Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I am pleased to be able to open this debate on the Home Affairs Committee report, which was published earlier this year. I am also pleased that there is a good attendance, both by members of the Select Committee and by other Members. I will try to be as brief as I can in introducing the debate.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety is present to reply to the debate. There will be some criticism of Government policy in my comments, but it is intended to be helpful, and no criticism of her role is intended.
We have discussed terrorism a lot in the past few weeks, both in the Select Committee and in the House. In yesterday's debate in the House on the Terrorism Bill, a number of Members, including myself, stressed the importance of the broader strategy that we need to follow to reduce extremism and to tackle terrorism. Today's debate, far from providing us with too much discussion on terrorism, enables us to look at some of the broader issues that go beyond the legislation. This debate is also relevant because although our report was published before the general election, it specifically addressed the links that we need to make between any legislation that we pass and the wider strategy for tackling extremism and terrorism. I will return to that subject.
The Committee set out about a year ago to look at what effects the rise of international terrorism had had on community relations in this country, and at the same time to try to identify how measures that might be adopted to strengthen community relations and community cohesion could play a role in fighting extremism and terrorism, and in tackling the consequences of world events.
The report was published several months before the London bombing. It gives me no pleasure to stress that point, but the Committee deserves credit for having recognised the importance of these issueswhich are now being debated much more widely in our societylong before there had been a terrorist attack on United Kingdom soil as part of the current wave of terrorism. When the Committee was preparing the report we attached great importance to certain recommendations and issues, and that stood in contrast to an apparent lack of urgency from the Government.
I am sure the Minister will refer to the big agenda that is now under way, and which tackles many of the issues in the report. We welcome that and look forward to
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hearing more about itand I am sure that the Select Committee will want to discuss it in detail with Ministers in due course. However, the response before the London bombings lacked the urgency that was needed. The Government had not really grasped how central the issues of community relations and community cohesion were to our ability to tackle terrorism. I do not mean by that that there was some magic thing that the Government could have done. It would be ludicrous to say, "If only they'd done this or that, or talked to this group of people, we would not have had the attacks," but we did not see then the urgency that we see now.
For example, recommendation 14 of the report points out that the Government's own evidence to the Committee's inquiry about terrorism and community relations made no mention of the programme of work on community cohesion that had been launched in the wake of the riots in north-west England in 2001. The Home Office should have seen that as directly relevant; that it did not do so was a disappointment.
In recommendation 36, we said that more needed to be done to support the Muslim community in tackling extremism. The only concrete thing that could be mentioned in the Government's response, which we received a few months after the report, was that
Although I have great respect for the Learning and Skills Council, I am not sure that that amounted to the scale of response and support for Muslim leaders that was needed. We will hear from the Minister that a huge programme is now under way through the commission on integration to deal with these matters, but it should have started earlier.
I will make a couple of further observations. We raised the first with the Home Secretary on Tuesday, and it was also raised through the Liaison Committee of Select Committee Chairmen with the Leader of the House. I am talking about the Home Office's failure to provide our inquiry with accurate and relevant documents when we were examining these matters, particularly its failure to provide a Cabinet Office paper entitled "Young Muslims and Extremism" which was subsequently leaked to the newspapers. We subsequently obtained it.
That is important because there is a marked contrast between the tone of the evidence that the Government submitted to our inquiry and the assessment that was made by officials for the Cabinet. Recommendation 4 of our report concluded that since 2001
Yet the documents we now have clearly show the situation. The Government's assessment of published opinion polls indicated that between 50 and 65 per cent. of Muslims thought that relations between Muslims and non-Muslims had got worse after 11 September 2001. Incidentally, that had not been affected by the Iraq war; it was clearly a result of the terrorist events of September
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2001. That indicates a serious deterioration in relations, which means that our Committee was right to make the assessment that it did.
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the situation since the bombings in July has made the problem worse, and that many Muslims feel greatly under threat? That is because of a perceived sense of collective responsibility, which relates to the media and to Government policy because of stop-and-search powers and proposed powers to close mosques. There is a real sense of fear and of grief among the Muslim community about what has happened.
Mr. Denham : In answering such questions, it is important that I restrict my remarks to the assessment that the Committee was able to make when it did its inquiry. We all have our anecdotal sense of what has happened since. We will have heard people who share the hon. Lady's view, and others who do not. It is difficult to make a scientific assessmentbut she is right to raise the issue. I will return to it in a moment in relation to the new legislation before Parliament.
