With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on our work to examine inequality across the population and set out a new, positive agenda for change.
The Government are committed to building a fairer Britain and taking the action needed to promote equality and opportunity for all. We do, however, recognise that serious disparities exist across our society, and are determined to take the action that is required to addressed them. Following the events of last summer, our nation has engaged in a serious examination of the issue of race inequality, and the Government have been determined to respond by carefully examining the evidence and data. We need to recognise progress where it has been made, but we also need to tackle barriers where they remain. That was why, last summer, the Prime Minister established the independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. It was tasked with informing our national conversation on race by carrying out a deeper examination of why disparities exist and considering how we can reduce them.
After careful study, the commission made evidence-based recommendations for action across Government, the private sector and other public bodies. The commission was established with 10 experts drawn from a variety of fields, spanning science, education, economics, broadcasting, medicine and policing. With one exception, all are from ethnic minority backgrounds. The chair, Dr Sewell, has dedicated his life to education and to supporting young people from socially deprived backgrounds to reach their full potential. This distinguished group was tasked with reviewing inequality in the UK, and it focused on education, employment, crime and policing, and health.
As this House will be aware, on 31 March, the commission published its independent report. I will now turn to its findings. It is right to say that the picture painted by this report is complex, particularly in comparison with the way that issues of race are often presented. The report shows that disparities do persist, that racism and discrimination remain a factor in shaping people’s life outcomes, and it is clear about the fact that abhorrent racist attitudes continue in society, within institutions and increasingly online. It calls for action to tackle this.
However, the report also points out that, while disparities between ethnic groups exist across numerous areas, many factors other than racism are often the root cause. Among these are geography, deprivation and family structure. For example, a black Caribbean child is 10 times more likely than an Indian child to grow up in a lone parent household. Disparities exist in different directions. People from south Asian and Chinese ethnic groups have better outcomes than the white population in more than half of the top 25 causes of premature death.
The report also highlights the progress that Britain has made in tackling racism, and the report’s data reveal a range of success stories. For example, it underlines the significant progress achieved in educational attainment, with most ethnic minority groups now outperforming their white British peers at GCSE level. The report also delves into the causes and drivers of some of the most persistent and enduring issues. For example, the commission has identified the disproportionate rate of black men convicted of class B drug offences.
Let me be clear: the report does not deny that institutional racism exists in the UK. Rather the report did not find conclusive evidence of it in the specific areas it examined. It reaffirms the Macpherson report’s definition of the term, but argues that it should be applied more carefully and always based on evidence.
The commission made 24 evidence-based and practical recommendations. These have been grouped into four broad themes: to build trust; promote fairness; create agency; and achieve inclusivity.
There are many things that unite this House. A shared commitment to making Britain fairer for everyone is one of them. In the light of that fact, I urge right hon. and hon. Members to take the time to read the report’s 258 pages. There is also another thing that I am sure unites this House, which is abhorrence of the appalling abuse meted out to the commissioners and the false assertions made about their work in the past three weeks. It is true that this landmark analysis challenges a number of strongly held beliefs about the extent and influence of racism in Britain today. The commissioners have followed the evidence and drawn conclusions that challenge orthodoxy, and they were prepared for a robust and constructive debate. However, they were not prepared for the wilful misrepresentation of the report that occurred following its publication, such as false accusations that they denied racism exists, or that they wished to put a positive spin on the atrocities of slavery, or false statements that commissioners did not read or sign off their own report, or that they are breaking ranks. I have been informed by the chair and by individual members that the commission remains united and stands by its report.
This Government welcome legitimate disagreement and debate, but firmly reject bad-faith attempts to undermine the credibility of this report. Doing so risks undermining the vital work that we are trying to do to understand and address the causes of inequality in the UK, and any other positive work that results from it. For that reason it is necessary to set the record straight. This report makes it clear that the UK is not a post-racial society and that racism is still a real force that has the power to deny opportunity and painfully disrupt lives. That is why the first recommendation of the commission is to challenge racist and discriminatory actions. The report calls on the Government to increase funding to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to make greater use of
“its compliance, enforcement and litigation powers to challenge policies or practices that…cause…unjust racial disadvantage, or arise from racial discrimination.”
The Government even more firmly condemn the deeply personal and racialised attacks against the commissioners, which have included death threats. In fact, one Opposition Member presented commissioners as members of the Ku Klux Klan—an example of the very online racial hatred and abuse on which the report itself recommended more action be taken by the Government.
It is, of course, to be expected that Members will disagree about how to address racial inequality and the kinds of policies that the Government should enact. However, it is wrong to accuse those who argue for a different approach of being racism deniers or race traitors. It is even more irresponsible—dangerously so—to call ethnic minority people racial slurs like “Uncle Toms”, “coconuts”, “house slaves” or “house negroes” for daring to think differently.
Such deplorable tactics are designed to intimidate ethnic minority people away from their right to express legitimate views. This House depends on robust debate and diversity of thought. Too many ethnic minority people have to put up with this shameful treatment every day, as some of my fellow MPs and I know too well. The House should condemn it and reprimand those who continue with such behaviour.
