Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:12 pm on 21st April 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade) (Minister for Women), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 1:12 pm, 21st April 2021

My Lords, the Government will not be rejecting this report outright. When I began to read this report, it did not match, in my view, what had been reported in some parts of the media about it. I commend it to noble Lords to read. It is 258 pages long, so it will take a bit of diary time to do that. It is an evidence-based report; it is our first official attempt to look at ethnic disadvantages and advantages. First, dealing with the theme of the noble Baroness’s speech regarding structural racism, the report commends and stands by the Macpherson definition of institutional racism. As we stand here, the day before Stephen Lawrence Day, I think it is important to recognise that. It has stood the test of time.

In the areas the commission was reporting on, the evidence base did not support structural racism findings. However, the report is incredibly clear that racist incidents, racist prejudice and racism exist today in this country and should be dealt with and condemned wherever they are found. It is not an offensive report. It does not glorify racism but stands against it. The noble Baroness recognised that we are not the Britain of the 1950s and 1960s. That is not to say we are a perfect country. As the report outlines, the commission hopes that it is

“a road map for racial fairness.”

We are still on a journey in relation to this.

The 10 commissioners did this report as volunteers. They were not paid to do it and are all present, as commissioners, standing by the report. They did not seek to blame ethnic-minority individuals for their lot in life. I regret to say that that is a misrepresentation of the report.

In relation to the criticism that the United Nations has made of the report, unusually, the UK Government have responded to say that, again, that is a misrepresentation of the report. I do not mean to do a disservice to the report but, compared with the media reporting, it is a tad dull in the way its narrative is written. It is not the stuff of the headlines. The UN response has misrepresented it. It is not a matter of disagreement here, which we all welcome around reports put into the public domain, but when that strays into the line of misrepresenting the evidence and the findings, we have to speak out. The Minister for Equalities in the other place will write to the United Nations group to outline what we believe is a misrepresentation of this report.

I can quite categorically say to the noble Baroness that no, No. 10 Downing Street did not write the report. The communication strategy was by an independent person not connected to No. 10. There is no false binary here in the report. It is evidence based. It commissioned research from the University of Oxford. It included the white-majority population for the first time in a report such as this. Within our population, it attempted to separate out different groups with different experiences.

The noble Baroness is, though, right to draw attention to the fact that, unfortunately, Covid has led to a recent increase in young, black unemployment. We are looking at the response to that. There are various initiatives, funded particularly with some London boroughs, trying to redress that. With Brent and Newham, we are looking at the Black Training and Enterprise Group and the Moving Up programme. There are also, of course, some geographical disparities in where job losses have been, so we have to look at the granular data as to why that has been an outcome at the moment, and at the causes of that, to redress it. Obviously, across the whole population of this country, we are trying to drive up the skills base and increase the profile of apprenticeships in order for people to get the skills that they need.

It is important to outline the commission’s response to the criticism of its remarks about slavery. It says this:

“There has … been a wilful misrepresentation by some people of the Commission’s view on the history of slavery. The idea that the Commission would downplay the atrocities of slavery is as absurd as it is offensive to every one of us. The report merely says that in the face of the inhumanity of slavery, African people preserved their humanity and culture. The Commission’s recommendation for Government to create inclusive curriculum resources is about teaching these histories which often do not get the attention they deserve.”

It is important to put accurate comments on the record in relation to the commission’s remarks on slavery.

We are looking seriously at the 24 recommendations. A group has been formed within the Cabinet Office, chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to look at the recommendations put forward.

In relation to the role of the family, the commission is very clear:

“We reject both the stigmatisation of single mothers and the turning of a blind eye to the impact of family breakdown on the life chances of children.”

That is a balanced statement. This is the first commission to look at the effect of family structure. Like me, many noble Lords will know of families who have lost the other parent due to death. To suggest that we would say to them that there is not a huge impact on their children puts the matter in a less political context.

I have to disagree with the noble Baroness. As noble Lords will be aware, I often stand at this Dispatch Box on behalf of the Department for Education. There have been incredible achievements across education among certain ethnic groups. We have seen an incredible rise in particular in the number of black African boys going on to higher education at the moment. I do not recognise the noble Baroness’s characterisation of structural racism across our system. That is not to say that there are not incidents within our schools that need to be dealt with as and when they happen, and we would of course expect any member of teaching staff treating any pupil in that way to be subject to disciplinary measures.

The report is a careful, evidence-based piece of work that we will look at. It is very illustrative of the different achievements in different sectors of ethnic-minority groups—for instance, the incredible educational performance of some second-generation British south-east Asian communities—but that is not to say that we do not have issues to deal with around educational participation in, for instance, the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. It is a complex and nuanced picture that is Britain and England today, and we will look at the recommendations carefully.