Racism has absolutely no place in today’s society, whether that be in Carshalton and Wallington, the UK or anywhere across the globe. Whilst I have not have experienced discrimination based on the colour of my skin and recognise that I will never be able to fully understand the lived experiences of those who have, as an openly gay man I do know what it feels like to be persecuted simply because of who or what you are – it is one of the most vile things anyone can experience in their lives, but sadly many, if not most, BAME and LGBT+ people will experience prejudice in their lifetimes.
The BAME and LGBT+ communities have stood side-by-side together in the past during times of adversity; indeed it was black civil rights and LGBT+ activist, Marsha P. Johnson, who helped begin the gay liberation movement in the late 60s and, just as then, we stand together now. As an ally of the BAME community, I am proud to stand with them in declaring that black lives matter.
It is often exhausting having to explain and call out discrimination in whatever form it takes, and it becomes frustrating, so I entirely understand the strength of feeling. The horrific death of George Floyd is just one recent example of a discrimination that is nothing new, nor sadly unique to the US as we have seen with the death of Belly Mujinga, but is something that requires real change to break down institutional racism and power biases. I will continue fighting for just that.
I strongly believe in the right to protest, but we must also remember that we are still in the midst of a global health pandemic and, whilst stamping out discrimination cannot wait, we have to ensure people are taking the steps to keep themselves and others safe and in line with the lockdown measures. I also know the vast majority of those protesting agree that there is no justification for violence against the police, their horses or others, and we cannot allow the actions of a few to undermine the important message of the many.
Locally, I am proud to represent a community as diverse as Carshalton and Wallington. It is my privilege to work very closely with each and every part of our community and, as a Conservative councillor, I am proud to sit in a group on Sutton Council as diverse as ours, regardless of their race, gender, background, faith or sexuality. It is my commitment to continue that dialogue with local community leaders, including the BAME community leaders that I have had the privilege to work with so far, and standing up for every single person in my hometown and further afield.
I want to address the specific issues that have been raised with me in recent days, and have structured my thoughts into the following sections. I hope this is helpful, however please do feel free to raise any further points you have with me.
On George Floyd
I don’t think anyone could fail to be horrified by what we all saw happen to George Floyd in the US.
I understand that the police officer involved has been charged with second-degree murder, and the three other officers involved during George’s killing were also charged with aiding and abetting his murder and there will be a federal review. Justice must be done, and I know from those who have been in contact with me, as well as tributes online, that many Carshalton and Wallington residents are reaching out to express their sympathies for George’s family and all victims of racism.
I have been heartened by the solidarity shown to George’s family. I have also been struck by the number of British people wanting to demonstrate their support for the Black Lives Matter campaign; the strength of feeling in the wake of George’s killing serves as a reminder that so much work remains to be done here in the UK. Like all societies, the progress we have made cannot eclipse the fact there are still many problems in the UK, which will take honest reflection, hard work and tough action to change.
I will of course be following developments in the States closely, including throughout the federal review and I sent a letter to the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, last week to demonstrate the strength of feeling of local residents, which I have attached for your information.
The death of Belly Mujinga was tragic after she was reportedly spat at by a man claiming to have coronavirus.
I was concerned when I read the statement from the British Transport Police (BTP) when they stated that they had decided to take no further action on the investigation into Belly’s death, especially given the apparent witness evidence. I have written to the Head of the BTP last week to express these concerns; copy attached.
More than 1 million people have signed a petition in support of Belly and, since I wrote, I am pleased to see that the Crown Prosecution Service has been asked to review evidence into her death. I look forward to a full and impartial review of the evidence, as well as a detailed consideration of any and all other lines of enquiry, including whether the act of spitting itself was racially motivated, and I entirely agree that it should be prosecuted as such – i.e. racially aggravated assault – if proven.
However, I know that justice must go further and, whilst it is vital that we keep our transport system going, we must also protect transport staff.