Looking strictly at the Government's response to our report, one could argue that the detail of the wording does not quite exclude what I have just said about how Muslims feel about community relations. My point is that this is not a topic on which weasel words are appropriate. If we have a problem, we must discuss it out in the open and frankly, because that is the only way through.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): The report of the right hon. Gentleman's Committee is extremely interesting. Does he agree that although people's views may be muted, to suggest that since the events of 9/11 constituents do not express much greater hostility towards Muslims and Islam is to live in a fantasy world. I, as a Member of Parliament, pick that up. If Muslims then find themselves feeling victimised, there is a perfectly explicable cause. Yet, the Government seem to have glossed over that issue. My experience is that it is a real problem. As long as it means that entirely innocent people are thereby tarnished by the activities of a few extremists, it is central to improving inter-community relations between Muslims and other communities in Britain.
Mr. Denham : The hon. Gentleman makes another important point; it is the mirror image of what the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) said a moment ago. During our inquiry we received evidence to that effect. A Roman Catholic priest from Oldham described what he hears among his congregation if there is a report of a bombing in part of the world that has been linked to international terrorism. He described how such incidents immediately affect what people are sayingand that was before the London bombings.
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The work carried out by the PeaceMaker group in Oldham illustrates clearly how such views and suspicions are taking hold among young people of all races, not only those from minority groups. That is important.
Dr. Lewis : Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this topic, does he agree that there is a difference between a community fearing that its relationship with the main community in the country has been worsened as a result of terrorist outrages by a tiny minority, and the actual worsening of those relations? I cannot think of any instances of brutality or retaliation against individual innocent Muslims since 7/7 by members of the non-Muslim community that have been reported. Perhaps I am wrong about that, but fear is subjective, and the reality of worsening community relations might not be so extensive, or, indeed, may not exist.
Mr. Denham : I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. It is true that the violent crime statistics do not necessarily bear out such concerns. The available statistics, some of which have been gathered by community organisations, show, for example, an increase in anti-Semitic attacks that is at least as high as any reported increase in anti-Muslim attacks. The issue is complex.
On a cautionary note, to some extent perception may be subjective, but it can be real. It can colour the way in which people feel that their lives are being lived. We said in the report that we had analysed the datalast year's data, of courseon the use of section 44 powers. We did not find evidence to show that they were being used disproportionately to target Asianswe did not refer to Muslims because the data had not been collected. Those powers are largely used in London, and pretty much in proportion to the London population. However, there is no doubt from the evidence that young Muslims feel that they are being targeted by the use of the powers. That is a substantive political issue. We cannot simply say that they are wrong, and that they will just have to lump it. We will have to deal with it. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but some care needs to be taken about what conclusions we draw from it.
As for the documents that we did not receive, it was made clear there had been a fairly extensive assessment by the Government, which had not been shared publicly, setting out the reasons why some young people might be drawn into extremism and possibly terrorism. It is a lengthy assessment. I shall not read it all out, but the section on policy issues states:
"It seems that a particularly strong case of disillusionment amongst Muslims including young Muslims is a perceived 'double standard' in the foreign policy of western governments (and often those of Muslim governments), in particular Britain and the US."
I shall not go into the merits of those issues, but it is significant that there has been an assessment inside the Government of the factors leading to potential involvement in extremism and terrorism that is different from what they said publicly about the same issues when they were raised in debate.
The Government might sometimes think that points in their private assessment are difficult, controversial and not to be aired in publicbut if there is a theme running through our report, it is that greater openness, and more open discussion of such difficulties issues, are essential. If some young people are alienated by foreign policy, we should admit it openly and then engage in the ensuing discussion. We do not say that the policy has to be changed, but we should say that it is on the agenda and open for debate. We must not say that it cannot be discussed. This is not only about whether the Committee gets relevant documents, although that is an important procedural point, but about how the Government discuss such matters.
I have a final moan to make to the Minister. When preparing for today's debate, I tried to get Select Committee members further information about the commission on integration, but was told that the only document that could be made available to the Committee was a September press release. I must tell my right hon. Friend that such a response is not good enough, given the working relationship that Select Committees should have with Government Departments.
I wish to make a personal point before turning to the report. It is my considered view that we need a dedicated Minister of State to deal with counter-terrorism. I mean no disrespect to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety. I used to resist the idea of having a homeland security Minister on the ground that our resilience structures for dealing with attacks did not need a shake-up or co-ordination. Indeed, the response of the emergency services in Londonthey have never been complacentshow the strength of our existing resilience structures. However, given the scale of the threat that we face, spreading a number of issuesfrom the Security Service and certain aspects of foreign policy to the matters that we are debating todayacross a number of Departments makes things quite difficult.