The commissioners’ experience since publication only reinforces the need for informed debate on race based on mutual respect and a nuanced understanding of the evidence. The Government will now consider the report in detail and assess the next steps for future policy. In recognition of the extensive scope of recommendations, the Prime Minister has established a new inter-ministerial group to review the recommendations. It will ensure that action is taken to continue progress to create a fairer society. As sponsoring Minister, I will provide strategic direction with support from my officials in the Race Disparity Unit. The group will be chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
On that note, on behalf of the Prime Minister, I would like to thank the commissioners once again for all that they have done. They have generously volunteered their time, unpaid, to lead this important piece of work, and the Government welcome their thoughtful, balanced and evidence-based findings and analysis.
The Government will now work at pace to produce a response to the report this summer. I assure the House that it will be ambitious about tackling negative disparities where they exist and building on successes. It will play a significant part in this Government’s mission to level up and unite the country, and ensure equality and opportunity for all, whatever their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic background. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement. It is only right that such a contentious report finally receives time for debate in this House. I have read the report, despite having to wait two weeks for an accessible version to arrive.
Following the Black Lives Matter movement, the commission had an opportunity meaningfully to engage with structural racism in the UK. Instead, it published incoherent, divisive and offensive materials that appear to glorify slavery, downplay the role of institutional and structural racism, and blame ethnic minorities for their own disadvantage. If left unchallenged, the report will undo decades of progress made towards race equality in the UK.
Since publication, the report has completely unravelled. Far from bad-faith actors, this report has been discredited by experts, including the British Medical Association, Professor Michael Marmot, trade unions representing over 5 million workers, human rights experts at the UN and Baroness Lawrence, who said it gives a “green light to racists”. Its cherry-picking of data is misleading and incoherent, and its conclusions are ideologically motivated and divisive.
It is absolutely clear to all Opposition Members and those across civil society that this report has no credibility, so I am disappointed to hear the Minister double down on it here today. How can she stand before us in this House and defend the indefensible? I want to ask one simple question to start: who wrote this report? Four weeks ago, she stood at the Dispatch Box and said:
“It is not the Prime Minister but an independent commission that will be publishing the report.”—[Official Report, 24 March 2021; Vol. 691, c. 906.]
Despite what she says about unity, can she explain why multiple commissioners have disclosed that No. 10 rewrote parts of the report? What precedent does this cronyism set for future independent commissions? Furthermore, will the Minister explain how the Government came to publish claims that there is a “new story” to be told about slavery and empire, and will she distance herself from those abhorrent remarks?
The Minister says that commissioners followed the evidence, but this report marks a major shift away from the overwhelming body of data on institutional and structural racism. The Office for National Statistics finds that the unemployment rate for black people is now 13.8%—triple the rate for white people—so why does the report conclude that young black people should
“examine the subjects they are studying”,
instead of addressing the systemic inequalities within the labour market? Black women are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth, but the report says that these numbers are so low that it is “unfair” to focus on this disparity. Does the Minister agree with those findings? Even the example about class B drug use, which she repeated today, is inaccurate, with the Cabinet Office admitting that there was a mistake. I was especially interested to hear the Minister highlight the recommendation to increase funding to the EHRC, given that her Government have slashed its funding by £43 million since 2010.
This report is part of the story that Government Members would like to try to tell about fairness. They say that they are interested in addressing inequalities of geography and class, but the truth is that they are not interested in ending inequality at all. In stark contrast, the Labour party believes in ambition and potential for all, including black and ethnic minority people, but we recognise that we often start from a position of systemic disadvantage.
It is our job as elected representatives to level the playing field, so I want to end by giving the Minister the chance to reject this report and tell the House instead what she is doing to implement the 231 recommendations in the Timpson, McGregor-Smith, Williams, Angiolini and Lammy reviews. What is she doing to comply with the public sector equality duty, and why is she not publishing equality impact assessments? This is what her Government would be focused on if they were serious about ending structural racism. Instead, they have published a shoddy, point-scoring polemic which ignores evidence and does not represent the country that I know and love. It is reprehensible, and I hope the Minister will reject it today, so that we get on with the task of tackling institutional and structural racism, which is the lived experience of many.
It is quite clear that the hon. Lady did not read the statement, which I sent to her in advance, and she clearly did not listen to it as I read it out. She is clearly determined to create a divisive atmosphere around race in this House and this country, and we will not stand for it. We continue to push for a fairer Britain and for levelling up. Labour Members continue to look for division. They continue to stoke culture wars and then claim that we are the ones fighting them.
I completely reject all the assertions that the hon. Lady has made—many of them false and many of them hypocritical. Whose party has been determined to be institutionally racist by the Equality and Human Rights Commission? It is not my party; it is hers. She and many of her colleagues are the ones who are complaining about their party’s Forde inquiry and claiming that their party has anti-black racism. Why do they not look at resolving the problems in their own house, instead of trying to spread them around the rest of the country?
I will acknowledge some of the questions the hon. Lady has raised and seek to answer them. She asked who wrote the report. The commissioners wrote the report; that is because they were independent. It is simply not true to claim that other people wrote the report. The commissioners have put statements on the—[Interruption.] I am afraid I cannot hear myself speak because of the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler). It would be nice if she stopped heckling from a sedentary position. Her mouth is covered, so I cannot even hear what she is saying.
