I am grateful to all those who have got in touch with me in recent weeks. The shocking events in America and the subsequent protests here in the UK have prompted so many of you to contact me to share your outrage, upset and frustration. What happened to George Floyd in his final minutes was appalling and inexcusable. There is no place for racism in our society. It is absolutely abhorrent. We must all work together to tackle it so we can move forward and celebrate the wealth of diversity across the country.
Tackling racism involves addressing every part of our daily lives. I have long been concerned about the inequalities which seem to be deeply ingrained in our criminal justice system. The figures are stark. The Lammy Report which was published in 2017 found that BAME people make up 3 per cent of the population but more than 12 per cent of the adult prison population. The proportion of under-18s in custody who are BAME rose from 25 per cent in 2006 to 41 per cent in 2016. We talked about the review regularly during my time on the Commons Justice Committee and I have often raised these matters in debates and with ministers. There is clearly a lot to be done to tackle such systemic inequalities.
The UK operates one of the world’s most robust and transparent export control regimes. The Government takes it export control responsibilities very seriously. Each export licence application is considered on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. The Consolidated Criteria provide a thorough risk assessment framework, requiring the Government to think very carefully about the possible impact of providing equipment and its capabilities. Having sought reassurances, I have been told that the Government will not grant an export licence if doing so would be inconsistent with the criteria.
COVID-19 and people from BAME backgrounds
The Health Secretary commissioned Public Health England (PHE) to complete an urgent review on the disparities in risk and outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic and has now published its findings. The report confirms that being black or from a minority ethnic background is a major risk factor, both in contracting the disease and, sadly, dying from it. This is deeply concerning and there is much more work to be done to understand the key drivers of these disparities, the relationships between the different risk factors and what must be done to close the gap. It is important that we build on this initial work.
Professor Kevin Fenton was asked to lead the review by PHE and has been engaging with a significant number of individuals and organisations within the BAME community over the past couple of months to hear their views. This has now been published in a second report by PHE which provides additional information and insights on the relationship between COVID-19 and BAME communities in England. I am encouraged that this report makes a series of recommendations which build on the views shared with Professor Fenton. I understand the Equalities Minister will build on this by taking forward this work, working with the Race Disparity unit and across government where necessary.
These reports are an important step, but this work is still ongoing. I will continue to follow this issue extremely closely and to press ministerial colleagues to tackle health inequalities.
The right to peaceful protest is an important part of our democracy, and that was largely the case during the recent protests. It is a shame that a small minority of those participating chose to use violence. As the Prime Minister has made very clear, protesters have no right to attack the police. Those responsible will be held to account.
There are many other ways you can make your voice heard that allow for social distancing and the protection of Public Health. Many constituents have been signing petitions, circulating information amongst organisations and spreading useful, educational tools.
The case of Belly Mujinga is a tragedy. No-one should face abuse while they are simply trying to do their job. While I appreciate that the British Transport Police investigated the incident and initially found no evidence that an offence had occurred, they have asked the Crown Prosecution Service to look into her death. I will continue to follow the case closely.
It is, of course, absolutely vital that young people in this country learn about Black history. All schools have the freedom to teach it from primary school age onwards, as part of the history curriculum. I can recall my daughters learning about the life of Black Britons like Mary Seacole. Schools have flexibility over how this is taught and which resources to use from a range of organisations and sources, including the Black Curriculum if they choose. There are also other opportunities for pupils to be taught about different societies and how different groups have contributed to the development of Britain in subjects such as English. Tolerance and respect for diversity is mandatory in citizenship lessons.
I hope this has been helpful in setting out some of my thoughts on this extremely important issue. While we have made some progress since I was a little girl, there is clearly much more to be done. I thought the Home Secretary conveyed sentiment very well in her remarks to the House when she said:
“This Government are clear that racism and discrimination in any form have no place in our society, and we will do whatever is required to eradicate it. Of course there is more we can do. There is more that we should all do to combat inequalities across society, to support those seeking social justice and better life chances and to offer hope, but all too often, too many are confronted by despair. It is right in any democracy, in an open and free society, that we advance these issues in a constructive, sensitive and responsible way.”
Victoria Prentis MP