The idea of having a Minister to deal with counter-terrorism was apparently floated in a Cabinet Office or policy unit paper that was leaked at the weekend. If such a post is created, it clearly should not be in the Cabinet Office, which is an elephants' graveyard from which nothing useful emerges. It should be a Home Office position; I hope that the Government will take that idea forward.
The Committee's report is obviously lengthy, and many Members want to contribute to the debate, so I shall highlight a few points and try not to repeat what I have already said. We found an overall deterioration in community relations, although there were many positive points. We highlighted the fact that it went further than the Muslim community; there had been an
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increase in anti-Semitic attacks, and the Hindu and Sikh communities felt that their concerns had sometimes been neglected. However, the claim made during our inquiry that organisations based at Neasden Hindu temple were involved in terrorism were not substantiateda fact that we recorded in our conclusions.
We examined the use of stop-and-search powers, which is a major problem for the Government's stop-and-search group. It may be that young Muslims are not being disproportionately stopped using terrorist powers, but they are clearly stopped in large numbers under other stop-and-search powers, as are other young Asians. The way in which young Muslims perceive those searches is a problem: they perceive that they are being targeted because of terrorism. Whether that is really the case or not, we could not establish, but the Government need to deal with that problem.
We also considered the role of the media. All media witnesses rejected the claim that the Government manipulated the media agenda in order to exploit or raise public concern over terrorism. However, we were highly critical of much media coverage. Some, perhaps, is obvious. For instance, it is no surprise to have heard that if tabloid newspapers linked asylum, terrorism and Muslims in one phrase or in one article, it would give rise to fear and hatred.
More surprising was the extent of criticism of the broadcast mediaor at least about their impact. Although the broadcast media rarely show the excesses of some of the tabloid press, we were told that apparently straightforward factual accounts of terrorist attacks involving people who claim to be Muslims can and do have a direct effect on community cohesion. That is a real challenge for broadcasters. I do not pretend to know the answers, but it was useful to highlight the issue.
There are areas in which positive action is needed. The agenda set out by the Cantle report on community cohesion in 2001particularly with regard to bringing communities together, where people live separate livesis as relevant today as in 2001. It is important that the Government should refresh that agenda and give it a new lease of life.
Local leadership has a critical role. We saw impressive work by some local authorities here and in France and the Netherlands, in bringing communities together. The quality of leadership at local level often impressed the Select Committee more than the leadership of some national organisationsnot necessarily Governments but faith organisations and others. There was much greater dynamism among faith leaders of all faiths at local level than among some of those at national level who came to the Select Committee.
Faith work is important, but inter-faith organisations at local level were patchy in their coverage and often did not reach beyond the small numbers of people who were currently involved with them. The Government cannot force such organisations to come into existence, but national and local government can do much to help. The good practice that we saw in local government was far from standard. Even in the best led areas there is still a struggle to involve the young people who might be most at risk of being drawn into extremism.
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By way of a brief aside on the Cantle agenda, I think that the events in Birmingham this weekend, linked to issues entirely other than those that we are discussing today, should reinforce the message for us that when communities in towns and cities appear to live side by side but do not interact successfully, we have a problem on which the Government need to act.
Schools are enormously important, because they are places where a large number of young people from different backgrounds come together. We were worried by what we found out about schools. We commissioned a well-respected organisation called PeaceMaker, which is well known in the north-west, to work with school students and tell us what was happening among young white students and young Muslim students. Many schools were reluctant even to let PeaceMaker in to hold the discussion. I do not want to repeat the evidence, which is in the report, but when discussions did take place, the suspicions, mistrust and prejudice that we found were worrying.
The Government have an important role in providing leadership to schools and giving them the confidence to handle such different discussions in schools. The response to the relevant point in our report was worrying. The Government told us that that was really a matter for schools and local education authorities. I was pleased that when the Home Secretary gave evidence to us on Tuesday he acknowledged that there is a more important role for central Governmentand I hope that the Minister will tell us what is to be done.
Another aspect of the Cantle report that we have pursued is the importance of a constructive debate about British identity and how it should work in the 21st century. That discussion needs to happen. An anecdote that is not in the Committee's record is about a group of young Muslim school students from the north-west of England who wrote to us towards the end of our inquiry ask if they could come to give evidence. It was far too late to add them to our official group of witnesses, but more than half the Committee turned up to an informal session one day, to hear them speak, and they gave us a wide range of useful insights into their experiences.