If we look at the statements that the commissioners have made on the gov.uk website, they have been united. They have not broken ranks. They have not chosen to dissociate themselves from the report. The only thing that is happening is that Labour Members in particular continue to misrepresent what is happening. Why, for instance, will the shadow Minister not condemn the racist abuse faced by the commissioners? Why will she not condemn her own colleague, the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis), who posted a picture of the KKK in response to the commissioners? Does she think that that is appropriate behaviour? It is the subject of a complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
We should go back to the substance of what this report is saying, rather than continuing to try to slander the people who have written it. These are professionals and distinguished individuals who gave up their time, and I commend them for their work. I am very proud of it, and of course we will not be withdrawing the report.
It is clear that today’s Labour party is functionally innumerate and does not like to see statistics and evidence, so rather than focus on the numbers and the data, they run away. They just want to continue having discussions on racism, which is where they think they are strong, but I am afraid that they are not strong on this issue. We will not sit back and allow divisive rhetoric and misrepresentation to be the story on race. We are determined to create a positive national conversation about this issue based on facts and evidence, fraternity and fairness, not on nonsensical accusations.
So I reject the hon. Member for Battersea’s assertions. We will not withdraw the report. We will look at what recommendations to take forward. The Government have still not provided a response, but there are many issues around that structural inequality that we want to have dealt with. However, I reiterate that, just because there is a disparity, it does not mean that discrimination is the cause. If we continue to identify discrimination right from the beginning without looking at the root cause, we will continue to offer solutions that do not improve the situation. I am very happy to commend the commissioners and I reject the hon. Lady’s very divisive rhetoric and assertions to the House today.
The House and the country will be glad that the Government have come forward with this positive statement in support of Tony Sewell’s and the other commissioners’ report.
The commission had to put out a statement on 2 April contradicting most of the ill-informed criticisms. At the end, it said:
“The 24 recommendations we have made will, in our view, greatly improve the lives of millions of people for the better if they are all implemented.”
The second sentence of the first paragraph said that the report
“stated categorically that ‘we take the reality of racism seriously and we do not deny that it is a real force in the UK.’”
That seems plain and clear.
I came into politics in 1971, when the ethnic minorities in the area where I lived in south London were denied the chance to take O-levels because left-wing goodies asked why people should be forced to take O-levels in the fifth form. I said it was so that they could go on to university. With two West Indian mothers on the governing body, within three years, the first of our black pupils went on to medical school. I think we can dedicate ourselves to making life better.
I say to the Minister that later—not today—I would like to come and talk to her about the treatment of Gurpal Virdi, a very good Sikh officer who four times was badly treated by the Metropolitan police. The fourth time, he was prosecuted for a week and a half for something that could not have happened, following an investigation that should not have happened.
That is one of the things that would help to give weight to the recommendations of the Sewell commission —if things are treated fairly, when they go wrong, they are investigated properly.
I thank the Father of the House for his question and for his comments, which I completely agree with. The issue he describes around education back in the day is actually something I experienced myself. There is still much to do, but we have come a long way from 25 years ago when I first immigrated to this country. On Gurpal Virdi, I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to fully understand what happened and to see what the Government can do.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement. A United Nations working group strongly rejected this report, saying that it
“further distorted and falsified historic facts”,
could fuel racism and twists data, among other pointed criticisms. The Minister just spoke about the lack of evidence of institutional racism, but the Runnymede Trust rightly points out that evidence of institutional racism was submitted to the commission. Twenty thousand people joined the Runnymede Trust and Amnesty International in calling for the report’s withdrawal, and 36 trade union general secretaries have repudiated the report.
In contrast to the Prime Minister, who said that the report contains “interesting observations”, Scots campaigner Talat Yaqoob called the report a “whitewash of reality” produced only to let the UK Government abdicate responsibility for tackling institutional racism. How can the Minister justify a report that says policies such as the hostile environment were not deliberately targeted at the UK’s ethnic minorities? Leading clinicians have said the report will worsen systemic health inequalities. The NHS Race and Health Observatory has declared that institutional racism exists in the UK, the health and care system and across wider public bodies. In the light of those responses, will the Minister repudiate the report’s glossing over of the impact of covid on ethnic minority groups?
The SNP will always work hard for Scotland to be a global leader in diversity and inclusion. If re-elected, we will introduce a Scottish diversity and inclusion strategy, focusing on institutional barriers and providing education on colonial history. The Scottish Tory manifesto is silent on these issues, but in bringing forward this report, it certainly looks like the UK Government are going in the opposite direction. So can the Minister tell us specifically what the Tories are doing to tackle institutional inequality and to deal effectively with colonial history? Can she understand why so many people will be deeply disappointed with this response, which feels, at best, like a bunch of cans being kicked down the road?
Before I begin to answer the hon. Lady’s questions, I would like to point out that the PM wrote to devolved Administrations shortly after the commission was established to invite them to engage with this work. It is noticeable that Northern Ireland was keen to take part, and hosted the commission on crime and policing matters. However, the Scottish National party Administration did not engage, so I believe that the words the hon. Lady is now saying about how dedicated they are to fighting racial inequality are completely hollow. When the commission was set up, I am afraid that they did very little indeed to engage.
