Black lives do matter and it is appalling in this day an age that anyone should suffer discrimination as a result of the colour of their skin, still more so that they should have to fear for their life at the hands of the police in any democratic country.

The tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has understandably sparked anger and I do understand why many people felt it was right to protest, to speak out publicly against it and to highlight problems that still exist today with race relations in the United States. I appreciate too that for many people in the UK there is great sadness and anger at such an event and a desire to see justice done and an acknowledgement of past mistakes.

The murder of any human being is abhorrent and a racially aggravated murder is even more so. Of course I am deeply concerned about the events in the United States leading up to the death of George Floyd and think it is vital that these are fully and properly investigated. Sadly, that country has a different approach to policing to that in the UK and I would always advocate the benefits of our model of generally unarmed policing by consent and working with all communities.

I do feel that there is a lot that the US could learn from the UK in terms of the approach to equality, respecting human rights and supporting the rights of ethnic minorities but we do have to be careful of telling other democratic countries how to run their internal affairs. This is always resented and can be counterproductive.

My late father, before he became MP for Worcester, campaigned alongside John F Kennedy and his brother Bobby for the civil rights of black Americans and sadly it seems that since their time there has been less progress on many aspects of this issue than might have been hoped for. The election of Barack Obama gave the impression of a breakthrough, but the recent tensions demonstrate that there is much more work to be done.

I do think that the UK is more likely to be listened to if we play the part of a concerned friend and partner to the US rather than imposing embargoes or boycotting trade, but I accept the strength of feeling on these issues and, having been asked by a number of constituents to do so, I have written to the relevant government departments – the Department for International Trade and the Foreign and Commonwealth office to relay the concerns of many constituents who have written to me on the issue of exports of riot control equipment to the USA.

Having previously served on the Committee for Arms Export Controls I am aware that the UK operates a strict licensing regime and only allows exports of security equipment to jurisdictions which we are confident fully respect human rights – for example we prohibit any exports to the US in relation to the ongoing use in some States of the death penalty. I am not aware of any licenses relating to the export of security equipment that might be a cause for concern but I have raised the concerns that have been put to me on this matter.

I think one of the best ways in which we can influence the US and other countries to improve their performance on tackling racism and avoiding police brutality of any sort is by supporting our own police in the excellent work that they do to address community tensions in a more constructive way. I am proud that in the UK we have had a succession of Home Secretaries from ethnic minorities who have made this a priority and that the Home Office has a clear focus in all that it does on tackling racism and far right extremism. When Worcester was faced with the prospect of a march by far-right extremists last year, the police behaved with great professionalism in protecting the public and meeting with concerned residents across different communities in the city.

I can assure constituents that both I personally and the Government are clear in condemning racism in all its forms. I was proud to speak in the Parliamentary debate to mark the passing of Nelson Mandela and celebrate the work of the great Worcester cricketer Basil D’Oliveira and all he did to highlight the wrongs of apartheid and his legacy in terms of peace and reconciliation in South Africa.

I supported Theresa May as Home Secretary in her reforms to stop and search to ensure that minority communities concerns were addressed and called on her to celebrate the good work of Worcester’s Muslim community in combating prejudice and challenging extremism and was delighted when she praised their work in Parliament.

I was also proud to speak up for and nominate the first BAME candidate to be Prime Minister of this country in my Worcestershire colleague, Sajid Javid. I am proud that my local Conservative Association in Worcester have given the city its first black councillor, its first Muslim mayor and more recently, its first woman from the Muslim community on the council.

A number of constituents have contacted me with concerns about a recent report into BAME deaths as a result of coronavirus and it is deeply concerning that this report suggests there has been a disproportionate impact on ethnic minority communities in the UK. The disproportionate impact has been recognised by my colleagues in Government and an urgent investigation has been launched to improve understanding of the issue. Public Health England was commissioned to conduct thorough research into the matter so that swift action can be taken.

The review has analysed how different factors – including ethnicity, gender and obesity – can impact on people’s health outcomes from COVID-19. I understand that initial findings were received from PHE by the Department of Health and Social Care on Monday 1 June, and are being rapidly considered. The report has now been published. The next steps will be to examine this report closely and it is vital to find out why ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by the virus so that appropriate measures can be introduced to protect people at risk. I will continue to follow this issue extremely closely and will call on Government to take whatever action is required to save lives.

Sadly the recent bad behaviour of some protestors in London has undermined the message of support and concern for people’s lives that they were purporting to deliver. Those who vandalise memorials, particularly war memorials which themselves commemorate countless lives of people from all backgrounds, have no excuse for what they do and the violence towards police in London over the weekend was completely unacceptable.

I respect the importance of freedom of speech and the right to protest and therefore I fully support the right of people to highlight the issues that the Black Lives Matter protests were set up to address through peaceful protest in line with the law. Such protests should always protect the safety of others and respect the fact that the police in this country are part of the community and there to protect the whole community. There can be no excuse for the kind of violence that London saw last weekend – especially at a time when social distancing can save lives.

The key response we should make to events such as those that sparked this wave of outrage is to improve opportunities for people of all backgrounds and ethnicities. In this respect the last Prime Minister’s commitment to a racial equality audit and to acting on it to confront burning injustices was a welcome one. I am glad that our current Prime Minister has spoken out clearly on the matter, celebrating the diversity of our country but accepting that there is more to do to improve opportunities and remove barriers facing minorities. I fully support him in seeking to do this and also in condemning the unreasonable violence which has to any extent undermined the message of the genuine protestors.

ENDS

Notes to editors

For Robin Walker’s speech about Nelson Mandela and Basil D’Oliveira see:

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2013-12-09b.64.0

For his exchanges with Theresa May on stop and search and on the muslim community in Worcester see:

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2014-04-30a.831.0#g845.0

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2014-10-13b.16.5#g17.2

For his support for Sajid Javid in the conservative leadership election see:

Walker endorses Sajid Javid to lead a one nation Conservative Party & deliver a pragmatic Brexit for a Global Britain

For details of the racial disparity audit see:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/race-disparity-audit

For the Health Secretary’s statement on publication of the coronavirus report see:

https://www.itv.com/news/2020-06-02/matt-hancock-leads-government-s-daily-coronavirus-press-conference/

For the Prime Minister’s statement on the black lives matter campaign see:

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/prime-minister-message-on-black-lives-matter