It was the week after a young man from Gloucester had been convicted of planning to blow up an aircraft, and we asked the students why on earth a young man, apparently with a reasonably comfortable background and good academic success, should get into that position. With one voice they said, "It's simple; it's about identity." It is about people who are not confident of who they are in a society where they are perhaps rejected because of their race and where their faith is not accepted, and with which they find it hard to identify, although they do not particularly identify with their parents, or with their parents' or grandparents' country or culture either. Who are they? They could turn, as a minority dowe say this in the reportto faith as an identity. Within that, a minority of a minority turn to extreme interpretations.
It seems to the Committee that open discussion is needed, not just about how Muslims feel British, because that will not work, but about how we all, in future, can feel British in a multi-cultural society. The GovernmentI was a part of that Government at the
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timemissed the opportunity provided by the Cantle report in 2001 to push the debate forward. We now need to do that. That debate has broken out in the pages of the broadsheets and the intellectual political magazines, but to have any meaning, it needs to take place at street, community and local government level.
The Committee thought it important that new legislation should be developed in close consultation with the Muslim community. I am not sure whether that is true of the Terrorism Bill, particularly the first two clauses, which are designed to help us to tackle extremist ideas. It is unclear whether the people in the Muslim community whom we expect to be in the front line of tackling extremist ideas find those clauses helpful. We said that there was a need, in such sensitive areas, to work in close conjunction with the Muslim communityalthough of course it is more than a community; it is a series of communities. Will the Minister tell us what endorsement of the proposals has been received from the Muslim community?
We now know that the Government's assessment of the situation a year ago warned against targeting organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, on the ground that that is not the right way in which to tackle extremism. Why has that assessment changed?
I conclude on a clear and positive note. That is important, because these reports inevitably concentrate on shortcomings and things that need to be improved. Despite all that I have said about the Government having to do more, the need for greater urgency and being pleased about what the Government are doing now, our clear, unanimous assessment in March and April was that this country has done better, made more extensive preparations and approached the problems much more seriously than others whose representatives we met in France and the Netherlands. In the extent to which they have got to grips with these issues, they are some way behind us. The Government, and other organisations, involved deserve some credit for doing that.
Our report was quoted extensively in the debate on these issues in the Netherlands Parliament a few months ago. We, as a Select Committee, want to continue our interest in these issues. At the end of November we will host a conference of our sister committees across the European Union to discuss the report and share experiences, and we are pleased that the Home Secretary will host the main dinner of the conference.
I understand informallythis is not confirmedthat the Austrian presidency is likely to continue focusing on this issue, and that we will again meet our sister select committees in about six months' time to further our discussions. I hope that that will be useful. Although many such issues have to be discussed at Government-to-Government level, I hope that the regular engagement of serious parliamentarians from serious select committees across Europe will help us to share experiences and develop our understanding of how to tackle these important issues.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): I am pleased to have this opportunity to debate our report, and to hear more from the Minister about how the Government intend to tackle some of the problems
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highlighted in it. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) on his chairmanship and leadership of the Committee during the making of the report. It will be evident to anyone listening to the debate that he takes a close personal interest in, and feels a sense of commitment to, these issues. That sense of commitment was evident earlier this year, when he was anxious for certain issues to be highlighted and more urgency to be shown, and to make the important connection between anti-terrorism laws and operations and the need for a wider strategy that reaches out to and engages communities, so as to make them feel part of the process. That important point cannot be over-emphasised.
Although the report considers some uncomfortable issues and talks about tensionsit is right to look at the tensions when they existat the same time we should never lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of members of all communities in the country, including the Muslim community, live harmoniously. They work together, get on together, go to schools together and want to get on with their lives in a peaceful and harmonious way. We should never lose sight of that.
At the same time, we have to consider the challenges outlined in the report. The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that many points of our inquiry covered the same ground as the Cantle report. It is important to highlight and scrutinise the follow-up to that report. One of the challenges that faces our communities, especially in some of our northern cities, is the way in which communities lead peaceful but separate lives, side by side, without sufficient points of contact. That was an important part of the background to the report.
There was also a more immediate challenge in the impact of international terrorism and extremism on our communities. There are no grounds for complacency. We know now that although the Government did not entirely accept our conclusion, they had plenty of evidence that it was the case. Our conclusion was a fair picture. We noted:
"We conclude that community relations have deteriorated, although the picture is by no means uniform, and that there are many positive examples to set against our overall assessment. International terrorism and the response to it have contributed to this deterioration, particularly in relations between the majority community and the Muslim community."