Regarding the statement by the UN experts, the group grossly misrepresented the commission’s report; the statement is clearly born of the divisive narratives perpetrated by certain media outlets and political groups that are seeking to sow division in our ethnic minority communities. It is also quite clear that the UN experts did not read the commission’s report, judging from some of their statements, which seem to have been cut and pasted from a Labour party press release. The obvious flaw in their critique is that there is no comparison to be drawn with peer countries in Europe, especially because they do not even collect data on race and ethnicity. As such, I share the commission’s disappointment in, and rejection of, yesterday’s statement by the working group of experts on people of African descent, and I will be writing back to them in the strongest of terms.
It is no surprise that the hon. Lady has listed a lot of left-wing groups that disagree with the report. Disagreement and debate is part of politics. We have no issues with people disagreeing with the substance of the report; what we do have an issue with is people misrepresenting it. This report was tasked with finding out why disparities exist. It was not supposed to define where exactly we are seeing institutional racism, but to call racism out where it exists, and it did that. Perhaps if the hon. Lady spent some time reading the report, rather than remarks on Twitter, she would be better informed about what it actually says.
The chief economist of the Bank of England has said that
“Published pay gaps are a starting point for corporate and national accountability”.
Business groups have called for mandatory reporting of ethnicity pay gaps. The commission recommended investigating the causes of pay disparities, but then did not recommend mandating the reporting that would identify those disparities, so will the Minister now commit to taking a different approach from the commission, and commit to mandatory reporting of ethnicity pay gaps?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question, and I pay tribute to her for setting up the Race Disparity Unit, which has allowed us to carry out so much forensic research.
On the issue of ethnicity pay reporting, the commission pointed to statistical and data issues that affect ethnicity pay reporting, and makes a recommendation as a way for employers to overcome these challenges and report ethnicity pay accurately. As I say, the Government will consider the report in detail, and we will work with colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to assess the implications of this recommendation for future Government policy and respond in due course. However, I take my right hon. Friend’s comments into account, and will make sure that they are addressed in the Government response.
The Minister has accused people of criticising the report in bad faith. Is she really saying that Professor Michael Marmot, a world-renowned expert in public health, is acting out of bad faith? Is she really saying that the British Medical Association and other professional associations are speaking in bad faith? It would reflect better on the Minister if she were prepared to engage with genuine criticism by experts.
Nobody denies that there has been progress on racial justice in this country. My parents left school in rural Jamaica aged 14; I am a British Member of Parliament. However, this is widely seen—particularly by people who have been quoted and misquoted—as a shoddy, cynical report that, to quote the UN working group,
“repackages racist tropes and stereotypes into fact, twisting data”.
I say to the Minister that surely black and brown British people who have contributed so much to this country deserve better than this report.
What black and brown British people like myself deserve is better treatment from the Opposition Members who continue to stoke division. Of course I am not accusing Professor Sir Michael Marmot or the BMA of bad faith. The people I accuse of acting in bad faith are the right hon. Lady and her colleagues who are posting pictures of the KKK, and being advertised, as the shadow equalities Minister was, at an event preparing to denounce the report a week before it was even published.
On Professor Sir Michael Marmot and the British Medical Association, I have had meetings with them and we engage with them. We take criticism from them—they are not there to endorse every single thing the Government say; they are there to provide helpful criticism and suggestions where necessary. Sometimes we agree, and sometimes we disagree. Disagreement is not a problem. What we do not want is misrepresentation, which is what the right hon. Lady and her colleagues continue to do.
Before I call Caroline Nokes, may I remind everybody, whether they are virtual or physical, that this is an opportunity to ask the Minister questions about the statement, not to make speeches?
I thank my hon. Friend for her statement. She has focused a great deal on evidence. Does she agree that narrative is also important, and that when the Government respond, it is essential that they do so in full to the 24 recommendations and get the tone right? The Women and Equalities Committee has invited Tony Sewell to come and give evidence to us, alongside other commissioners. I hope my hon. Friend will encourage him to do so, so that the Committee can hear at first hand the evidence that was presented to him and how the report was written.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. I agree with her that narrative is important, not just evidence. We in this House have to ask ourselves what story we are trying to tell. In the case of Conservative Members, it is a story of a shared history, shared values, shared culture and a shared future. We want to make sure that we create a sense of belonging for young people in this country, not an environment where they believe they will never be able to succeed because other people continue to tell them so despite the evidence. I will find out about the request she has made to the commissioners, and I am sure that they will respond in due course.
This is gaslighting on a national scale.
“The New Age of Empire”, page 95, tells us exactly what is happening. On page 103, “This is Why I Resist”, by Dr Shola, explains about racial gatekeepers, which Musa Okwonga from Byline Times talks about. My question to the Minister is this. The Government briefed a clear message well in advance of this report landing. Why did they do that?
I think it is disgusting that a Member of this House will stand up and accuse people of being racial gatekeepers. This is the same nonsense we have heard time and time again—calling people Uncle Toms, calling them house negroes and house slaves, and calling them racial gatekeepers. The fact that the hon. Lady is able to stand here and use that phrase without any shame whatsoever just shows how far the Labour party has fallen.
Answer the question!
I will answer the question, but we in this House have a responsibility to speak about this issue with nuance and responsibility, and the way the hon. Lady has carried out the debate is disgraceful. In fact, she is one of the many people who continue to stoke division in this country, and I am very sad to hear her remarks. The fact of the matter is that this report was written by professionals and experts who have a view that is different from hers. If she has a view that is not acknowledged by others, she should engage in a sensible debate, not call them racial gatekeepers.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Minister has a responsibility to Parliament to answer the question. The Minister has given a statement, and she is supposed to answer the question. She has not answered this question.
