), in which she outlined some of the historic events in her constituency, which are still felt very acutely by the community there.

I am sure that some hon. Members will know that one of the most famous poems in the Chinese language is actually about this country. The poem “On Leaving Cambridge”, by Xu Zhimo, was written nearly a hundred years ago. However, it has stood the test of time, not just in the canon of Chinese literature but as a powerful symbol of the ties that bind our country with the Chinese-speaking world. These ties connect with every part of our national life, from the people we elect to this House to our educational establishments, and from the food we eat to our own language. Few communities can claim to have had such a powerful effect on our culture, and people of Chinese and East Asian heritage have been particularly successful at integrating into the fabric of our society. Equally, few countries can claim to have been as tolerant and as welcoming as the United Kingdom, a place where people of all ethnicities are free to lead successful and rewarding lives.

I deeply regret that the covid-19 pandemic has brought out the very, very worst in a small minority of our citizens. Chinese and East Asian communities, through absolutely no fault of their own, have had to contend with a significant and completely unacceptable rise in hostility towards them, as has already been outlined. According to police reporting, in the period following the start of the pandemic, Chinese and South-East Asian citizens accounted for 1% to 2% of all hate crime victims, but they accounted for 12% to 18% of the victims of hate crimes where covid-19 was mentioned.

As the hon. Member for Luton North said, people were rightly horrified at the dreadful assault on Jonathan Mok, a Singaporean student who was badly injured in central London. It is also very disturbing to read and hear about other such attacks. Although they are rarely as violent as the one I have just mentioned, we can all agree—quite clearly, there is a consensus in Westminster Hall today on this issue—that such incidents are abhorrent, and totally and utterly unacceptable in the United Kingdom in 2020.

I am equally concerned by reports of people experiencing lower levels of intolerance. Although those actions have not always been criminal, they are undoubtedly immoral, dehumanising and totally distressing to the individuals who have to hear and live with such comments. This type of prejudice has also had an impact on Chinese businesses, which had found themselves struggling for custom even before the lockdown began.

My Department works closely with Chinese and East Asian community organisations, and in those early weeks of the pandemic we engaged with communities where we could see that tensions were rising. We held community events and spoke to community members. They told us of a sudden change, and of increasingly negative social attitudes towards anyone believed to be Chinese. They reported the fear and anxiety experienced by people who had not faced such hostility before. They also expressed concern that their communities were not always well served by portrayals in the media, not least the labelling of covid-19 in some quarters as “the Chinese virus”, as has been outlined by a number of Members here today. I am totally against such labelling.

One of the comments by the hon. Member for Luton North was about the “cesspit” of social media. We are in agreement on that point. After this debate, I hope that the media will reflect on their use of images when reporting on covid-19. I absolutely understand the pain and anguish caused to individuals who are living in the United Kingdom. Obviously, as outlined, the online harms White Paper is coming, and one of the commitments in that is to form a communications campaign about hate crime. Part of that will involve working through some of those issues with the Society of Editors and the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

I want to be clear, as Members in the Chamber have said, that no single community is responsible for the spread of the disease, and no single person should face abuse for it, in any way, shape or form. We, this Government, condemn that completely. We condemned it at the time—the Minister for Faith and Communities did so publicly, and so did the Home Secretary—and I, today, condemn it again.

As we reflect on the deeply special relationship that Britain has with America, will the Minister undertake to raise with the Foreign Office that strong representations should be made from Whitehall to Washington, DC, that that kind of language is unacceptable? Will that message be conveyed from London?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I speak regularly with my colleagues across Departments when dealing with a whole host of issues that affect the United Kingdom, in particular in my new role as in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. I have only been in post for about three weeks now. I will definitely pass that sentiment on to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

While the Minister is talking to her colleagues in Government, will she also speak to the Universities Minister to say that this debate has raised the specific issue of international students such as Mr Mok, whose case was talked about, and to ask for an action plan to deal with it?

I commit to doing as the hon. Lady asked. It is important that we remain committed to, and steadfast in standing up for anyone who finds themselves a victim of hate crime or of any hate, because, sadly, our Chinese and East Asian communities are not alone in that experience. We know that bigots are only too happy to spread hatred against Jewish and Muslim communities and others if it suits them.

This Government have a zero-tolerance approach to those who commit such acts. The perpetrators of hate crimes in relation to covid-19 are being punished. The Crown Prosecution Service has prosecuted a number of people for crimes involving racist abuse on the basis of perceived Chinese ethnicity. We will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with people of Chinese and East Asian heritage, and this Government have shown that time and again, supporting not only those who have made these islands their home, but people who visit for tourism or access to our world-class education system, which we spoke about this afternoon. Also, our generous offer to those from Hong Kong eligible to come to make a new life here stands as testament to our solidarity. Although the level of hate crime towards people of Chinese and East Asian heritage appears to have reduced since earlier this year, the Government have no interest in showing complacency.

We will continue to ensure that victims are supported wherever possible and to bring people who carry out hateful attacks to justice. We already have one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to protect communities from hostility, violence and bigotry and to deal with the perpetrators of hate crime. We will strengthen that framework through measures set out in our online harms White Paper and bring forward world-leading legislation to make the UK the safest place to be online.