I know that the Government has been working hard with transport operators and issued detailed guidance to ensure that their staff are kept safe. I have also written to the Chief Executive of Govia Thameslink Railway, the managing operators of the network that Belly worked on, to ask that they acknowledge the strength of feeling felt by the British public, and ensure they are taking all necessary steps to keep their staff safe so that this tragedy can never happen again. I have attached a copy of that letter for you.
On racism in the UK
Of course, this isn't just about George and Belly, and we remember so many others, like Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner, as well as those closer to home; Darren Cumberbatch, Sheku Bayoh, Mikey Powell, and, of course, the senseless murder of Stephen Lawrence, to name but a few.
Black lives matter.
It is over 20 years since the Macpherson Report was published, following the inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence's murder, with its damning conclusion of the Metropolitan Police as "institutionally racist". Whilst we have come a long way since that 1999 report, it is clear to me that there is so much more we need to do. I welcomed the recent announcement that the Home Affairs Committee will be picking up its predecessors' work on the Macpherson Report and examining police racism in the UK, including questioning police leaders and human rights groups on issues such as the use of force, stop and search, and disproportionate fines during the coronavirus lockdown.
That said, I absolutely recognise and support the work that our police forces, across the country, do to keep us safe; they place themselves in harm's way that we don't have to. Their service for us is remarkable, and I think back to the heroism shown by officers in responding to the London Bridge attacks, the Manchester Arena bombing, the 7/7 London bombings, the 1999 London nail bombings, and so many other horrific events. I am reminded, on a daily basis, of their acts of bravery by the memorial to PC Keith Palmer outside Parliament, who was killed in the 2017 Westminster attacks as he rushed towards danger without a second thought. I was also touched by the statement from Chief Constables from forces across the country, the Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Chief Executive of the College of Policing and the President of the Police Superintendents' Association following the death of George Floyd.
The Peelian Principles of Policing, set out by Robert Peel in 1829 and which form the basis of our understanding of "policing by consent", state that the police should "recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect." With only around 15 per cent of Met officers coming from BAME backgrounds, when around 40 per cent of London's population identify as BAME, there is obviously much more work to do to ensure police consent, approval, and respect.
For instance, it is true that BAME individuals are subject to a disproportionate number of stop and searches, with statistics showing that in 2018/19 black people were at least ten times more likely to be searched than white people. Leroy Logan, the former ex-chairman of the National Black Police Association, said last year that black people are "20 times more likely to be stopped under section 60 roadblocks and you are more likely to be tasered if you are black". The Equality and Human Rights Commission concluded that the “evidence points to racial discrimination being a significant reason” for the disparity. I have written to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to ensure the vital work on rebuilding trust between communities and the police continues; copy attached.
Of course, the need for equitable and fair policing, whilst hugely important, is only one of the issues still facing BAME people today, and we must stamp out racism and inequality in every part of our society, whether in housing, employment, education, healthcare, or wherever it occurs.
I was heartened to hear the impassioned words of the Minister for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, in Parliament last week as she made it clear the efficacy of measures in the UK would indeed be a top priority for her in her new role, and I have also written to her to express my support in making the UK the best country it can be for everyone who lives here; copy attached.
On export of riot gear and treatment of US protesters
I know the Government takes its export control responsibilities very seriously. Indeed, the UK operates one of the world’s most robust and transparent export control regimes. Each export licence application is considered on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. The Consolidated Criteria provide a thorough risk assessment framework, requiring the Government to think very carefully about the possible impact of providing equipment and its capabilities. My understanding is that the Government will not grant an export licence if doing so would be inconsistent with the criteria. However, I have been deeply concerned by some of the images we are seeing coming out of the United States of injured protesters and I have written to the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, to ask what assurances she can give that UK equipment is not being used against unarmed civilians in the States. I have attached that letter for your information.
On findings of BAME COVID-19 report
The Health Secretary commissioned Public Health England (PHE) to complete an urgent review on the disparities in risk and outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic and has now published its findings. The report confirms that being black or from a minority ethnic background is a major risk factor, both in contracting the disease and, sadly, dying from it. Importantly, this racial disparity holds even after accounting for the effects of other factors such as age, deprivation, region and sex.
