[Sir Graham Brady in the Chair]
[Relevant documents: e-petition 324092, Teach Britain’s colonial past as part of the UK’s compulsory curriculum, and e-petition 323961, Making the UK education curriculum more inclusive of BAME history, Oral evidence taken before the Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee on 5 and
Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate. That can be done either at the testing centre in the House, or at home. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated, and when entering and leaving the room.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Black History Month 2021.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Sir Graham. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this vital debate and I extend my thanks to the hon. Members who supported my application and have joined to participate today. To some, this might be just another debate, but for black and minority ethnic communities, holding this debate in Parliament shows that we recognise and celebrate that history and their achievements right across the UK and the world. I sincerely hope that general debates to celebrate Black History Month will become a regular fixture on the parliamentary calendar.
This year’s theme for Black History Month is “Proud to Be”. That is so important because so many are made to feel uncomfortable about their ethnic heritage, cultural history and language—seen, or felt to be seen, by others as the other, inferior or a minority. However, black people have so much to be proud of culturally in the ways we have contributed to British history, and we ought to be proud to be both black and British. In her Adjournment debate last week, my hon. Friend Abena Oppong-Asare highlighted several black British individuals who make us feel proud. I am sure that colleagues will no doubt mention several more individuals who have made significant contributions to our nation’s history and who we ought to be proud of. From Yvonne Conolly, the UK’s first black headteacher, to C. L. R. James, the renowned author, from William Cuffay, the leading figure of the Chartist movement, to my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott, the first black woman to be elected to this Parliament, we see figures who reflect the diversity of our country and who we can all be proud of.
The UK has its own rich civil rights history, which my generation and those before me were unfortunately never formally taught and have had to take it upon ourselves to learn. Not recognising yourself in your history can have a serious impact on your identity. How are we expected to feel “Proud to Be” if we are shown by omission that the contributions of black people are not worth being taught in our schools? Colleagues may be aware of the petition that circulated last year, which called for the UK to teach Britain’s colonial past as part of the curriculum. It achieved over 260,000 signatures and, along with similar petitions, means that the teaching of black history in schools has received the most support of any parliamentary petition in our history.
That appetite has not waned at all, because more than 660 schools in England have signed up for a diverse and anti-racist curriculum developed by teachers and council staff in the London Borough of Hackney. The Black Contribution aims to teach young people about not just the history of black people, but fundamentally the history that we all share because—as I hope everyone has heard many times throughout this month—black history is British history.
Now is the perfect time to pay tribute to the Labour Government in Wales, which have instituted black history as part of their curriculum. Seeing them lead the way and seeing how much support that has had, I cannot understand why the Government still refuse to commit to putting black history in the curriculum, when there is such widespread support. Perhaps when responding to the debate, the Minister can inform us the reason why the Government refuse to take action on this.
Instead, unfortunately, what we have seen is discussions descending into a so-called war on woke and culture wars, and other, very bizarre claims about the phrase “white privilege”, how it has affected us and the idea that it is being widely taught in schools. First, anyone who actually speaks to teachers will find that that is not a feature in any of the lessons. We do not hear about children running home from school talking about it or, indeed, about teachers asking Timmy, “What’s 1 + 1?”, Timmy saying, “2”, and the teachers saying, “Aha! Timmy, you knew the answer because of white privilege.” We do not hear such nonsense. That is not what is happening in our schools. Secondly, teaching children about race inequality, as some teachers will do during Black History Month, is not what is holding back working-class children in our education system. It was not teaching about racism that closed down hundreds of youth services or cut funding per pupil in this country; that was this Government. It is those policies that hold back working-class children from all our communities.
I completely understand why this Government may not want to talk about race, and especially not about their record on race, but ignoring these issues will not lead to the post-racial society that some people believe we are living in. We have to address them. We have to address past issues of slavery and colonialism and their lasting impact, which is the racism we face today, and we have to do it by education and other means. I would be proud to be part of a Parliament that finally apologised for the atrocities of slavery and colonialism. Yesterday I was pleased to officially launch the all-party parliamentary group on African reparations and am looking forward to policy on this. Cambridge University recently returned, and quite proudly so, two of the looted Benin bronzes, but there are over 3,000 in this country and 900 alone in the British Museum. Reparations begin with things such as that: giving back these things that do not belong to us.
We know that over the past few years there has been no shortage of discussions about racial disparities. We have had debates about the impact of covid on black and ethnic minority communities, about the need to teach black history as part of the curriculum, about racial disparities in maternal health outcomes, and about the ethnicity employment gap and the ethnicity pay gap, and of course the Black Lives Matter protests, a tragic reminder that racism can be a matter of life and death. Time and time again, we have raised the ongoing racial disparities in the UK, and time and time again we have called on the Government to act, but the response has been felt to be full of platitudes and empty gestures, with a report that told us, quite famously, that systemic racism does not exist and that in some ways actually attempted to create some racial divides.
Although it seems like we have talked about it quite a lot, given that the last CRED—Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities—report was only released earlier this year, it would be remiss of me not to mention it. As far as I am concerned, it turns back the clock on ending racial inequality. There are other reports and inquiries that have outlined how racism continues across society, and report after report outlining the social causes and political failings that underpin it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her amazing speech. She alludes to the fact that there have been multiple reports on racial inequality in this country. Does she agree that if the Government just took some time and looked at beginning to implement some of those recommendations, we might, just maybe, begin to make some headway on racial inequality?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we had gone down that road, perhaps we would not be having the discussions that we are having today.
We need to think about what that report said, when it decided that there was no institutional or systemic racism, and how that discounts years of lived experience and the things that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds have experienced in this country. What I could not understand at the time was whether the Government believed they would get any buy-in for a report that was so widely discredited across our communities or to what extent, given how discredited it has been, it was actually for our communities, even though it was very much about them.
The idea that institutional racism does not exist means that there is no action for the state to take, because it is not an institutional problem. As far as I am concerned, the Government appear to be absolving themselves of responsibility to take action on institutions that fail to deliver racial equality. We did not need that report; we needed action on reports gone by. We certainly did not need a new story about slavery and colonialism, when the one that we have at the moment is not even being widely taught.
My hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova pointed to the recommendations of reports gone by that have not been implemented, and my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy reminded me that the Government continue to stall on implementing fully his Lammy review. In the meantime, BAME youth custody now sits at 51%, which is an increase of 10% on when he was asked to do the review just five years ago.
The Windrush lessons learned review by Wendy Williams was also commissioned by the Government. Even the author of the report has said how woeful it is that, again, the Government continue not to act on the recommendations. Furthermore, the scandal continues, because many people caught up in it have not yet received compensation or their proper status of leave to remain in this country.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. When we talk about unimplemented reports and inquiries, we could go all the way back to the early ’80s and the Scarman inquiry. If everything that Scarman spoke about had been addressed, we would not be in the situation we are in today.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is what we want to bring to an end. We have to stop this cycle whereby something bad happens, we have a report or inquiry, and the Government—successive Governments—just push it under the carpet and wait until the next disaster in which racial inequality is raised. Part of why we are not making headway is that the bodies that are meant to protect us and to apply checks and balances on the Government simply do not have the ability to do so.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights report, “Black people, racism and human rights”, said that overall there was a very damning picture of structural racism right across society, such as in health, immigration, policing, the justice system and electoral participation. It also mentioned, in a key way, the failures of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is tasked with policing equality and, potentially, enforcing such targets. However, it is not fit for purpose in its current form. How could it be? It is supposed to be an independent arm’s length body, but its major appointments are still made by the Government. That must make it difficult to take action when Government policies lead to inequality or human rights breaches. That has been highlighted in many court cases over the past few years. The EHRC also appears to have rarely used and limited investigation and enforcement powers, and it has an ever-dwindling budget. In practice, it has become a body with no teeth.