It goes without saying that the challenge is significant. It is likely that part of the wicked intention of the terrorists and extremists is that there should be collateral damage to community relations as a result of their acts. They are likely to have made that calculation and to have looked to every possible recruiting sergeant and source of grievance that will arise as a result of the wicked acts that they have carried out.
Sarah Teather : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that part of the problem is the way in which terrorism is described as a problem of the Muslim community rather than as a minority of criminals committing criminal acts? The sense of collective blame leads to the sense of alienation and fear in the Muslim community.
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Mr. Clappison : I happily endorse the hon. Lady's comments, but I make one qualification, which I will enlarge on later: there is greater sophistication in public opinion than we might allow for. Most people in this country can see that those are the acts of a tiny minority.
I endorse the hon. Lady's comments, and I shall add some of my own. Although some members of the community have taken part in terrorism, we should never lose sight of the fact that they are few in number. They are isolated both within their community and in the wider community, and they are unrepresentative. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the security response to terrorism carries with it the possibility of affecting many other members of the Muslim community. We should not lose sight of that fact either.
As the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen said, it is important to minimise or remove altogether any suggestion that the security response carries with it the implication of bias against Muslims or any possible source of grievance. We have to be careful in the words that we use. Members of this House, community leaders, the media and particularly pressure groups should all take care to give a balanced viewnot to be selective, not to hold back from reporting something that is objectively the case and can be backed up, and needs to be put right, but to avoid creating myths that can lead to alienation.
"We do not believe that the Asian community is being unreasonably targeted by the police in their application of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act or of the other legislation enabling stops and searches."
There is a problem of perception that we need to address, but let us not make that perception worse and embroider myths; let us see what the facts are and address them as they are. We must not do anything to add to any possible sense of grievance that was in the calculation of the terrorists in the first place.
Of course, the Government have a role to play in engaging with the Muslim community, and I endorse the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman. I certainly share his view that it would have been helpful for the Committee to have had sight of, or even known of the existence of, the Cabinet Office study "Young Muslims and Extremism". That would have helped us a great deal. I welcome some of the Government's response, but it would have been better for there not to have been a parallel line of thinking at the Home Office; as a parliamentary Committee, we were told one thing, while there was a different line of thinking within the Home Office. Some lessons need to be learned from that.
On a more positive note, I look forward to hearing more from the Minister on the Government's engagement with the Muslim community. Such engagement formed a very important part of our conclusions; we wanted the Government to engage with, help and give leadership to that community and help it evolve its own strategies. In paragraph 4 of their response, the Government state:
"As part of the strategy to improve community relations, the Government is committed to ensuring that Muslim and other faith communities are engaged and involved in the formulation of policies that have a direct relevance to them."
Again, I am covering the same ground as the right hon. Gentleman, who asked how much input there had been from Muslim leaders to the first two clauses of the Terrorism Bill. I look forward to hearing from the Minister on that, and to a reassurance from her that the Muslim community will be closely engaged in the formulation of Government policy; there is a great deal to be gained from that.
Sarah Teather : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a particular need to involve young Muslims, and that one of the difficulties has been that we have been talking only to community leaders, who may not be representative of the whole base, rather than getting to the roots of communities?
Mr. Clappison : That is a good point. There are issues in the Muslim community and it is important to engage with all its strands, help it evolve its own strategies in response to such matters and enable as much impetus as possible to come from within the community, rather than its having something that it might not endorse in every respect dictated to it by the Government.
Since the publication of our report and the Government's response, we have seen the tragic events of July, which produced a response from the Government in August in the form of the Prime Minister's 12-point plan. The measures that some of us were debating yesterday formed part of the Government's response, but I should like to ask the Minister about some other elements of the Government's 12-point plan that were not covered by the legislation yesterdayin particular, the Prime Minister's statement of 5 August that the Home Secretary was publishing new grounds for deportation and exclusion. Indeed, that was the point on which the Prime Minister said that the rules of the game were changing. Will the Minister say whether there have been any deportations? I do not believe that there have, but she will correct me if I am wrong. When does she expect deportations to occur as a result of the grounds that the Home Secretary is introducing?
