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 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.