In my work on the Women and Equalities Committee, we have found that when people—the Government included—refuse to comply with what they are meant to do under equalities legislation, the Equality and Human Rights Commission appears to be able to do very little. Key to that, given that our main purpose here every day is to pass legislation, is that the Government do not produce equality impact assessments of various pieces of legislation. When they do, at times they refuse to publish them. How on earth are we meant to hold the Government to account and ensure that they are complying with our equalities law? Why does our equalities law always have to be an add-on?
Frankly, black communities need fewer champions and more enforcement of what are supposed to be the rights that protect us. Report after report has reinforced not only the issues, but the recommendations that we need to bring about systemic change. If we were clear about our equalities legislation and the guidance, we would be moving forward.
When we discuss racial inequality and call on the Government to introduce policy to change things, we are not asking for anything beyond equality; we are simply asking the Government to recognise how we are treated as a community in this country and to take meaningful action to change it. Likewise, when we ask the Government for black histories to be taught as part of the curriculum, we are not asking for that to be done over other aspects of British history; we are asking them to recognise that black history is British history—it is a part of that history—but that it is not taught widely, as it should be. They should take those key steps to ensure that that is done.
If racism is ignorance, and education is the absence of ignorance, there is an obvious answer to dealing with racial inequality; it is simple and it costs the Government nothing to start just there—with education.
I begin by declaring my non-pecuniary interest as chair of the advisory board of Conservatives Against Racism For Equality. I do not think there is any point shying away from the truth that I am the only Back-Bench Conservative who is here today. I hope that part of the purpose of CARFE can be to encourage Conservative MPs to rise to the leadership and representational responsibility that we all have.
I am very pleased to follow Bell Ribeiro-Addy and I congratulate her on this debate. She said that black history is British history; I absolutely agree with her. We certainly should be facing up to our history. As I listened to her, and as I reflect on what she said—as well as on some of the things that have been said to me—I realise that an element of this is that we are asking people to face up to acts and facts of shame in our history. It is a very uncomfortable thing for people to do, particularly when those of us alive today are not responsible for the crimes of the past. Nevertheless, it is necessary for us to face up to the crimes of the past and to recognise, as the hon. Lady said, that black history is British history. However painful it may be to face up to it, we must do so in a way that is inclusive and will appeal—if I may say so—to white people to be part of.
To reflect for a moment on my own journey, as I have possibly said before, growing up as part of an ordinary family in Cornwall I suppose I was able to take for granted the equality of all people for most of my childhood and adult life. I wonder what proportion of the UK public today are also able to take for granted racial equality, without reflecting much on the experience that people who are not white have—and, in particular, that black people have.
I am very proud of Wycombe; I am delighted to speak in this debate because, once again, we have an opportunity to celebrate the history, achievements and contributions of black people in Wycombe, and across the UK. Wycombe was a very popular destination for people coming from the Caribbean, and I am sorry to say that sometimes their contribution has been overlooked. I hope to put that right. I am very grateful for the work of Wycombe Museum. This October, it has been celebrating our fantastic community with a selection of events funded with support from—my notes say the Department formerly known as MHCLG—the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, as well as Thames Valley police among others. The museum has a very close relationship with the High Wycombe-based SV2G, which celebrates the second generation from St Vincent. I am incredibly proud of the whole community.
SV2G shed light on the tragic life of George Alexander Gratton, a child from St Vincent and the Grenadines born into slavery and transported to Britain. Wycombe has the largest population of Vincentians in the UK. In last year’s debate I spoke about George Alexander Gratton, and I encourage people to look at his story. I particularly want to congratulate those organisations in Wycombe for the work that they do to promote black history and to keep alive Wycombe’s place within it.
My hon. Friend Peter Gibson was not able to attend today, and he asked me to put the following on the record for him:
“Black excellence is truly spread across the whole United Kingdom. Far from the turf of Wembley, the world’s first professional black football player started as a goalkeeper for Darlington. In 1882, Arthur Wharton abandoned his missionary training in the town to become Darlington’s goalkeeper;
he was part of the team which reached the FA cup semi-final in only his second season at the club.
I am proud that during black history month last year, a mural was unveiled in the town to mark his achievements. Darlington’s sporting excellence is continued to this day by champions like Troy Williamson who earlier this month won the British Super Welterweight title in Liverpool.”
I know that my hon. Friend is proud to represent everyone in his community.
Turning to Government policy, I welcome the Minister’s announcement that the Government will respond to the Sewell report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. I am very pleased that the Government will act on the recommendations in the report, in particular by seeking to further trust, fairness, inclusivity and agency. It is very important that the Government pick up on agency. We must express our belief in the dignity of every person and our recognition of their agency, so I look forward to the Government’s swift implementation of those recommendations.
The other members of CARFE and I are very excited by the establishment of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to properly target health disparities in the UK, focusing on research, communication and expertise to reduce those inequalities across all groups. We welcome the Government’s desire to build social and cultural capital to enrich everyone and to prevent harm, reduce crime and divert young people away from the criminal justice system. In particular, I understand that the Government are going to develop an evidence-based pilot to divert offences of low-level class B drug possession into public health services; I hope the Minister will say more about that pilot.
The Government need to replicate those factors of educational success for all communities everywhere, and I will put in a plea for levelling up in Wycombe. I am very happy to take my hon. Friend the Minister to the parts of Wycombe that certainly need extra help. The curriculum, of course, must be made more inclusive, and I again urge Ministers to make sure that we include black history as British history.
I will just touch on the idea of disaggregating the term “BAME”. I think it is unhelpful to polarise our society between white people and everybody else. With great sorrow, I would say that some of the worst racism I have ever heard was directed among different sections of the Asian community in the UK, and I think it is incumbent on us to recognise that Caribbean history is very different from the history experienced by people who have come from, for example, west Africa. I encourage the Government—I encourage everybody, actually—to disaggregate this term “BAME”. I think it leaves people separated between “white” and “everybody else”, and I want us to move into a world in which the colour of our skin does not matter any more than the colour of our eyes. We should be morally, legally and politically equal, with equal opportunities, and there should be justice in the outcomes that everyone experiences.
I am very pleased that the Race Disparity Unit has been awarded a research excellence award by the Office for National Statistics. That fact should be taken seriously, including by the Government’s critics. I welcome the Home Secretary’s endorsement of improving diversity in police forces: she has said that this is a “critical and personal priority” for her, and I think it is worth putting on the record just how diverse this Cabinet is. I am particularly proud that this Conservative Government have such a diverse Cabinet—of course, I lament that I am not in it, but I am nevertheless grateful that it is so diverse.