I note Ministers have said PHE has been engaging with a significant number of individuals and organisations from BAME backgrounds over the past couple of months to hear their views. I am told that this engagement will be built on.
Ministers have reassured me that, in the wake of the report, PHE has been commissioned to carry out further work to better understand the key drivers of the disparities identified in the initial report and the relationships between the different risk factors. I understand the Race Disparity Unit will be closely involved in this work, but if we are to get to the heart of this racial inequality, a number of Government departments will need to be involved.
This report is a welcome first step, but this work has not yet gone far enough. I will continue to follow this issue extremely closely and to press ministerial colleagues to keep up the fight against health and racial inequalities.
On racism in schools
I know our local schools are proud of their diversity, both in the staff and their pupils, and I would be horrified to hear of examples of racism in any Carshalton and Wallington school. I know schools have robust policies to deal with racism, including complaints procedures when things go wrong. If the school does not investigate the matter properly, there is the opportunity to take the complaint higher to the Department for Education.
If you have an example of racism in any local school, and you feel it has not been dealt with appropriately, please do let me know and I would be happy to take up this complaint and support you in its investigation.
I hope this is the start of building more just societies in the UK and around the world. I also hope you are reassured of my own position, as an ally of the BAME community, and my support for the peaceful advancement of civil rights and liberties. The Black Lives Matters movement is speaking with a powerful voice; millions are listening, and I hope all those with the power to affect change are listening too.
UPDATE [9 JUNE]: Black Curriculum
I have written to the Education Secretary to raise the important point about the inclusivity of our shared curriculum, and to highlight the clear need to ensure that black history in our country is being taught in our classrooms. There are many ways we can do this, from looking at Britain's role as an Empire to celebrating the achievements of black people in all fields, much as there has been a significant push in recent years to emphasise the achievements of women. I have attached the letter for interest.
I will be uploading copies of responses to these letters as and when I receive them.
UPDATE [11 JUNE]: Reply from the British Transport Police
Today I have received a reply from the British Transport Police about the tragic death of Belly Mujinga, which I have attached below. I understand that the CPS is still reviewing the evidence into Belly's death, and I will update as I hear more.
UPDATE [12 JUNE]: Call with Govia Thameslink Railway
This afternoon I had a virtual meeting with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), where Belly worked before her tragic death. GTR spoke to me about the work they are doing to keep staff and passengers safe, but also to work with Belly's family to help them through this tragic time. They advised me, similarly to the British Transport Police yesterday, that the CPS are reviewing the evidence into Belly's death, and have promised to keep me updated.
UPDATE [16 JUNE]: Reply from the Department of International Trade
Today I have received a reply from the Department of International Trade about export of riot gear to the USA, which I have attached below.
UPDATE [22 JUNE]: TellMAMA
Today I had a virtual meeting with TellMAMA, a national project which records and measures anti-Muslim incidents in the United Kingdom, to discuss Islamophobia.
You can find out more information here.
UPDATE [23 JUNE]: Sutton Fairness Commission
Today I have written to the Chief Executive of Community Action Sutton to ask to join the Sutton Fairness Commission's board. The Commission replaced the former Sutton Equality and Diversity Forum, and has powers of governance in the Sutton Local Plan to deliver on equality and diversity objectives in the Borough. I have asked to be included in those discussions to help promote the diverse place that Sutton is.
UPDATE [24 JUNE]: COVID-19 BAME Review Webinar
I was pleased to be able to join the All-Party Parliamentary Health Group COVID-19 Webinar, chaired by Baroness Lola Young, CEO of the Royal College of Nursing, on the impact of COVID-19 on the BAME community and discuss the Public Health England rapid review of disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19.
UPDATE [26 JUNE]: Joining the Sutton Fairness Commission
This afternoon I had a call with Alison Navarro, Chief Executive of Community Action Sutton and Chair of the Sutton Fairness Commission. She updated me on the work of the Commission and its aims, including a regular virtual meeting she was holding to discuss matters affecting the BAME community in Sutton and how we can make a difference. I was delighted that she agreed to invite me to be part of the Commission, and I will shortly begin attending the meetings and being part of the conversation as to the actions we can take locally to make Sutton an even better place to celebrate our diversity.