That is a continuation of the question, as the hon. Lady knows.
I want to raise with the Minister concerns about certain organisations prejudging the Sewell report for political ends without fairly assessing the findings. One concerning example was the Runnymede Trust, which organised a campaign against the report over a week before it was published and broadcast a live-streamed event with Patrick Vernon, chair of Labour’s racial equality advisory group, where they argued that the report’s authors were equivalent to holocaust deniers who had been asked to develop a strategy on antisemitism. Does the Minister agree that not only does that kind of bad faith political action undermine the Runnymede Trust’s charitable objective of improved race relations, but that the shameful treatment of the report’s commissioners might actually discourage ethnic minorities from contributing to public life and public debate? I also thank her for her statement.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. What he has described is part of the climate of intimidation surrounding the report’s authors, which I condemned in my statement and which has just been demonstrated by the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler).
I read in today’s paper that the Runnymede Trust is now the subject of a complaint to the Charity Commission. One complaint refers to the behaviour of the trust’s CEO and staff towards ethnic minorities who have a different approach to racial equality. Some of that behaviour includes calling a black Conservative a “house negro” and horrific views on mixed-race relationships expressed by one staff member, comparing white people having relationships with black people to slave masters sleeping with their slaves. I do not believe that these actions are appropriate for a charity committed to racial equality.
This is a good time to remind the House that the current chair of the Runnymede Trust applied to be the Labour candidate for Poplar and Limehouse in 2019, but failed to make the shortlist. I would be keen to know whether the shadow Minister condemns those sorts of remarks, or believes that they are acceptable so long as they are targeted at people she disagrees with.[Official Report, 22 April 2021, Vol. 692, c. 5MC.]
Ethnic minority communities have suffered disproportionate numbers of deaths from covid-19. The Sewell report fails to recognise that structural racism underlies many socioeconomic inequalities. There is an interconnectivity between different forms of disadvantage and discrimination but, at the heart of it, is structural racism. It is important for the Government to recognise that. Will the Government commit to working with organisations such as Operation Black Vote to implement a covid-19 race equality strategy that looks in particular at health inequalities and makes sure that the lived experience of people from ethnic minority backgrounds is listened to?
The hon. Lady will know that I have been reporting to this House quarterly on the very work that she describes—the effect that covid-19 has had on ethnic minority people and other vulnerable groups. We have explained the reasons for the causes of those disparities. The Public Health England report had a qualitative review, which talked about people’s experiences of racism in the system.
What we have to do now, however, is to ensure that we protect people. Our strategy at the moment is around vaccines. We have been doing everything we can to increase vaccine uptake, including significant amounts of work—which I reported to the House in February—on increasing vaccine uptake among ethnic minority groups where a large percentage of vaccine hesitancy remains, again much of it caused by misrepresentation and misinformation. I hope that the hon. Lady and members of her party will work with us in government on tackling misinformation and disinformation and will encourage those vulnerable groups to get vaccinated.
The BBC has now said that, in terms of race and culture, you are what you eat. That clearly has a narrowing implication for playwrights and authors who increasingly feel that they may write only about their personal racial and ethnic experience. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a rather chilling thing in terms of the values that are now being put out?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I believe in freedom of expression. It is important that authors, playwrights and other artists feel free to write about and represent a broad range of people, regardless of their race or ethnicity. That is what we would see in a truly diverse society with a shared culture, rather than a “stay in your lane” approach that assumes our society consists of mutually antagonistic identity groups.
The commission’s report used the phrase “Caribbean experience” as a euphemism for the slave trade. In Scotland, if the SNP is re-elected, it will fund the development of an online programme in Scotland and the UK on colonial history throughout the world. It will be able to be used in schools as an educational tool. Does the Minister agree that countries still have to face their colonial history for what it was and to have a mature discussion about its consequences and impacts?
I agree that we need to have a mature discussion, but I should let the hon. Gentleman know that the commission and its chair have been misrepresented on the comments about slavery. They have stated that any suggestion that they downplayed the history of slavery is “absurd” and deeply “offensive”:
“The report merely says that, in the face of the inhumanity of slavery, African people preserved their humanity and culture.”
The hon. Gentleman might be interested in the commission recommendation on new curriculum resources better to teach this complex history of the people of Britain.
I wish to report to the House and to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that 20 Members of the House, including my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich (Tom Hunt), for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith) and for Broxtowe (Darren Henry), have written to the Charity Commission complaining about the Runnymede Trust’s treatment of the commissioners and its response to the report, which, frankly, reflects the outrage of those who have had their long-standing bourgeois liberal prejudices challenged. It is important that the Minister give me an assurance today that she will make representations across Government to stop the worthless work—often publicly funded—of organisations that are promulgating weird, woke ideas and that, in doing so, are seeding doubt and fear and, more than that, disharmony and disunity.
My right hon. Friend is right. It is important that we in Government do not inadvertently promote people who are pushing divisive narratives, and I will look into his request and see what we can do across the House and across Government.