I am very glad that we have had this debate today. If anybody wishes to visit Wycombe, there is the opportunity to go to the “There’s Something About Wycombe” original theatre production on Friday and Saturday at Hilltop community centre. Based on a true story, it is the story of one man’s move across the world from St Vincent to High Wycombe, and the community he found there. There is also the Windrush legacy pop-up exhibition at the Eden centre, which I will be visiting on Saturday to look at the legacy of Windrush in our town.
Again, I am very proud indeed to represent Wycombe, and to represent everyone in Wycombe. As the hon. Member for Streatham said in her remarks, black history is British history. I am very proud of every section of our community, and I hope that the Minister will be able to set out an optimistic and hopeful vision of how the Government are going to help black people right across the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy on securing this debate and thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. It is an important debate, and I look forward to us continuing it in the main Chamber.
As we all know, Black History Month is a chance to celebrate and reflect on the many achievements of the black British community here in the UK. This year, it is also important to celebrate black Britons across the country who have faced huge challenges as a result of the pandemic.
Whether we know it or not, we are all affected by the brave men and women who have gone before us. I am proud to stand on the shoulders of so many of those greats—women such as the abolitionist Mary Prince, the first black woman to have a memoir of her experiences of slavery published in the UK; the amazing Mary Seacole, whose statue stands tall just over the river at St Thomas’s Hospital; Lilian Bader, one of the first black women to join the British armed forces; and the activist and campaigner Olive Morris, who was born in my Battersea constituency.
As I mention those great women, I must also mention John Archer, who was elected in Battersea in 1913 as London’s first black mayor. In his election victory speech, he rightly cited his election as a critical moment for racial equality. Being a Bristol girl, I must certainly also mention those who led the Bristol bus boycott in the 1960s: Paul Stephenson, Roy Hackett and Guy Bailey, who was my youth worker when I was growing up. Their campaign led to the overturning of that racist colour bar, and the boycott also paved the way for the Labour Government’s Race Relations Act 1965.
Learning about our history is essential. That is why, this time last year, I called for black history to be part of the national curriculum, so that all children are taught about black British history. There are great examples where this is already happening, such as St George’s Church of England Primary School in my constituency. At this point, I pay tribute to The Black Curriculum social enterprise, which is helping to deliver black history across the UK. As we have all said today—and I know we all agree—black history is British history, after all.
This year’s Black History Month comes 40 years on from the New Cross fires in south-east London—a tragic event that killed 13 young black people between the ages of 14 and 22. I think we would all agree that their lives had not even begun. It is also 40 years on from the uprisings across the country, including in Brixton, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, in response to the devastating reality of many black people in the UK: mass unemployment, poor housing conditions, police brutality and racism. My right hon. Friend Ms Abbott alluded to the Scarman report, which was commissioned as a result of many of those uprisings in the 1980s.
We should therefore ask the question: how far have we come in our fight for racial justice? Last summer, we were all captured by the Euros, when our brave England team proudly took the knee in solidarity and a call for an end to racism and injustice. Sadly, though, rather than supporting them, their Government chose to sow division and hatred, which led to the ugliest and most awful racial abuse of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka at the European cup final. My heart went out to them. As the older sister of a professional footballer, I could only imagine how their families must have felt.
Those young men and the rest of the England team united our nation, in all its diversity and difference, and showed the best of modern Britain. However, sadly, we still face deep-rooted inequalities in health, education, employment, immigration and our criminal justice system. In maternal health, we know that black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth. In the labour market, unemployment rates are up to four times higher for black people. School exclusion rates are five times higher for black Caribbean pupils in some parts of the country. We must be honest about that reality, and the Government must be bold in their response. Unfortunately, to date they have not been.
My hon. Friend has mentioned some important, though depressing, statistics about the reality of things in the country today. To add to that, there are fewer than 200 black university professors among 23,000 in the UK. Does she agree that that is a shameful figure, and one that needs bold action from this Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We must address the issue of representation in education, right the way from school through to colleges, universities and at professor level. Perhaps the Minister, in his response, can address the point on those disparities in the education system.
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, catalysed by the brutal murder of George Floyd and by the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, was an opportunity for this Government to tackle structural racism. Instead, they produced a divisive and now discredited report seeking to deny the extent of structural racism.
I thank my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy for putting forward this debate, and my hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova for the important points she has raised. Does she agree that the murder of George Floyd resulted in an increasing number of organisations and businesses across the country having uncomfortable conversations with employees about how they could do things differently and on understanding the experiences of individuals? Does she also agree that the Government need to take that a step further and implement a race equality strategy, while also looking at diversifying the curriculum? The only way we can move forward is if we learn from our past to build a better future.
My hon. Friend must have read my speech, because those are exactly the points I was going to raise. She is spot on. In my former role as shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Labour rightly rejected the report. Within days, it had been discredited by a long list of experts, including the British Medical Association, trade unions, and many human rights experts at the UN.
No. Eight months on, the Government still have not published their response to the report. I hope that the Minister will today give us a timeline, as that was promised to be published in the summer. We are now leaving autumn and going into winter. Their apathy towards meaningfully addressing structural inequalities is shameful, and an insult to those of us with that lived experience.
Today, I call on the Minister to urgently look at implementing a race equality strategy to fundamentally change those systems and institutions in which structural racial inequalities exist. That includes reforming the national curriculum, as my hon. Friend Abena Oppong-Asare has already mentioned. The Government must commit to addressing those shocking disparities in black maternal health, which leave black women at a greater risk of death during childbirth, and include the recording of accurate and robust data. They must also commit to upholding their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 in carrying out and publishing equality impact assessments. I was pleased to see that yesterday’s Budget included one, but that has not been the case with many of the Government’s policies and even legislation.
We all know that the Government should by now have responded to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report. The Minister may wish to say that the Government have conceded that the report does not even warrant a response. Perhaps the Government will just crack on and get on with implementing the recommendations from so many of those other reports alluded to by my Friend the Member for Streatham in her excellent opening remarks.
I will finish by quoting the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who said:
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
That is so important. We are all here because we care about black history. We must demand action—from ourselves, but also from the Government.
I thank Bell Ribeiro-Addy for securing this debate, which I am deeply honoured to support.
I would like to take the opportunity to put on the record a precious piece of history from my constituency, in the sincere hope that it will add to our appreciation of the value of Black History Month to a wide range of people in Wales and beyond. During last Thursday’s business statement, I was proud to mention the launch of the John Ystumllyn rose. Mr Baker said that it would have been nice to have more Conservatives attend the debate, but I must give credit to the Leader of the House, who welcomed the initiative with great enthusiasm.
John Ystumllyn is the first—there will be a number of firsts in my speech—definitively recorded black person in north Wales, and he worked as a gardener near Criccieth in Dwyfor in the 18th century. The John Ystumllyn rose is therefore a particularly poignant way to remember his life and times, but it is also a powerful symbol in and of itself. It has been created by Harkness Roses of Hitchin, which has worked with Zehra Zaidi’s We Too Built Britain campaign to make available what is believed to be the first ever rose named after a minority ethnic person in the United Kingdom.