UPDATE [26 JUNE]: Reply from the Department of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Today I have received a reply from the Department of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about the protests in the USA, which I have attached below.
UPDATE [29 JUNE]: Tamil APPG
I am honoured to have been elected as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Tamils today. Carshalton and Wallington's largest BAME population is Tamil, and I look forward to continuing the work of my predecessor, Paul Scully MP, in advancing human rights issues for the Tamil community in the UK and overseas.
UPDATE [1 JULY]: First Sutton Fairness Commission Meeting
I was very pleased to join the Sutton Fairness Commission for my first meeting to discuss how we can tackle racism and improve the lives of BAME people living in Sutton. In the meeting were representatives from the Council, the voluntary sector and the NHS. We spoke about the work needed to be done within our Borough and about the need for the political parties in Sutton to work together to achieve this, which I completely agree with. I will be using my position on the Commission to work with organisations across the Borough to advance these issues, and would encourage anyone who's interested in this topic to check out the Commission.
UPDATE [2 JULY]: Show Racism the Red Card APPG
It was very interesting to join colleagues from all political parties this afternoon as part of the Show Racism the Red Card All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). During the meeting we heard from Shaka Hislop (former Newcastle United, Portsmouth, Reading, West Ham and Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper), Baroness Christine Blower (Vice President of Show Racism the Red Card), Ged Grebby (Chief Executive of Show Racism the Red Card) and speakers from all political parties where we spoke about black history, anti-racism in the National curriculum and actions for the future.
UPDATE [13 JULY]: Convalescent Plasma Donation
I am supporting NHS Blood and Transplant in exploring ways to increase BAME participation in NHS Blood and Transplant's convalescent plasma clinical trial, as this group is underrepresented in the sampling. Convalescent plasma is plasma from people who have recovered from an infection. Recovered patients’ plasma may contain antibodies that their immune systems have produced in fighting the virus. That plasma can be transfused to patients whose immune systems are struggling to develop their own antibodies. The trials will investigate whether transfusions may improve a patient’s speed of recovery and chances of survival. Plasma can also be collected and frozen ahead of any second wave of COVID-19. Donation is safe and easy and takes about 45 minutes. The plasma donated is usually replaced in 24-48 and the antibodies are also quickly replaced. Plasma can be donated as often as every two weeks.
UPDATE [16 JULY]: Launch of the independent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities
I welcome that today the Government has announced the membership of its Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. The Commission will aim to report its findings on the priority areas of health, education, criminal justice and employment by the end of this year. The work of the Commission will report to the Prime Minister. The Sponsoring Minister for this work is Kemi Badenoch, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Equalities Minister. You can find out more information here.
UPDATE [21 JULY]: Joining the Women and Equalities Select Committee
Today I was proud to have my first meeting as a new member of the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee. When a vacancy on the Committee became available, I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to join and take part in the extensive work that is being done to tackle inequalities in society, so I was delighted to be accepted onto the Committee. There is already an inquiry taking place into the unequal impact of Coronavirus on the BAME community, as well as much more besides, so I am delighted to be working as part of the Committee to ensure we can make the UK an even better place to live, work and raise a family.
UPDATE [24 JULY]: Reply from the Home Office
Today I have received a reply from the Home Office about tackling racism in the UK, which I have attached below.
UPDATE [27 JULY]: Stop Hate Crime UK Event
This evening I joined fellow Councillors in the London Borough of Sutton for a virtual event run by Stop Hate Crime UK to talk about the work they do. They shared information about hate crimes and incidents, as well as a discussion not just about the picture across the UK, but also here in Sutton. It was a very informative session and I look forward to continuing to work with Stop Hate Crime UK.
UPDATE [6 AUGUST]: Reply from the Department for Education
Today I have received a reply from the Department for Education about BAME history and the national curriculum, which I have attached below.