It is interesting that my right hon. Friend, too, raises the Runnymede Trust. He might not be aware of this, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission has written an open letter to the Runnymede Trust. In its letter of 12 April, its chair states that the Runnymede Trust made “unsubstantiated allegations” about the EHRC, questioned its “impartiality and impact” and impugned its credibility. The letter also said that the Runnymede Trust showed “an apparent misunderstanding” about the EHRC’s
“mandate as set out in statute”.
I was really shocked to read the commissioners’ letter and to learn that the Runnymede Trust had even asked—or certainly implied—that the EHRC should be defunded, which is surely the opposite of what a charity focused on improving race relations should want, and the complete opposite of its objectives, which goes to the point that my right hon. Friend made.
In the light of the job statistics released this morning indicating that young people and London have been particularly hard hit over the past 12 months, the issue of ethnic minority employment and pay prospects is pressing for many of my constituents. The report paints a largely positive story of an overall convergence between minorities and the white majority when it comes to employment and pay, yet the official data makes it perfectly clear that the situation has not markedly improved when viewed over decades. For example, the unemployment rate for black people has consistently been more than double the rate for white people over the past 20 years. How, then, does the Minister believe that the report’s claims in this area can be squared with what the available evidence clearly illustrates, which is that structural racial inequalities remain a stubborn feature of our labour market?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for engaging with some of the contents of the report rather than in divisive rhetoric. The answer to part of the question is that many of those statistics do not control for age. In this country, black people are much younger than the rest of the population, and that often ends up skewing some of the statistics. The report paints a picture of a continuing improvement and convergence, but the employment section is the bit that highlights the most significant problems, and there is quite a lot to do on that front. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to look at some of the recommendations and to let us know whether he agrees or disagrees. Before Government respond, I would encourage Members to put forward their suggestions, based on the evidence that the commission has produced, for what we should be doing.
Video link—Liz Saville Roberts.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Dirprwy Lefarydd. While of course the commissioners must be respected, their report should undergo scrutiny. They say they did not find conclusive evidence of institutional racism in the areas examined. Dr Robert Jones of Cardiff University provides Wales-specific evidence that 36 black people in every 1,000 experience stop and search, compared with five white people; that 91 black people for every 10,000 are in prison, compared with 14 white people; and that prison sentences for black people stand at an average of 30 months, rising to 35 months for mixed people, compared with an average of 20 months for white people. To what other institutional factors does the Minister ascribe the greatest part of those disparities? Will she work with the next Welsh Government to implement Plaid Cymru’s manifesto commitment of a race equality action plan to address this issue?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. I think I should again clarify what the commission says on the existence of racism. It states:
“Overt and outright racism persists in the UK. Examples of it loom larger in our minds because we witness it not just as graffiti on our walls or abuse hurled across our streets,”
but even in private settings.
On the over-representation of minority groups in stop-and-search, the commission looks at the causes and at where stop and search happens. It happens in London, which is where the vast majority of ethnic minorities live, compared with the rest of the country. That does have an impact on the data. The commission also puts forward recommendations on things we can do to build trust in the police to reduce the number of stop-and-searches that are required. I have forgotten the second point that the right hon. Lady raised, but I think it was in a similar vein.
Discrimination is not explained by disparities alone. Sometimes it is the case; sometimes it is not. Where it is the case, the commission has identified that; where it is not, it has put forward other potential explanations.
One of the refreshing things about the report is the careful balance between acknowledging the challenges that are still very real and the progress that is happening. Here in Leicestershire, that progress is very visible on wages and employment. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are to make further progress it is essential to acknowledge the progress that has been made and to understand the causes—how, why and where this is happening—so that we can go further and make more progress?
Yes, that is absolutely right: I do agree. We need to focus on what works and why, as well as what does not and why, so that we can target our resources where they will be most effective. The report looks at why certain groups that are very similar end up with completely different outcomes, which is why institutional racism cannot be the defining reason. When black African and black Caribbean groups, and Indians and Pakistanis, have diverging outcomes, it is clear that something else is going on. I hope that my hon. Friend will work with Government to try to find out what measures we can put in place to address these disparities.
The report talks about creating agency so that individuals can take greater control of decisions that impact their lives. In response, will the Minister recommend that English for speakers of other languages funding, which has been cut by more than 50% since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, be reinstated?
If the hon. Lady has a comprehensive proposal about that, she can write to me and we will consider it in the light of the Government response.
I served on the Youth Justice Board with the chairman of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, Dr Tony Sewell. My experience was that he always acted with integrity and that he had the courage to challenge the conventional wisdom when he found evidence to suggest an alternative perspective. Does my hon. Friend share my abhorrence at how he and his fellow commissioners have been vilified, abused and threatened? Does she share my concern that such a response risks putting off other people from carrying out important work that can help to improve our society for all communities?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend and I thank him very much for telling us about his personal experience working with Dr Tony Sewell. I believe that Keith Fraser, one of the other commissioners, is also a member of the Youth Justice Board. One reason why I believe there has been much push-back against the report is that it has not come from the usual suspects. We did not go to the race relations industry to ask people to tell us the same things they have been telling us for a long time; we went to people who work in the field such as doctors, teachers, policemen, scientists, economists and journalists—including, I might add, a former chair of the Runnymede Trust—to find out what we can do to improve disparities in this country.[Official Report, 22 April 2021, Vol. 692, c. 5MC.] We went to the people who actually had the experience in doing things rather than just talking, and I am very proud of the commission and the work it has done.
Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of family units and their critical role in our communities up and down the UK. That is why I welcome, in particular, recommendation 19, which outlines seminal plans to understand and take action to address the underlying issues facing families across all backgrounds. Will my hon. Friend put those words into actions and ensure that our local authorities support the most vulnerable families who are experiencing disadvantage and discrimination?
My hon. Friend is right that local authorities have a very important role to play in this space. I am very pleased that he has actually read the recommendation and not just the reports about the report. Local authorities have played an important part in mitigating the disproportionate impact of covid on some ethnic minorities via the community champion scheme, for which we announced funding last autumn. With regard to his other comments, the Government response is not yet prepared; it will be coming in due course in the summer. We will consider the recommendation that he has made in the light of the full report.
In her responses, the Minister repeatedly conflates disagreement with this report with misrepresentation or not having read the report, so let us draw a line under that—we have read it, but we know that institutional racism is still felt across every area of the UK and that there is no new story to tell about slavery and colonialism. She may disagree, but does she at least recognise and understand why people—more specifically the people this report is about—overwhelmingly see this report as steeped in denial and why it is viewed as a complete insult to those who have been the victims of institutional racism, such as black women, who are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth? Does she recognise that denial is a core mechanism of institutional racism? Can she explain how she plans to push ahead with this report when it is so widely rejected by those it impacts?
If the hon. Lady reads beyond The Guardian and perhaps statements in the Morning Star, she will realise that the report has been welcomed by many, many organisations, not just the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but even the Royal College of Physicians and many more. I am not here to reel out a list of who supports the Government. It is interesting that she says that I confuse disagreement with divisiveness, because it was her colleague the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) who just stood up there and called people “racial gatekeepers”. I wonder whether the hon. Lady agrees with that comment, which is unbelievably divisive rhetoric. What I would say to her is that she does not speak for all ethnic minorities. Ethnic minorities are not uniquely left wing, and to claim that a report about black and brown people can only talk about issues from her perspective completely ignores the fact that there are many of us, of various skin colours—she can see my face and she knows I am a black woman, just like her—who disagree. We disagree. She raises the point about maternal health, and I would like to take the opportunity to make this point: in a debate on 11 March, she said that
“one in four black women dies in childbirth”.—[Official Report, 11 March 2021; Vol. 690, c. 1089.]
That statistic, which thankfully she has now corrected, is completely wrong. The actual figure is not 25% of black women, but 0.34%. It is a very confusing statistic because we often represent the numbers in terms of numbers per 800,000.[Official Report, 27 April 2021, Vol. 693, c. 2MC.] What I have been doing is working on maternal health. I have spoken to the chief midwifery officer and to Dame Donna Kinnair, the head of the Royal College of Nursing; we in government have had conversations and they all accept that because the numbers are so small, it will often be very hard to target effectively, but that does not mean we will not try. We do have a maternal health strategy, which I know the hon. Lady has seen, and I wish that for once she would acknowledge the work that the Government have done, rather than repeating false statistics and pretending that nothing is happening, when that is far from the truth.
I thank my hon. Friend for her statement. The commission’s report rightly sets how geography, family make-up and socioeconomics contribute to inequality, but the report is also clear that that does not mean that racism does not exist in our country today. Echoing the McGregor review, the reports shows, for example, racism that people experience when applying for a job. Will the Government include specific policies to tackle racism at work in the response that my hon. Friend talked about in her opening statement, as well as tackling the more general economic inequality, which can affect everyone in society?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. Everyone has a part to play. I cannot outline the Government response now; we are still working on it, as I announced in my statement. However, the report makes recommendations not just for Government, but for the public sector, the private sector, businesses and individuals. There will be plenty that we can do to address those issues, and we will see what the Government have to say on them in their response in the summer.
The commission’s chair says that it found no evidence in Britain of institutional racism, which it defines as
“racist or discriminatory processes, policies, attitudes or behaviours in a single institution.”
How does the Minister for Equalities square that with the policy of holiday park operator Pontins to ban Gypsies and Travellers from its premises? Is not deliberate discrimination on the grounds of race, whether by arms of the state or private corporations, institutional racism in plain sight?
The commission looked at specific areas; it did not examine Pontins. It did not say that there is no institutional racism in Britain; as I said in my statement, it said that about the areas it looked at. I do not believe that the holiday sector was one of the areas it examined. For what it is worth, no business should discriminate against people on the basis of their ethnicity or background. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and I share that view. I do not know the full details of the Pontins situation, but that is exactly the kind of thing that we want to address in Government, so that we can make sure that communities get fair treatment. What is good about the commission’s report is that, unlike many reports that look at race and racism, is actually looks at the Gypsy, Romany and Traveller community, especially in respect of education—many people ignore them because they are classified as white, which I do not think is the right way to go. That is one reason why it is important to disaggregate BAME and talk about specific groups.
May I thank my hon. Friend the Minister personally for reaching out after the threat that my fiancé and I received last week?
