I received a lot of correspondence with overwhelming support for the Black Lives Matter movement. I have also received emails from concerned constituents about public monuments and violent protestors.
I understand the strength of feeling surrounding certain statues and memorials that adorn our public spaces. And for those who haven’t seen my statement on BLM, it is my strong belief that we must continue to work together, across all communities of this country, to defeat racism and discrimination wherever we find it. However, I strongly condemn the actions of those who in recent weeks have defaced and damaged public property, or otherwise broken the law.
I want to be clear that this Government does not support or indulge those who break the law, or attack the police, or desecrate public statues. The Home Secretary has been clear that the police should enforce the law, and those who commit acts of criminal damage should face prosecution. The attacks on the police and indiscriminate acts of violence, which we have witnessed over the last week, are intolerable and abhorrent.
In reference to the statues themselves, many public statues and memorials are erected on land overseen by local authorities. Elected councillors have responsibility for such municipal sites, accountable to local voters. With that said, I hope that councillors will follow the advice from Historic England (HE) on this issue.
HE are the Government’s adviser on the historic environment, and their guidance advises against removing so called ‘contested heritage’. Instead, HE recommends that reinterpretation at or near a contested statue or memorial can be used in order to reflect a changed context and contemporary understanding of it. This could, for example, mean updating the monument’s plaque to explain differing or updated perspectives.
It is of course true that many statues are dedicated to people who said or did things that we would not defend today. Historical figures acted in a completely different context to the one we live in today and it’s important to recognise that the past is another country where values and laws were different. I agree with the Prime Minister in that instead of erasing or covering up parts of our history, we should use heritage to educate people about all aspects of our complex past – good and bad.
For this reason, I am pleased that the Government itself does not have any plans to remove statues or memorials on its property. I’m sure many of you will also be pleased that Ministers and the Opposition are backing the new Desecration of War Memorials Bill, which will outlaw vandalism to memorials, with a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment if the Bill passes. I want to reassure you that this Bill has my full support.
I know that I received a range of opinions on this regarding law and order, and preservation of our heritage but I do hope the above answers your concerns and queries.
Thank you again for those who took the time to contact me about this.