Who was John Ystumllyn? Not surprisingly, there is quite a lot of uncertainty, and there also late records, which have their own pattern of recording. We believe he was born in west Africa around 1740. He was abducted by slavers as a young boy, with a late 19th-century account by Alltud Eifion, who was from Porthmadog in north Wales, saying that John’s last memory of his mother was how she protested as he was taken away. We do not know the name by which his family knew him, but we do know that he never saw them again.
By whatever route he arrived, we know that the boy was sent to live with the landowning Wynn family, who owned, and whose descendants still own, extensive estates in north Wales and north-west England. He learned Welsh and English, and he was baptised as John Ystumllyn. He became a well-known and talented gardener who was especially known for his skills in growing flowers. It is recorded that he was a handsome young man and much admired by the young women of the neighbourhood, and we are fortunate to have a portrait of him from 1754. He eloped with a maid who worked at Ystumllyn, Margaret Gruffydd of Hendre Mur, Trawsfynydd, and the pair were married at Dolgellau in 1768. Because they eloped from their jobs, they both lost their jobs, but John shortly found new employment in the area and was then offered his former post again. He must have been a good gardener—too good to lose.
The couple had seven children and many descendants, some of whom are believed to still be in the area. John died in 1786 and his grave can still be seen at Ynyscynhaearn churchyard, although it does give an incorrect date of death. His story conveys romance and a strong sense of how our roots are all intertwined. I have deliberately included some of the relevant place names because they resonate strongly not only with historians, but with people whose history and sense of belonging is closely tied to a sense of place. We cherish the memory of John Ystumllyn locally and it is very important to us, as he is so associated with those place names, which resonate with the history of north-west Wales.
We should also remember that while John was growing up and settling in Ystumllyn, the ships being built at Pwllheli, 10 miles away, included vessels that were designed to service the slave trade. A traveller’s diary from 1801 describes a ship—probably the Mary—as a “large Guineaman”, which is a byword for a ship involved in human trafficking from the Guinea coast of west Africa. It was fitted for 600 slaves. In Wales, there is a long history of the profits of slavery contributing to local economies—from the well-known triangular trade of copper, slaves and sugar, to what was known as Welsh plains: coarse wool made by small-scale weavers in Maldwyn and Meirionnydd, whose goods were sold to plantation owners to clothe slaves in the 18th century.
These stories all need to be told, and I am proud that the Welsh school curriculum—there has been some talk about school curriculums—will now include guidance on the history of black, Asian and ethnic minority people that is to be taught to all children who attend state schools in Wales. I mentioned earlier the delight locally—schoolchildren learn about John Ystumllyn, and that is a great source of pleasure and making connections.
I am also very proud that the first statue of a named, non-fictional woman in an outdoor public space in Wales was unveiled a month ago in Cardiff to celebrate the life and work of Betty Campbell. Betty Campbell was a first. She was the first black woman to be appointed as a headteacher in Wales, at Mount Stuart Primary, Butetown. I mentioned the proximity between Criccieth and John Ystumllyn and Pwllheli and the slave galleys. Butetown is very close to Her Majesty’s prison Cardiff. While we celebrate these histories, we have to remember the proportion of black people imprisoned in Wales. In 2017 this stood at 72 people per 10,000, while the proportion of white people is 15 per 10,000. The proportion in all the prisons in England and Wales is desperately high and wrong, but in Wales it is staggeringly wrong.
While we celebrate these firsts and successes, we must remember this great and most shocking indication of inequality. There are many, I freely grant, but in the 21st century disproportionality in imprisonment is something that we must seek to use as a marker of what we do not tolerate. It is evident that history can be both fragrant and thorny. Perhaps it is best to close with the rose of John Ystumllyn and remember that gardens have always been places that bring people together. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy on obtaining this important debate.
We have heard a lot of important points about black history, but I want to talk about more recent black history. I want to answer the question of why four black MPs were elected for the first time in 1987. It is tempting to think that it was because of our great merit or the benevolence of our political parties, but I would argue, having been one of the Members elected in 1987, that the fact that we could get selected and elected owed a lot to events in the 1980s. It is my view that the black Members of Parliament that were elected in 1987 and, with respect, black Members who are here today, stand on the shoulders of people in the community who were willing to stand up and in some cases actually cause urban disorder. Without those people at the grassroots, none of us would be here.
Colleagues have touched on these events, but let me remind Members of them. First there were the April 1981 Brixton riots. It is hard to recollect what an impact those riots had. Scenes like that had never been seen on the British mainland. I remember going to Brixton the day after those riots, seeing the devastation and realising that something really impactful had happened to the British political narrative. The reason that the Scarman report, which I mentioned earlier, made such an impact was that it was an elderly white judge saying quite shocking things about institutional racism in British society. He could not be dismissed.
Sadly, many of the things he said were not acted on, but the Scarman inquiry was extremely important. In January 1981 there was the New Cross house fire. As hon. Members have said, the slogan at the time was “13 dead, nothing said”. A black people’s day of action was organised and 20,000 people marched. I was one of those people, and the extraordinary thing about that march was that there were so many people on it who were not regular black, left activists. They were ordinary people who were shocked that 13 young people could die in this way and nothing really was being done or said about it.
Then there were the 1985 Brixton riots, which were triggered by the death of Cherry Groce. Then there was the 1985 Broadwater Farm uprising, which was triggered by a police raid that ended in the death of Cynthia Jarrett.
Without activity at grassroots level, without anger and the expression of anger—sometimes by marching, sometimes through what was written and what was said—we would not have had the tide of events that resulted in the election of four black MPs in 1987. I will touch on who they were, as I am the only one left in Parliament.
There was Keith Vaz, who read law at Cambridge and became a practising solicitor. There was Paul Boateng, who was born in Hackney—Members do not need me to remind them what a great borough that is—and made his name working at Brent law centre. He also represented Cherry Groce in the aftermath of the Brixton riots. He had a very distinguished ministerial career and ended his career as high commissioner to South Africa, a position that was particularly appropriate because the struggle against apartheid was always one of Paul’s signature issues. Then, of course, we had the legendary Bernie Grant, one of the first black leaders of a local authority as leader of Haringey Council.
There are so many issues that were first raised in the ’80s and before, whether that is black children in education or in the criminal justice system, black people in business and the lack of access that they sometimes have to finance and support, or black people in employment, be that public sector or private sector, where black people often find themselves hitting a glass ceiling in terms of promotion. Then there is the issue of black maternal health, which other hon. Members have raised.
I am glad that the right hon. Lady has reminded us about the death of Cynthia Jarrett. As she reflects historically, she reminds us all of the appalling experiences that people have been through. She did not mention the murder of Keith Blakelock. I remember that happening when I was young. Surely she is not advocating for civil disorder today in response to the problems that we undoubtedly face—surely not.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important intervention. Of course I am not advocating civil disorder. As someone who lived through that era, I am saying that without people marching and taking to the streets, I am confident that there would not have been the impetus, the concern and the focus that enabled me and my three colleagues to be elected in 1987. He must give me some credit for having lived through that era and having been active in the community at that time. Neither I nor anyone on these Benches would advocate civil disorder, but it happened; we cannot pretend it did not and we cannot pretend it did not have an impact, as Lord Scarman himself said.