The Prime Minister also promised to consult on an extension of existing powers to strip citizenship from those who act in a way that is contrary to the interests of this country. What is happening about that? The Prime Minister mentioned the case of Rashid Ramda, and I share the views of the Home Secretary on that. Imagine the outcry in this country if things were the other way round; imagine if one of those responsible for an attack on the London underground went to France and we could not secure his extradition for various reasons. We should feel no less of a sense of urgency or outrage because the victims of the 1995 bombings were French citizens; the issue needs to be addressed. The Prime Minister promised to consult on setting a maximum time limit for future extradition cases, and we hope that that will prevent a case such as that of Rashid Ramda from occurring again. Will the Minister tell us what is happening?
During the inquiry, I was most struck by the evidence of Gerry Gable, the publisher of Searchlight. He was asked about the links between 9/11, the threat of
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terrorism, community tensions and the rise in anti-Semitic attacks. He said:
He went on to say that there had, in fact, been a rise in anti-Semitic attacks. Nonetheless, the question of Islamophobia and attacks on the Muslim community is important, and we must be careful to ensure that any such attacks are properly addressed; there are no grounds for complacency. Indeed, one important conclusion in our report is that much more data on attacks should be collected. The Muslim community could draw on the experience of the Jewish community's Community Security Trust and keep a record of attacks, because it is important that we have objective information about them.
Given the lack of information, our judgment is inevitably subjective, but I do not feel that there was an upsurge in Islamophobia after 9/11 or more recent attacks in this country. British public opinion is more sophisticated than it is sometimes given credit for, and people can see that these wicked terrorist attacks are carried out by a very small number of people. The overwhelming majority of this country's citizens distinguish between those people and the rest of the Muslim community, and they feel sympathy towards that community because of that small minority's activities.
Mr. Clappison : Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, which deserves wide circulation. If Islamophobic attacks are happening they must be dealt with very severely, but I do not feel that that is the general picture. Others may take a different view, but that is my feeling.
However, the Committee heard a lot of evidence in the same vein as that from Mr. Gable about attacks on members of the Jewish community. That included worrying evidence about the problem of anti-Semitism on university campuses. We also heard quite a lot of worrying evidence of problems with anti-Semitism in other European countries.
Our concerns are reflected in the report's conclusions. In paragraph 9, we express concerns about anti-Semitic incidents on campuses. I welcome the Government's response to that point and the fact that they deplore anti-Semitism on campuses. I ask the Minister to take a personal interest in the initiatives being undertaken by Universities UK, which the Government's response mentions, to ensure that they come to fruition. There is certainly no place for any form of racism or anti-Semitism on our university campuses.
While I am welcoming parts of the Government's response, I warmly welcome their commitment to the continuation of holocaust memorial day, and their recognition that the day reinforces the message that racism and prejudice can have catastrophic consequences, and that there are still important lessons to be learned.
Since our evidence taking and our report it has, sadly, become evident that the problems that I described are still with us; in fact, more evidence of them has emerged.
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I have already referred to the Community Security Trust, which, as hon. Members will know, was established by the Jewish community. Today it is a well-respected organisation that gives advice and help to organisations in other communities. Sadly, last year it recorded 532 anti-Semitic incidents; that is a 42 per cent. rise since 2003. When I say "incidents", I am referring to specific incidents, many of which included violence and damage. The Community Security Trust recorded that of those 532 incidents, 124 showed anti-Israel or anti-Zionist motivation, and 84 showed a far-right motivation.
In this country there are two strands of anti-Semitism at work, as we have found is also the case in other European countries. One strand draws political inspiration from events in the middle east, and is in many cases fuelled by propaganda emanating from the middle east. The other is a form of anti-Semitism that harks back to the extremism and far-right fascist ideology of the last century. Both of them are to be deplored, and certainly need to be dealt with vigorously; the full force of the law should be applied to them. I am aware of at least three very unpleasant attacks on Jewish cemeteries so far this year in different parts of the country. These problems are still with us, and we still need to address them. There are no grounds for complacency about the tensions and problems that affect any of the communities in Britain today.
I go back to the point on which I started: we should not allow ourselves to become too gloomy or despondent about this subject. There is a lot of vibrancy in this country, and much of it is due to the different cultures in Britain. I understand that while we are debating these issues, Diwali celebrations are taking place in another part of the House. Diwali is an event of great richness, and I draw much pleasure from attending Diwali and other celebrations, which are very colourful, with members of the Hindu community in my constituency. There is a great deal to learn from the Hindu community and others; we can learn from different faiths and cultures. That is a richness on which we can all draw, and which we can all share.