Since the report was published, many Carshalton and Wallington residents have asked to see the Government’s response and what action is now going to be taken. Will my hon. Friend confirm that once a response has been issued and work has begun on implementing recommendations, the GEO will begin to establish mechanisms to measure the success of measures and provide regular updates to the House?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. This is very much part of the ethos of the equality hub: there is no point in enacting policy and then not checking to see whether it is successful. In fact, too many resources have probably been spent on creating activities but not necessarily checking whether they are generating the benefits that we expect. I thank my hon. Friend for that question and assure him that that is the way we intend to approach these issues.
I put on record my thanks for the work of the Runnymede Trust and declare an interest as a former member of staff there, working as its public affairs manager. The Runnymede Trust is a leading race equality think-tank and has, through some of its quality work and research, helped to identify issues in respect of addressing race equality in this country.
I wish to focus on the commission and the issues around education. The commission focuses a lot on the educational experience of young black and minority ethnic students, but I hope the Minister will agree with me on this. A few years ago a Runnymede Trust article highlighted the fact that when a number of black and minority ethnic students who do well at GCSE and A-level go to university, their degree classifications are much lower, which has a big impact on them securing work when they leave university. Will the Minister agree to look at this issue and not just accept the commission’s report in terms of saying that for all black and minority ethnic students educational attainment is going in the right direction?
I am pleased that the hon. Lady has actually read the report. As I said, I am happy to debate and disagree, but not to be misrepresented.
The hon. Lady raises an interesting point about what is happening in education. I should clarify that the good news that the report highlights is around GCSEs; it probably agrees with her about what is going on in higher education. The report talks about black students being more likely to take poorer quality courses at less prestigious universities, and there is a big disparity in the fact that black students are the least likely to go to a high tariff provider and are 1.7 times more likely than their white peers to attend what the report describes as “low tariff institutions”. Part of the difference is due to the high progression rate into higher education for black students, but the report also talks about the sort of advice that they are given. It is very much an issue that we should explore further and I will encourage colleagues from the Department for Education to look into it. If the hon. Lady wants to write to them directly, I encourage her to do that.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and note her comments about the former Runnymede Trust. We on the Conservative Benches have worked well with people such as Trevor Phillips, and one of the commissioners, Samir Shah, is also a former chair of the Runnymede Trust, but I cannot accept the behaviour of the current chair and some staff members.[Official Report, 22 April 2021, Vol. 692, c. 6MC.]
The Sewell report recognises that issues of mistrust and unfairness, whether they are real or perceived, really matter, especially in policing. Will my hon. Friend engage with her Home Office colleagues to develop proposals to build on the good work that has been done to make local police forces more representative of the communities that they serve and introduce more community oversight of local policing?
Yes, that is one of the recommendations in the report and it is clear from what it says that trust and fairness are key issues for ethnic minority communities, particularly when it comes to policing, as my hon. Friend has just highlighted. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime and Policing is already engaging with the commission to discuss its recommendations in that regard and I welcome his early initiative in doing so.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Inaudible.]
Sorry, Janet, we have lost you.
…to address structural inequalities of race and ethnicity in the social security system.
I am afraid that I did not hear most of the question. If the hon. Lady writes to me, I shall send her a comprehensive response in a letter.
Sorry, Janet, the volume went for whatever reason.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, because the children’s commissioner for England and the Royal College of Physicians have welcomed recommendations in their respective fields, it is clear that the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was motivated by outcomes rather than outrage?
Absolutely. I welcome the support shown by those leading experts in their respective fields and I thank them for their positive engagement with the report’s findings and recommendations that pertain to them. The Sewell commission, as I understand it, adopted an approach that was driven by a need for better outcomes, not better process, which is testament to its strong desire to effect change for all, not for a selected few. I am very happy to accept that there will probably never be a race report in this country that everyone will get behind. We have very different views on it, but what we do need is to hear from those people who have different views from what we constantly hear reported.
Minister, is it common sense to want to ignore the difficult part of our history and withdraw funding from charitable organisations, including the National Trust and the Runnymede Trust, which highlight the consequences of institutional racism, as members of the so-called Common Sense Group is proposing? Is that not divisive rhetoric that stokes culture wars?
It is interesting that the hon. Lady raises that point. The Runnymede Trust has said, according to a letter from the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, that the EHRC should not have funding. It implied that the EHRC should be defunded, so if she wants to talk about people who want to defund charities and organisations working on racial equality, she should ask the chair of the Runnymede Trust why she made that statement.[Official Report, 22 April 2021, Vol. 692, c. 6MC.]
May I begin by commending the Minister for her appearance at the Dispatch Box today, which has been rightly and appropriately robust at times? I very much welcome this report as it is one of the first reports on race that acknowledges the disadvantage experienced by many white working class boys in our country and also acknowledges the geographical disparities that exist. Will she ensure that the recommendations in the Sewell report are brought forward as part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the importance of this report and the opportunity it provides for the Government to make Britain a fairer society for all. This report is the first attempt to grip the complex reality of ethnic advantage and disadvantage. Unlike many other reports on race and ethnicity, it is also the first to include some of the profound disparities experienced by the race and ethnic majority in this country. Educational outcomes for children in this group are a critical part of the commission’s deliberations and its approach to the 24 recommendations is one that stands to benefit all, regardless of their race, ethnicity or socio-economic background. We want a country that is fair for everyone. The Government are now actively considering this report and the recommendations that it makes and look forward to publishing their full response in due course.
I thank the Minister for her statement and for responding to 28 questions.