My right hon. Friend is making an absolutely fantastic speech and giving everybody a well-needed lesson in our history. Does she agree that this is why it is important that our history is told properly? We have to see the good, the bad, the everything in all that we do, so that we all know, and so we can stop the cycle of injustice.
Yes, we have to stop this cycle. I have lived through too many decades of it: of civil disorder, which hon. Members opposite deprecate, of anger, anguish and concern, of reports such as the Scarman report, of “13 dead and nothing said”, of reports being written and nothing changes. I have to tell hon. Members that the community—not just the ethnic minority community but the community as a whole—is weary of reports being written and injustice being pointed out and nothing happening.
Black people make our own history. We continue to contend against the forces of institutional racism, whether that is people engaging with civil disorder, which of course I entirely deprecate, or whether it is those of us in Parliament today in 2021. We make our history. Our history is British history. We will continue to fight on. I would like to think that, on some of the issues that have been raised in the past 40 years, we will see real action, a real strategy for action and real change in the coming years.
It is a pleasure to see you in the chair for this important debate, Sir Graham. Like everyone else, I start by thanking Bell Ribeiro-Addy for securing this debate and all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part and contributed thus far.
This is a hugely important topic, and today’s debate gives us the opportunity not only to celebrate the lives of so many black people, but to recognise the invaluable contribution they have made to society. It gives us a chance to acknowledge and reflect on those who, often at great personal cost, as we have heard, have put themselves in danger to expose and seek to end racial injustice and to make society better for themselves and for every single one of us. It is absolutely right that we should celebrate those people, because through their sacrifice they have laid a pathway for others to follow.
As Marsha De Cordova and Liz Saville Roberts have said, many of those figures are well known to us, whether they be politicians, actors, sports figures, or academics such as Betty Campbell and her marvellous statue, but behind them are millions of people who, unrecognised and without fanfare, have devoted their lives to the betterment of their community. I believe today should be as much a celebration of their contribution as anyone else’s.
I sincerely thank Ms Abbott for her superb analysis of contemporary history, which showed clearly that Black History Month is not the celebration of the end of a journey—far from it. Black History Month exists to reflect on how far we have come, but also to shine a light on how far we as a society have still to go. Depressingly, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Battersea, the vile racist abuse that those three young England footballers had to suffer following the penalty shoot-out at Wembley shows just how far that is.
I am reluctant to inject a note of discord into the debate, but I must take issue with Mr Baker, who quoted his friend Peter Gibson. The great Arthur Wharton was the first English black professional footballer, but the first pioneer on that front was Andrew Watson, a Scots Guyanese footballer who played for the phenomenally successful Queen’s Park football club, captaining Scotland to success over England and Wales on several occasions. I know so much about Andrew Watson because, in a previous life, I made a documentary on his outstanding success. I believe it is still available on YouTube, should anyone care to view it; I would appreciate it if the hon. Member for Wycombe could recommend it to his colleague the hon. Member for Darlington.
Where we can all agree, I am certain, is that racism is an evil that none in our societies can claim to be immune to. We have a huge amount of work to do if we are to advance racial equality across these islands. Let me be absolutely clear: racism, however it manifests, has no place in modern Scotland, but it is not enough simply not to be racist. Particularly in the positions we hold in this place, we must be actively anti-racist, be seen to actively support minority ethnic communities and be first in line to call out and condemn racism wherever it rears its ugly head.
The First Minister of Scotland has made it abundantly clear that she will not tolerate racism in Scotland, whether it is the recent disgraceful anti-Irish racism on the streets of Glasgow, or the discrimination against any of our ethnic minority communities. She has made it clear that her Government are determined to play their part in eradicating racism, inequality and injustice and in building a better, fairer Scotland for every single one of us. I am pleased, therefore, that the Scottish Government have opened a new fund accessible to all organisations with a focus on tackling inequality and prejudice, which is in line with the goals and outcomes of Black History Month.
We have heard from many speakers this afternoon that one of the best ways to tackle racism is through education. Only through education can young people in particular gain an understanding of their history. In the Scottish National party’s May manifesto, we committed to funding an online programme on Scotland’s colonial history and encourage local authorities to adopt that programme in all Scottish schools.
I understand that in last year’s debate, the Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, expressed the opinion that the education curriculum was not in need of decolonisation because, in her view, there was no colonialism present in the curriculum. She could not be more wrong. My hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin was right when she said during last year’s debate that
“racism is rooted in untruthful or selective teaching about our past. People are not born racist. They learn it.”—[Official Report,
We need to recognise that there is a desperate need for the UK—I include Scotland in that—to face up to our colonial history and the role that we played in colonising great swathes of the planet, and how we as a society became phenomenally wealthy in no small part because of the enslavement of black African people.
I am from a generation of Scots children, particularly Glaswegians, who were educated in the late 1960s and early 1970s. From primary school age, we were taught about the Glasgow tobacco lords, that group of Scottish merchants who in the 18th century made huge fortunes trading tobacco from the Americas. They became so unimaginably wealthy that they redrew the city itself: vast sums were spent on houses and new roads, which they named after themselves. Indeed, to this day, there is an area of the city—one of its most beautiful—known as the Merchant City. We were taught that these guys were something to admire: that we should have an enormous sense of civic pride in what they did and how their wealth allowed the city of Glasgow to become that much-heralded second city of the empire.
The fact that those tobacco barons were slave traders who made their fortunes from that triangular trade between Glasgow, west Africa and the Americas was an inconvenient truth that was rarely, if ever, mentioned. The fact that they grew fabulously wealthy, and that Glasgow was transformed into a large and prosperous city, because of the slave trade and the enforced labour of the tobacco plantations of Virginia and sugar plantations of Jamaica was airbrushed from the narrative.
As children, we were told that the entrepreneurship of those men was to be admired and celebrated, and to this day, they are immortalised in the street names and place names of Glasgow, a city they effectively built. Any walking tour around Glasgow will include Glassford Street, Oswald Street, Buchanan Street, Cochrane Street, Dunlop Street, Ingram Street, Gordon Street and Robertson Street—all named after the Glasgow merchants whose fortunes were directly linked to the slave trade. If one did not recognise those family names, then Virginia Street, Tobago Street, Jamaica Street and even the Kingston Bridge would provide a clue as to where our city’s money came from. Unknowingly, the good people of Glasgow—like probably many of our constituents—literally walk in the shadows of slavery every single day.
While accepting that we cannot change our past, we should at least know what that past is, and understand the role that the enslavement of other human beings played in our success. We have to accept, because it is an undeniable fact, that our stories are told from one perspective: the perspective of the coloniser. However, there is another, equally important story that deserves to be heard and must be heard, which is the story of the colonised. Without that missing perspective—without being able to hear the stories of those victims—we will only ever have half of the story. For many years growing up, I was failing to completely understand what had been done, why it had been done and the consequences of it, because I only ever had half of the story.