Although there are tensions, this is a tolerant country. We have a strong tradition of religious and cultural tolerance stretching back to at least the 19th century. People in this country enjoy drawing on that rich tradition. Let us hope that it will continue to prevail over the problems of today, as it did over problems that we encountered in the past.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I shall follow up some of the points made by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and, like him, I praise the Chairman of the Select Committee, who looks after our proceedings impartially. We are all very pleased about that.
We Select Committee members make it clear in the reportand we reiterate it todaythat the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom totally reject terrorism in this country. That is made clear in a number of paragraphs in the report, particularly paragraph 177 on page 48, in which
That is undoubtedly extremely harmful to community relations. We go on to say that special efforts should be made by the police and Government to reassure Muslims that they are not being singled out unfairly. Any discrimination against Muslims because they are Muslims would be wrong in itselflike discrimination against any groupand counter-productive.
Page 17 of the report, which is about stop-and-searches, is of interest. We must take into account the different numbers. The number of whites stopped in 200304 was 20,637, the number of blacks stopped was 2,704 and the number of Asians stopped was 3,668. One assumes that Muslims would be the main part of the latter category. Even those figures are not so excessive as to give the impression that Asians, whether Muslims, Hindus or Sikhs, are being stopped in such a way that unfairness is being applied by the police.
It is interesting to note that a Muslim activist in my borough, if not in my constituency, was quoted recently in the local press as saying that, when he got on a train, he wanted to stay in one piece while travelling and to go home in one piece. My borough has a relatively large Muslim community, although there are more Muslims in the next-door constituency. A young schoolgirl of 11 or 12 came up to London for the day with her teacher. It was 7 July. They were near Tavistock square. Fortunately, no harm was done to them. One can imagine the sheer relief, which, as parents, we would all feel, when the daughter came back safe and sound. That illustrates a point that has already been made: the victims of terrorist attacks can include anyone, including Muslims. That should not be forgotten.
When the IRA was bombing Britain, there was a need to ensure that Irish residents were seen not as the enemy but, like the rest of us, as potential victims of the terrorists. A terrible tragedy occurred on 21 November 1974 in Birmingham, when 21 people were murdered in two public houses. Half of them were under the age of 25 and among the victims and seriously injured were people of Irish origin. The IRA could not care less. Why should it, given its distorted terrorist point of view?
Likewise, the small number of Muslim terrorists, who are totally isolated from their own communitylet alone from British society as a wholehave no concern whether or not the victims are Muslims. Given their totally distorted point of view, they might even say that, if the victim is a good Muslim, they will just go to paradise earlier. That needs to be borne in mind.
Just as during those 30 years of sustained IRA terrorism it was necessary to prevent, in any way possible, thugs attacking the Irish, so today there is no lesser need to ensure that Muslims are not subjected to attacks by thugs and hooligans. Clearly, that is the responsibility of all of us: the police, the local community and politicians at local and national levels.
It is also a necessity, as stated in our report, for the Muslim community to ensure that those extremists are weeded out from mosques and community
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organisations, where they can spread so much harm and poison. That responsibility lies first and foremost, as it must do, with the Muslim community.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere mentioned not only prejudice against Muslims, but anti-Semitism. That is highlighted in our report. I do not want to exaggerate the dangers of anti-Semitism in our country. I do not believe that the level of anti-Semitism is anywhere near what it was in the 1930s. Blackshirts are not marching through the streets of east London, causing mayhem and fear. The situation is different today.
However, it is important to recognise that elements of international terrorism are bound up with anti-Semitism. Before the American journalist Daniel Pearl was murdered in Pakistanhis head was cut offhis captors made him say this: "My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I'm Jewish." Why did his killers force him to say that? The explanation is clear. In their eyes, he was not only an American. To them, the very fact that he was Jewish justified killing him. The poisonous anti-Semitism that led to the life of that American journalist being taken is the same sort of anti-Semitism that it is so important to combat at every opportunity, both in our country and elsewhere.
Although I said that we must be careful not to exaggerate the dangers of anti-Semitism, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the evidence given to us by Gerry Gable, who has for so long been associated with the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, and by representatives of the Union of Jewish Students showed that, in some places of higher education, such as the Open university, anti-Semitic remarks have been made, and that in certain cases anti-Semitic attacks have taken place.
I again make the point that when I mention anti-Semitism I am not referring to criticism of Israel's policies. No one could be more critical of Israeli policies than I am. Indeed, last year, I initiated a debate on Israel's policies in the occupied territories, and along with colleagues demonstrated my total distaste about what was happening and my solidarity with the Palestinians, who are the victims. Therefore, when I mention anti-Semitism I am not referring to Israel, although those who spread anti-Semitism try to link them.