UPDATE [6 AUGUST]: CPS Statement on Death of Belly Mujinga
The Crown Prosecution Service has today concluded its review into the evidence surrounding the tragic death of Belly Mujinga in April this year. Following an extensive investigation, the CPS has found that the evidence does not support action against any suspect(s) in the case, and that it could not conclusively be demonstrated - on the evidence available - that an offence had been committed. I know that this will be deeply disappointing for Belly's family and all those who sought justice for her death, and I will continue to press Ministers and rail operators on action taken in the future to ensure that all transport workers are protected moving forward. You can read the CPS statement in full here.
UPDATE [21 AUGUST]: Support for We Too Build Britain Campaign
I have today offered my support to the We Too Build Britain campaign which aims to commission a new artwork in Parliament called 'Service to the Nation'. This would honour the contribution of NHS staff and other key workers during COVID-19 and would incorporate the unique role played by ethnic minority Britons. People from all communities stepped up to serve, despite the increased risk to them. It would also serve as a reminder of our collective heritage, community and the need for cohesion after the division of recent times. Supporters include Theresa May, Tom Tugendhat, Helen Grant, Neil Parish, Selaine Saxby, Harriet Harman, Clive Lewis, Stella Creasy, Bell Ribeiro Addy, Abena Oppong-Asare, Layla Moran, Baroness Ros Scott, Caroline Lucas and Lord Victor Adebowale. One member of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, Simon Baynes MP, has said that he would endorse our proposal at the next meeting of the committee.
UPDATE [4 SEPTEMBER]: Meeting with Residents Against Racism
I had a constructive meeting today with members of Residents Against Racism to talk about where we can work together to tackle racism, both locally and nationally. I am pleased to be able to offer my support, through the Sutton Fairness Commission and the Women and Equalities Select Committee, to play my part in securing changes we all want to see, whether that be in schools, the Police, the NHS, the Council, businesses or any other organisation. I hope to be able to meet fairly regularly with the group in order to discuss progress in securing these aims.
UPDATE [17 SEPTEMBER]: Diversity and Inclusivity at South West London Clinical Commissioning Group
I have written to Sarah Blow, Accountable Officer at SWL CCG, to ask her what the CCG is doing to support and develop diversity of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion and other such protected characteristics; what policies the CCG has in place to ensure that it actively promotes workplace diversity and inclusivity; how concerns can be raised where these expectations are not being met; and what measures are in place to ensure service users are treated equally and fairly. You can read a copy of this letter below.
UPDATE [21 SEPTEMBER]: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust
I have written to Daniel Elkeles, Chief Executive at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, to ask him what the Trust is doing to support and develop diversity of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion and other such protected characteristics; what policies the Trust has in place to ensure that it actively promotes workplace diversity and inclusivity; how concerns can be raised where these expectations are not being met; and what measures are in place to ensure service users are treated equally and fairly. You can read a copy of this letter below.
UPDATE [23 SEPTEMBER]: Sutton Police and Community Cohesion
I have written to Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer of Sutton Police to ask him what steps he is taking to improve police diversity and inclusivity, as well as community cohesion. It is important that we have a police force that reflects the diversity of the community it serves, and one that supports and develops workplace diversity of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion and other such protected characteristics. You can read a copy of this letter below.
UPDATE [25 SEPTEMBER]: Diversity and Inclusivity at Sutton Council
I have written to Helen Bailey, Chief Executive of Sutton Council, to ask what the Council is doing to support and develop diversity of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion and other such protected characteristics. This includes what policies the Council has in place to ensure that it actively promotes workplace diversity and inclusivity; how this is measured and deemed effective; and how concerns can be raised where these expectations are not being met. I have also asked what measures are in place to ensure service users are treated equally and fairly. You can read a copy of this letter below.
UPDATE [30 SEPTEMBER]: Racism and Bullying in Schools
I have written to all primary and secondary schools in Carshalton and Wallington to ask what procedures they have in place to deal with racism; homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia; misogyny and misandry; ableism; and other forms of bullying. In particular, I want to know what behavioural support is in place for those pupils who are repeatedly found in violation of these procedures, including how they are managed if this is not successful, and how victims of bullying are looked after and supported moving forward. I have also asked for more details on what policies each school has in place to encourage teaching children about equality, diversity, and inclusion, and I am interested to hear how this is incorporated into the curriculum at the school, and what consideration is given on whether the correct balance is being struck. I will update as and when I hear back.