Scotland’s links to the transatlantic slave trade are deep and complex, but they are also undeniable. I am therefore delighted that future generations of Scottish children will have a far more rounded and inclusive education—one that focuses on race equality. The Scottish Government recently announced their curriculum for excellence, which will provide opportunities for young people to learn about current and past attitudes, values and historical events, and their impact on our society. That can include learning about Scotland’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. Scotland’s role in that trade will now be an option in both our national 5 and our higher history qualifications, and Education Scotland will be publishing resources for teachers on slavery and human trafficking, including resources to support teaching and learning about the slave trade and Scotland’s role in it. The Scottish Government will fund the development of an online programme for teachers and encourage all local authorities to take it up. That is very welcome, and a far cry from how my generation was taught Scottish history. The sooner we get to an acceptance that black history is an integral and fundamental part of our history, the better for us all.
Again, I thank the hon. Member for Streatham for securing the debate. I share her belief that it should be an annual event marking Black History Month until such time as it is deemed no longer necessary, which unfortunately seems a long way off.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I thank my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy for securing such an important debate. I know how hard she worked to give us all the opportunity to discuss and celebrate Black History Month. I also thank all Members who have spoken for their powerful contributions.
Black History Month is about celebrating and highlighting black heroes. For me, the first person who comes to mind is Ira Aldridge, a Shakespearean actor who came to Britain from the United States in the 1830s. He was a fierce abolitionist who spoke before Parliament about ending slavery the world over. He went on to settle in my own city of Coventry, where he managed the Theatre Royal, becoming the first black theatre manager in Britain. Ira Aldridge stands firm in our history among other black trailblazers.
Mr Baker referenced George Alexander Gratton from his constituency, and my hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova mentioned the first black London mayor, John Archer, from her constituency. Two other black trailblazers come to my mind. Mary Prince—my hon. Friend also mentioned her—was a black abolitionist, and the first black woman to write an autobiography and present an anti-slavery petition to this House. The second person who springs to my mind is Annie Brewster, one of the first Afro-Caribbean nurses to work in Britain —a pioneer for supporting elderly patients losing their sight.
I must also mention the trailblazers who came before us in this place. I echo the sentiments of my colleagues in celebrating incredible black parliamentarians. I am thinking of Lord Boateng, Bernie Grant, Baroness Amos and of course my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott. Their legacies and continued work in Parliament can be seen throughout. We need to ensure that the legacy of those trailblazers is known to all in Britain.
Recognising and celebrating black Britain should be as ubiquitous in our culture as it is in our history. We should not relegate that celebration to a few debates once a year—I add that today’s debate was not brought forward by the Government—because celebrating such trailblazers from our history, and our world, inspires the next generation of black Britons to pursue and achieve their dreams. Hearing the accomplishments of my predecessors in this House partly inspired me to stand for Parliament, and helped me to become Coventry’s first black parliamentarian.
My hon. Friend has spoken, quite correctly, about heroes, but does she agree that it is not just about heroic figures? It is also about ordinary black men and women—the ordinary nurse, the ordinary factory worker and the ordinary bus driver—who were willing to do what it took to take black politics and black dignity forward.
Absolutely. As my right hon. Friend said, ordinary black people who worked hard to support this country and contributed significantly to our culture should be celebrated for their contribution to the advancement of this country. When we recognise and celebrate the accomplishments of black people in this country we empower the next generation of young black Britons.
Although this month is dedicated to the celebration of black history, it is crucial that we reflect on the historical barriers that black people in this country continue to face. When we look across all parts of our society, including our NHS, we see that we are well represented in the workforce, although sadly often not in positions of power. As an NHS worker myself, it pains me to see that black people are far less likely to rise to the top of the medical profession.
My hon. Friends the Members for Streatham, for Battersea and for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington have spoken passionately about the results of the recent reviews by my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy and Baroness Lawrence. Baroness Lawrence’s review shone a light on the inequality that black healthcare workers face, putting facts to feelings that many of us present already had. The review exposed how black, Asian and minority ethnic NHS workers have suffered disproportionately from the Government’s failure to keep them safe during the pandemic.
I bring this worrying state of affairs to the attention of the House because just as important as celebrating the achievements of black people in Britain is recognising those ongoing obstacles that black Britons face and the continuing fight to eliminate them. There are a couple of worrying examples that I will touch on. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea said, we must take concrete steps to eliminate the ethnicity pay gap in this country, which stands at 24% in the major cities. That is disgraceful, and fixing it is long overdue. As with the gender pay gap, that injustice entrenches inequality and disempowers millions.
Secondly—an issue also raised by my hon. Friend—exclusion rates for black students in English schools are up to six times higher than those for their white peers in some local authorities. The reason why that is so important is that we know about the damage that exclusion can do to a student: it can derail their life chances for good. Excluded students are far less likely to get good GCSE or A-level results and, sadly, they have much lower job prospects post education. That is an incredible injustice for many black students and we need to root it out. Excessive use of exclusion risks wrecking the life chances of young black Britons and it must be curbed.
Another point made today—by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham and others—was about the black British curriculum. My hon. Friend made the important point that schools in Britain need more black representation. I pay tribute to the Black Curriculum, an organisation to which many Members have paid tribute today. When the Minister responds, I hope that he will provide answers on whether the Government have any plans to follow the Labour-led Welsh Government in implementing a black British curriculum.
Having a black British curriculum would not only provide young black people with an understanding of their heritage, but play a significant role in tackling racism through better education about colonial history. It would empower young black British students to learn about the trailblazers who have gone before them, and inspire more young black children to aspire to become teachers. Given the lack of black representation in the education system, that would go a long way towards making up the difference. I hope that the Minister will tell us what steps the Government are taking to address the lack of black representation in school leadership.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea also spoke about black maternal health and how black women are four times more likely to die while giving birth. I hope that the Minister will explain what steps are being taken to address that and to ensure that data will be collected.
To wrap up, as the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, I celebrate the many achievements of black Britons. I will use my role to combat the inequalities that I have outlined today.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham.
I congratulate Bell Ribeiro-Addy on securing this important debate. She spoke passionately—as so many other Members have—about the importance of Black History Month. I welcome the contributions that we have heard. I also congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on granting the debate.
Black history is extremely important to the Government. It has resonance across many different areas of policy.
It is right, then, that all Departments should be responsible and accountable in debates such as these, which is why I am appearing today as the Minister for School Standards. I shall respond predominantly on matters regarding black history in education, as I am sure the hon. Lady will understand. As many hon. Members––including my hon. Friend Mr Baker in his thoughtful speech––pointed out, there is a huge range of topics to cover, so where issues such as maternal health have been raised, I will write to colleagues in relevant Departments to ask for a response. In the case of the ethnicity pay gap, that will be the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend Paul Scully. I will ensure that the relevant Ministers send responses on the broader issues.
As we have heard, October is Black History Month in the UK, a time to celebrate the contribution of black communities and individuals over the centuries in shaping the dynamic and diverse country that we have today. Like the hon. Member for Streatham, I want black children in our schools to be proud to be black and proud to be British. Like Taiwo Owatemi, I want to ensure that we inspire the next generation to achieve their dreams.
I take a personal interest in debates of this nature. One of my predecessors as Member for Worcester, who also happened to be my late father, campaigned alongside Jack Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson for civil rights in the United States and came to this House fresh from those campaigns at a time of critical change in the recognition of civil rights in that country. He continued to champion this important issue during his time as an MP and after. When I became Member of Parliament for Worcester in 2010 and met members of Worcester’s Afro-Caribbean community, I was deeply touched to hear how much they valued some of his work in the constituency on their behalf.
