I am appalled by the police brutality that has led to the death of George Floyd as well as other African-Americans. I am opposed to all forms of racism and discrimination and will always denounce it when I see it. As a member of the International Development Select Committee, I have seen and heard first-hand testimony about the legacies of colonialism and I am committed to social justice for all.
I agree that schools play a significant role in inculcating respect and tolerance throughout society. Black history is a key curriculum option for all age groups in English and Welsh schools. That includes British participation in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the contribution of Black Britons like Mary Seacole, and the challenges generations of Black migrants to the UK have been exposed to, as well as the multitude of ways they have enriched the fabric of our society. Of course it’s vital that Black history is also taught in an integrated way, where Black voices and stories are prominent in our national narrative, but where their race is incidental. Tolerance and respect for diversity is also mandatory in citizenship lessons as well as being taught implicitly in all subjects through the British Values curriculum.
I am sure it goes without saying that I disapprove of the vandalism of public monuments and criminal damage of property. I entirely condemn any assaults on police officers who do fantastic work. As to the strategies the police deployed, it is not my policy to comment on police procedures and tactics in the management of mass public gatherings. They are the experts in this area and I respect the independence of their decision-making.
I am very supportive of the right of individuals to peacefully protest, whilst socially distancing. I am wary that mass gatherings, where social distancing is not taking place, do present a clear public health risk. I say that whilst being very sympathetic to the issue on which the protestors were peacefully protesting.
Having said that, I would associate myself with the comments of Sir Geoff Palmer (Scotland's first Black professor) that destroying monuments means atrocities of the past are forgotten. Education lies at the heart of combatting racism, not removing statues.
I do believe that the media has an important role to play in covering that crisis. I approach it from the position that the media should be equal in its treatment of all social-distancing breaches. The example that springs to mind is the relatively lax approach sections of the media took to lockdown breaches on beaches during recent warm weather. That laxity looked particularly striking compared to the coverage of the peaceful elements of the Black Lives Matter protests. So yes, I agree that the media must be more judicious in its coverage.
I appreciate the sale of defence equipment is a contentious topic. I have served on the Committee on Arms Exports Control and I know that whilst a strong defence sector is key to our long-term security interests, extreme caution has to be applied to the sale of arms abroad. However I think we have to be careful about not equating the sale of fighter jets and bombs to dictators abroad with the sale of police equipment to one of the World’s great liberal democracies. In saying that, I am aware, of course, that the USA has real structural problems, not least in the institutional racism which pervades elements of its police forces, but I would stop short of advocating against the sale of riot police equipment to the USA. Clearly, the use of such equipment can be legally and morally wrong in certain instances, but it can also be used validly in the defence of life and property in others. Exports on these items is highly regulated and I respect the decision of the Government to continue it until and unless the Courts or a minister, acting on advice, ends the sale.
Thank you again for taking the time to email me.