Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:27 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 2:27 pm, 18th June 2020

Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lefarydd. I thank Dawn Butler for her trenchant speech in opening this debate.

Members have risen to speak in the House on matters relating to inequality and BAME communities with depressing regularity over the years. I thank Theresa Villiers for saying we have come a long way. I will refer a little to my own history. I am very aware that I am a white woman speaking on this matter, but before moving to Wales I was raised in Eltham, in south-east London. Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1993 compelled that community—my old home community—to deeply question its values. The Macpherson report in 1999 made 70 recommendations aimed at tackling institutional racism, primarily within the criminal justice system, yet 20 years later and black people in Wales are five times over-represented in the prison population, Asian people are 1.7 times over-represented, and people from a mixed ethnic group are 2.7 times over-represented. This is a significant indicator of the structural racism and inequality in our society.

This is the hard reality of criminal justice and inequality. Our police forces are indeed very different from those of 1993, but disproportionately too many young men and women have blighted lives and spend much of their lives in the criminal justice system. Those figures reveal that all the good intentions of report after review after commission in no way reflect the lived experience of too many black people, and this is the background of today’s debate.

Many hon. Members have spoken already today about the pernicious effect of institutional racism within healthcare and the wider community. Many have questioned why it has taken the covid-19 crisis to make heroes of health and care staff and to show us clearly exactly how many of those frontline workers are from BAME communities. Representing a constituency now in north-west Wales, I hope that one of the messages we can get from this is: look at how dependent we are on people and look at what the outcomes have been for these people. Are we content for our society to ignore this?

Members have pointed out the obvious: there have been enough reviews, enough commissions and enough descriptions of how racism oozes from private attitudes into public experience. Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter campaign together are reforging our values and forcing us to question our cultural heritage. Thinking again of Stephen Lawrence and all the battles that his brave parents, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, have fought in the intervening years, the people my family knew in Eltham back then did not think of themselves as racists and we did not think of ourselves as racists, but look what happened in Well Hall Road.

People like us would have been horrified to be called racists and people like us are still horrified to be called racists, but that is not enough, is it? It is not enough to be not racist. Our social media feeds tonight will almost certainly include comments that “all lives matter”. Of course all lives matter, but it is not an indictment of anybody for us to be calling for this particular attention. One person’s gain is not another person’s loss. If we are not racists, we must be anti-racist. Do not commission; act on what we already know.