It was one of my greatest honours, for too short a time, to represent Basil D’Oliveira and his family. I was very glad that the city I represent marked his life not only with a magnificent civic service in 2012 but also posthumously by granting him the freedom of the city in 2018. Basil was a softly spoken, deeply unpolitical gentleman who became an unlikely hero in the struggle against apartheid, his role showing the cricketing world the true nature of South Africa’s colour bar and helping to strengthen the sporting embargo. His example drew global attention to the fundamental unreasonableness of racist policy. In the words of Nelson Mandela when he met him, he did his bit.
My younger constituents have also been an inspiration to me. Darian Murray-Griffiths, who until recently was one of my constituents, is one such person. I first met him as an 11-year-old boy after his proud parents reached out to me to encourage his interest in Parliament and history. I have since followed his progress closely and, as a student at Worcester sixth-form college, he made an eloquent and thoughtful speech at a Black Lives Matter event in the city. Such was the impact of his speech that he was invited to No. 10 to discuss it. I have no doubt that young people like him will further bring together diverse communities in modern Britain and make their own contribution to history.
I want to acknowledge the strong engagement of parliamentarians, children and young people, black community groups and the public on black history in the curriculum. The Department has been clear that the national curriculum for history enabled black voices and experiences to be taught, whether it is events such as the Bristol bus boycott that had a national impact or the global impact of those soldiers across the former empire and Commonwealth who fought in both world wars. The recent anniversaries of the first and second world wars showed the greater awareness of black and minority ethnic contributions to both. For the first world war, that was aided by Government projects such as The Unremembered and No Barriers, alongside the promotion of figures such as Lieutenant Walter Tull.
Is the Minister prepared to share his plans to do something about the wholly disproportionate level of black exclusions from our schools, which often leads to a school-to-prison pipeline? It has been said that the day you exclude a child from school, you might as well give them the date and time to turn up at prison. Will he share with the House his proposals to recruit more black teachers and make it possible to rise up the ladder to be headteacher?
The right hon. Lady makes some important points and I want to respond on both. I shall return to the issue of teachers later in my speech. On exclusions, we have heard a number of different figures for the proportions in that respect. It is important that we work to reduce exclusions in general. As a Department, we are looking at our behaviour policies to make sure we can support schools to keep more people in school. I would caution that many of those figures are also related to geography and where people happen to be in the country. It is difficult to realise one overall set of figures but I am told that, once other figures are controlled for, black Caribbean children are about 1.7 times more likely than white children to be permanently excluded.
We should not shy away from the fact that some groups of children are more likely to be excluded than others. That is why we are updating our guidance to ensure that schools and governing bodies understand their responsibility to spot trends in the data and accordingly put support in place for certain groups of pupils faster or provide early intervention. We are clear in existing guidance that schools should consider what extra support might be needed to identify and address the needs of children from groups most likely to be excluded to reduce the likelihood of a situation arising where an exclusion is warranted. Ofsted’s assessment of behaviour in schools also includes specific consideration of whether any groups of pupils are being disproportionately excluded, which is absolutely something we should continue to look at.
Our reforms to alternative provision will also look to improve behaviour, attendance and long-term pupil outcomes, including better transition to post-16. That will ensure that all children and young people, including pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds, get back on track and get the right support at the right time. I will come back further on the point made by Ms Abbott about teacher recruitment and the pipeline.
The Minister talks about the data he is using. The evidence is very clear. It was actually the Government’s own Race Disparity Unit that highlighted a lot of the data, which clearly shows that black Caribbean children are disproportionately likely to be excluded from school, controlling for all other factors. The facts are clear. It is an issue that needs addressing, and I would be grateful if the Minister kindly addressed that disproportionality and that disparity for our young black children.
I would say to the hon. Lady that that is just what I tried to set out. We think that, where there is any disparity, it needs to be addressed. That is one of the things that Ofsted is already encouraged to look into. It is also one of the reasons that we are looking at our behaviour and exclusions guidance to see how we can address the issue more generally.
It was good to hear the hon. Lady talking about good teaching of black history at one of her local primary schools. At a recent visit to Burnopfield Primary School in County Durham, I was very pleased to see black history being taught through a rich and broad curriculum. Black Olympians were celebrated in PE and black musicians’ significant contributions were celebrated in a reception class. Inclusivity is an ethos at the school, and Black History Month is celebrated as part of that. That is particularly striking in an area that is almost 100% white English.
Teachers and historians are embedding black history in teaching all year round. In her articles, Hannah Cusworth explains how she teaches her pupils that York was more ethnically diverse in Roman times than it is now; that black people were present at the Tudor courts; and that William Davidson, a black Georgian, was involved in the Cato Street conspiracy. Many history teachers have followed the example of Kerry Apps, who ensures that when pupils study Elizabethan England, they understand the many Elizabethan trading and diplomatic connections with the wider world, such as those that led to the Moroccan delegation to London in 1600. Primary pupils in Haringey Education Partnership study the 5th-century African empire of Axum as an integrated part of their work on early Christian empires.
We have heard some fantastic examples of local history. Liz Saville Roberts spoke about the new rose that has been dedicated to John Ystumllyn—she will have to forgive my Welsh pronunciation—which I was fascinated to read about this morning. I congratulate the We Too Built Britain campaign for its work on that.
We have heard about some very important figures who have been commemorated, such as the example originally given by Abena Oppong-Asare of Yvonne Connolly, along with Betty Campbell in Cardiff; Olive Morris in Battersea; Ira Aldridge in Coventry; George Alexander Gratton in Wycombe; Arthur Wharton, the goalkeeper for Darlington; and, of course, Andrew Watson at Queen’s Park F.C.—Brendan O’Hara would not forgive me if I did not mention him. I want schools to look at local figures like those when they teach local history.
We have thought carefully about whether we can do more to support high-quality teaching and to help teachers and schools develop their own school curriculum, fully using the flexibility and freedom of the natural history curriculum and the breadth and depth of content it includes. I acknowledge that some teachers may need more guidance on how to teach a high-quality and diverse history curriculum, and that is why I am pleased to announce that we are taking steps to develop a model history curriculum. We will work with history curriculum experts, historians and school leaders to develop a model history curriculum that will stand as an exemplar of a knowledge-rich, coherent approach to teaching history. The development of model, knowledge-rich curriculums continues along the path of reform that the Government set out in 2010. Our reforms are driven by the ideas of Professor E.D. Hirsch, whose work sets out the importance of the transmission of rich subject knowledge from teachers to pupils. Hirsch came from what might be termed a left-wing background in his views, and he strongly advocated an education that gave all children cultural literacy, in recognition of the fact that knowledge had often been the preserve of the elite.
School education gives the rare opportunity to offer children experiences that go beyond their own circumstances and cultural background. The cultural breadth that schools can teach children offers common cultural touchpoints for all. That is why a knowledge-rich approach embeds diversity in a meaningful, rather than tokenistic, form. A curriculum based narrowly on relevance to pupils is to deny them an introduction to the best that has been thought and said. There is no reason why the work of a dead white man is not appropriate for all children to learn about. Maya Angelou famously said that Shakespeare must be a black girl, as his poetic words expressed so intensely what she, a victim of poverty, racism and childhood sexual abuse, felt inside.