We intend to establish in law a new duty of care on companies towards their users, which will be overseen by the independent regulator, and we will not stop there. We have asked the Law Commission to undertake a full review of the coverage and approach of hate crime legislative provisions. It has opened a public consultation and will report to Ministers early next year.

We will also consult on our hate crime action plan. It has guided our work over the past four years and has been well regarded, but now is the time to consider whether we can be even more ambitious. We will consult widely in the coming months to ensure that we build an effective new approach, which will benefit from the input of many of our diverse communities. I look forward to the Chinese and East Asian communities playing their part.

I want to pick up on a point made by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) about the police. He highlighted the annual statistics that were reported today. One of the elements that shows progress in this area is that we are seeing more of an understanding from the police of what hate crime is and the ability to categorise it, so that it is being better reported. I hope that we will continue to see that work in the statistics, but I totally agree with the comments that have been made: while we are seeing progress in this space, we need to continue with the work to make sure that the complexities are understood and articulated in the reporting, and that when individuals feel they want to report to the police, they are comfortable in doing that. I was pleased to hear that 87% of the Chinese community surveyed trusted their local police, in comparison with the national average of, I believe, just over 76%.

On spending to work with our communities, we have committed to spend through the faith, race and hate crime grant scheme, which enables local groups to bid for grants for work, including with schools and young people. That is a £1.5 million pot. We also have the integrated communities action plan, with more than 70 commitments within that plan, and we are working towards completing them.

Comments have been made about members of my party. I am not here to speak for individuals, and I am unaware of some of the details. One thing I am very comfortable to say is that the party I represent stands against any form of racism. I am very proud to be part of a party that holds that position, whether people agree or not. In my role as a Minister in MHCLG, I will do all I can to make sure that all communities in our country have equality and feel parity through the work we are doing. It is something that I have had experience of in other roles as a Minister in this Government over the past two years. I am looking forward to working with colleagues as we progress the action plans as we move through covid.

This week being National Hate Crime Awareness Week, it is a moment to reflect on the challenges that confront us and reaffirm our commitment to tackling hatred. I believe that today’s debate has been an important part of that, and we should all stand together to condemn hatred and bigotry in all forms, and focus instead on what ties bind us together. I end by thanking everyone for their contributions to today’s debate, and look forward to further conversations with colleagues as we progress some of the work I have outlined this afternoon.

Please forgive me, Mrs Cummins; I should have said that it is a great honour to be serving under your chairmanship. I did not realise it was your first day in the Chair, so thank you.

I will start by picking up on some of the Minister’s comments. First, I am grateful to hear her condemnation of hate crimes and racism against Chinese, East Asian and South-East Asian communities, and I know that the community will be really glad to hear it. As I said in my speech, it is a low bar just to ask for condemnation of racism, but it is a start, and I am grateful to the Minister for it. She was absolutely right to mention Chinese businesses: for many of these businesses, the pain occurred well before lockdown, well before other businesses started to see their profits decline and started having to lay off staff. That pain is continuing, and we need to do serious amounts of work to ensure that community, and that business community, is supported throughout this pandemic like so many others should be.

Picking up on the Minister’s second point about the online harms Bill, I am heartened by that Bill, because we have heard countless examples of why it is absolutely necessary. I said that social media is a cesspit; it genuinely is, and it needs cleaning up. One area that I would like the Government to concentrate on and look into through the online harms Bill is the comments sections of news outlets, which I know is an area that the Government have been resistant to include in that Bill’s regulations.

The Minister started by saying that this is a vital debate. It is a vital debate, and I am really grateful that hon. Friends have come here to represent their communities and provide support, but the Minister is here because she has to be. Where are her colleagues? There are six seats empty on her side; not a single Conservative, not a single Government Member, decided to turn up. I know that this is Westminster Hall and it is supposed to be less political, but what message does that send to our communities? It sends a damning message.

I wanted to pick up on some of the points that my hon. Friends have raised, because they are important to solving this problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) spoke eloquently and passionately about the history. The Minister talked about our integration: it started in Liverpool, Riverside, the home of one of the oldest ethnic communities in this country. She also spoke about the importance of education about that history; I do not know how many people really understand or fully know the damage that was caused by those forced deportations of Chinese sailors, ripping the hearts out of families and entire generations. Having a helpline is fantastic, and it should be celebrated and supported, but again, the community is having to step up when the state has stepped back.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) was absolutely right to speak about the pain our community faces when it comes to mental health. We have all found this period really difficult, with loneliness, losses of earnings and of loved ones, and being separated, but add to that being blamed and being scared to go out of the front door. It is not just hate crime that our community has suffered: thousands of healthcare workers have come from China and all over South-East and East Asia, and those workers are the very people who we stood on our doorsteps and clapped for, yet we cannot say that we are going to protect them. More Filipino nurses, healthcare workers and carers have died in this country than in the Philippines during the pandemic.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins).

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).