UPDATE [1 OCTOBER]: Response from Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Daniel Elkeles, Chief Executive of our local NHS Trust, has responded to my letter on equality, diversion and inclusion, and I am really pleased that he has reaffirmed his commitment to enshrining this within the workplace and in the way services are designed and delivered to local people. You can read his response in full below.
UPDATE [5 OCTOBER]: Black Lives Matter at Carshalton Boys Sports College
I was glad to see on a visit this morning that my old school, Carshalton Boys, is taking a visible stand on tackling racism, and working with pupils and staff to deal with racial injustices. I'm committed to working with all our schools to tackle racism and bullying in whatever form.
UPDATE [6 OCTOBER]: Response from Hackbridge Primary and Spencer Nursery on Racism and Bullying
Emma Walford, Headteacher of the Federation of Hackbridge Primary and Spencer Nursery, has written to me to set out their policies and practices around behaviour and race equality, as well as their statement on equality and diversity, which you can read here. I am glad that they also have in place a coherent PSHE curriculum, in line with the new statutory guidance, which provides opportunities for children to learn about issues related to equality, diversity, discrimination and stereotyping, in both explicit lessons throughout the year and implicitly through all curriculum areas. It's really encouraging to see Hackbridge's commitment here, and that they are working with several verified providers to further develop our practice and provision around these important areas.
UPDATE [6 OCTOBER]: Anti-Sikh Hate
Earlier today I joined a virtual lobby, hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Sikhs, to discuss the important issue of anti-Sikh hate. We were joined by the Chief Executive of Stop Hate UK; Rana Singh Sodhi, the brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi who was the first person killed 19 years ago after 9/11; Jas Singh, a representative of the Sikh Network; Dabinderjit Singh who spoke about his personal experience of hate crime in London, the police response, and the final outcome; and other leading Sikhs from our community. Tackling hate crimes of any kind is hugely important, and I will continue to work with the APPG and the Sikh community to explore what more I can do to support them in this.
UPDATE [7 OCTOBER]: Response from All Saints Carshalton Church of England Primary School on Racism and Bullying
Emma Hart Dyke, Headteacher of All Saints Carshalton, has responded to my letter to set out the school's policies on Behaviour and Discipline, Anti-Bullying, PSHE and Single Equality, which you can find here. I am pleased to see that these issues are also covered across their curriculum in areas such as PSHE, Worship, RE and History.
UPDATE [7 OCTOBER]: Response from Wallington County Grammar School on Racism and Bullying
Jamie Bean, Headmaster of Wallington Grammar, has written to me to set out their zero tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination, which is great to see. Should a student engage in discriminatory behaviour it is likely they will receive a fixed term exclusion and will receive specialist pastoral support to help them understand where they went wrong. Also, in reaction to the death of George Floyd last summer, WCGS launched an anti-racism task force made up of current students, teachers, parents and alumni. The task force fed back its recommendations to the Senior Leadership Team two weeks ago which have been embraced and implemented. These included changes to policy and procedure (updated equal opportunities policy and behavioural policies; better support for students from ethnically diverse communities; publicised anonymous reporting systems; annual listening exercises with protected groups; and co-option of a Local Advisor from a black background) as well as changes to the curriculum (inclusion of wider global civilisation studies; post-colonial immigration into the UK including Windrush; the origins of Empire including the "black experience", slavery, emancipation and civil rights; greater inclusion of non-white literature and unseen extracts; wider involvement of alumni from ethnically diverse backgrounds; promotion of teaching as a career to students from ethnically diverse communities), and additionally further staff training on the black experience to all teachers. There is also a strong focus on the importance of equality and diversity through their Wellbeing Curriculum; assemblies; and pastoral care. I am really pleased to see Wallington Grammar's commitment on these important issues.