This is why the development of the model history curriculum is so important. We have already published the model music curriculum in March; this is non-statutory music curriculum guidance for key stages 1 to 3, developed by an independent panel of 15 specialists from across the UK. Diversity will be an important aspect of the model history curriculum, as we demonstrate how the content, themes and eras of the national curriculum can be brought to life by teaching them in an interconnected form throughout key stages. A diverse history can be taught because history is diverse. As so many Members have said today: black history is British history.
British history is deeply connected with world history; we do not stand apart. What makes this country “Great” Britain are these historical connections, and how they have shaped our past and present. The model history curriculum will equip teachers and leaders to teach migration, cultural change and the contributions made by different communities to science, art, culture and society. We will announce further details in due course, but I am pleased to show our commitment to high quality teaching in this debate. This country has a lot to be proud of—
I very much welcome what the Minister has said. I say this slightly tongue-in-cheek, but it feels to me that he is bound to be accused of being woke for what he has announced. What will he say to those, possibly even within Government, who accuse him of being woke? Will he explain to them that it is very necessary and right that he carries through this policy?
I would say to my hon. Friend that it is much more important to celebrate what brings us together than allow discussions to set us apart. In that regard, this country has a lot to be proud of. Children should be taught all aspects of our shared history, and as we have heard in this debate, that includes both the good and the bad.
We must teach about the contributions of people of all ethnicities, both men and women, who have made this country what it is today. The shared history of our country is one that is outward looking; a nation that has influenced the world and been influenced in turn by people from all over the world. It is people who have built the culturally rich country that we have today, and we are truly an example of the riches that diverse communities can bring to one another.
We believe that schools and teachers should use the flexibility they have in the curriculum to develop a more detailed, knowledge-rich curriculum, and to teach their pupils in an inclusive manner. To support this, the curriculum includes a number of examples that could be covered at different stages, drawn from the history both of this country and the wider world. Examples at key stage 1 include teaching about the lives of key black and minority ethnic figures, such as Mary Seacole and Rosa Parks. It was interesting that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute referred to his education; I did not learn about Mary Seacole when I was at school, but I did learn about her from a school in my constituency. Other individuals can be taught at this key stage; I know that schools widely teach about Nelson Mandela as an inspiring figure—we mark his great achievements with a memorial statue in Parliament Square, in London.
The key stage 2 curriculum focuses on early civilisations; it also requires the study of a non-European society that provides contrast with British history, with examples including Benin, west Africa, from 900 to 1300. At key stage 3, as part of the statutory teaching of the overarching theme of Britain 1745 to 1901, topics could include Britain’s transatlantic slave trade, its effects, its eventual abolition and the development of the British empire. The latter could include teaching about the successful slave-led rebellions and challenges that led to the abolition of slavery, for example the role played by slaves and former slaves, such as within the Somerset ruling, and the life and work of Olaudah Equiano in the abolition movement. In the theme “Challenges for Britain, Europe and the wider world 1901 to the present day”, the end of empire and decolonisation can be taught. This key stage also requires the teaching of at least one study of a significant society or issue in world history and its interconnections with other world developments. Examples include the USA in the 20th century.
For key stage 4, the Department sets out that GCSE history specifications produced by the exam board for pupils should
“develop and extend their knowledge and understanding of specified key events, periods and societies in local, British, and wider world history;
and of the wide diversity of human experience.”
We know that exam boards such as OCR, AQA and Pearson often offer options to study migration in Britain. There are a lot of resources available to help teachers teach black history, for example, lesson plays and resources produced by the Windrush Foundation, which support the study of the Empire Windrush and Caribbean migration. Runnymede Trust’s “Our Migration Story” website provides extensive resources telling the story of generations of migrants who came to and shaped the British Isles. Oak National Academy has developed a primary and secondary history curriculum, which is designed to be diverse and representative, including covering black history. Oak’s history curriculum includes medieval Mali, British colonialism in America, the abolition of slavery, the experience of those ruled by empire in Africa and why we celebrate Nelson Mandela Day.
Other subjects such as citizenship, English, PSHE, art, music and geography offer teachers opportunities to further explore black history with pupils, helping to build understanding and tolerance. Diverse texts are offered by exam boards in GCSE English. Pearson and Edexcel include texts such as the play “Refugee Boy” by Benjamin Zephaniah, adapted for the stage by Lemn Sissay, and the novel “Boys Don’t Cry” by Malorie Blackman in their post-1940 section of texts for English literature GCSE.
We know that a diverse teaching and school leadership workforce is important. We want teaching to be an inclusive profession, for schools and their leadership teams to reflect their communities, and for pupils to feel represented and inspired. There is further to go on this. Data show increases over time in the number of black teachers and leaders, but numbers still do not match the proportion of black people in the working population. We make sure that we target diverse audiences in our recruitment campaigns, and I am pleased that the picture is particularly encouraging when it comes to black postgraduate trainees starting their course—around 4% in 2020-21. This is in line with the wider working population.
I note the point that was made about university academics, and I will ensure that I pass on the point to the Minister for Universities, my right hon. Friend Michelle Donelan. It is often said that talent is evenly distributed but opportunity is not. I believe this to be true. That is why we want to remove the barriers holding people back, whatever their background. This means tackling discrimination, but also levelling up opportunity, so that no matter where anyone lives in the UK and no matter what their socioeconomic or ethnic background, they can fulfil their potential. That is why the Prime Minister launched his independent commission on racial disparities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe noted, we will be responding to that commission in detail in due course.
I will conclude, because I want to give the hon. Member for Streatham a chance to respond. Months such as Black History Month can highlight the great black Britons who have helped Britain shine internationally, from artists such as Steve McQueen, writers such as Malorie Blackman and athletes such as Dina Asher-Smith to the everyday contribution to our society of people from the Caribbean and Africa, who helped build and support the NHS. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Streatham for this highly interesting debate and for once again highlighting the importance of Black History Month.
I want to start by thanking all Members who have participated for their well-delivered contributions. I would like to say that the support of Mr Baker for these issues does not go unnoticed. My hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova took us through the history of great black women and reiterated the shameful lack of quality impact assessments on Government legislation. My hon. Friend Apsana Begum pointed out quite rightly the shameful lack of representation of black teachers in our schools and wider academia.
Liz Saville Roberts, whose constituency I know I have pronounced wrong, gave an analogy about discussions about race and our history being fragrant and thorny. I really liked that. As the only Welsh Member here, she probably takes full pride in the launching of the teaching of Black History Month in schools in Wales.
My right hon. Friend Ms Abbott reminded us of the civil rights struggles here in the UK. She took a lot of time to talk about the other black Members of Parliament without mentioning herself. She is a trailblazer. She talked about the others whose shoulders we stand on, but we know fully that we stand on hers. My hon. Friend Taiwo Owatemi, our shadow Minister for Equalities, quite rightly reaffirmed her commitment to tackling these issues. Brendan O’Hara—