It is important to recognise that in some institutions of higher education a very small number of extremists among Muslim students are spreading that type of poison. They use every opportunity to encourage anti-Jewish prejudice. The academic authorities have the important responsibility of stamping that out. We expect them to stamp out anti-Muslim sentiments. We are not going to tolerate that and I hope that the academic authoritiesat the university of London or any other such institutionwill not accept any of that either. Likewise, the academic authorities and others must not be complacent about anti-Semitism on their own doorstep, and where it is happeningthey have a responsibility to know about thatthey should take appropriate action.
I support my hon. Friend's point. Although his assessment of the current situation is probably right, the evidence we received, in particular in our visits to France and the Netherlands, was deeply worrying. There, far more than here, it was reported that visibly identifiable Jewish people, such as those wearing religious clothing or headgear, were regularly subjected to abuse and attack on public transport. That evidence showed me how things might end up if we do not rigorously tackle anti-Semitism here and now in our country.
Mr. Winnick : I appreciate the point that my right hon. Friend makes. One should never forget that, where discrimination started, it ended up in the extermination camps. Nobody should be under any illusion: there is a direct connection, and we should learn the lesson of what occurred over 60 years ago.
Finally, I do not want to involve myself in controversy with the Mayor of London, but we are concerned here with good community relations. I find it difficult to understand how a cleric can come into this country as a visitor, whether or not he is a leading authority in religious matters, and express views that most of us would consider outrageous about Jews, homosexuals, whom he believes should be put to death, and women, saying, for instance, that if a wife does not behave properly one can smack her so long as one does it carefully. How can the Mayor of London, who, let us remember, some 20 years ago when it was not fashionable, particularly among those on the Conservative Benches, took a courageous stand on behalf of those who were sexually inclined to their own gender and on other issues, go to where such a person is speaking and embrace him warmly as a long-lost friend? How does that contribute to good community relations?
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. However, I would hazard the explanation that the Mayor of London did that because he perceived that the views being expressed by that individual, which I find every bit as abhorrent as does the hon. Gentleman, were not considered extreme in a large part of the community to which the Mayor wished to appeal, but were perceived to be mainstream. That is a subject that we are sometimes unhappy to talk about openly. I suggest that that is why the Mayor did it. His perception was that cleric was not an extremist, or at least not viewed as one within the community to which he went to preach.
Mr. Winnick : That might be the Mayor's view, and he has broadly indicated as much. That does not satisfy me. When we heard evidence recently from the Mayor of London, I tackled him on the issue. I asked him whether, if a rabbi from Israelremember that Islam does not have a monopoly on extremism, and that Israel unfortunately has quite a number of rabbis whose views are equally bigoted and, in my view, downright evil, although I hope that they are a small minoritycame to Britain and expressed views about Muslims, homosexuality and other matters that were as repugnant as those that that cleric expressed about Jews, he would warmly embrace such a person. I would hope not.
I know what I would say about such a rabbi: I would denounce him at every opportunity, as I would a bigoted leader of any religion. Christianity has its bigots. In the
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American religious right, there are views that go against sanity so far as I can see. All of us have to be careful and that includes the Mayor of London. It falls to us humble MPs, in carrying out our duties, to ensure that, where community relations are concerned, we do not go overboard and cause antagonism with other community groups.
The report is valuable, as the Chair of the Select Committee has indicated. No doubt we shall revisit the scene. Good community relations are extremely important, so anything that the House of Commons as a whole can do is welcome at a time of acute terrorism. We have only to look out of the window to see how the House is being protected for all of usMPs, staff and everybody else. We know the dangers. We know that people committed atrocities on 7 July and that, given the opportunity, others would do the same. It is important to ensure, as we did during the IRA terror campaign, that good community relations are upheld at every opportunity.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I am neither an expert on community relations, nor, indeed, a member of the Committee and I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue various thoughts that have been stimulated by the uniformly excellent contributions of those hon. Members who are experts in community relations and members of the Committee.
I start, optimistically, with a single rough statistic. There are well over 1 million Muslims in the United Kingdom. Yet as far as I know, the grand total of Muslim individuals who have been involved in terrorism or arrested for activities that were expected to get them involved in terrorism is not yet in more than double figures. That comparison speaks for itself. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) who said, in her first intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), that those people should be seen not as Muslims per se but as a tiny minority of criminals in the Muslim community.
The problem, however, is not, as the hon. Lady suggested, that members of wider British society tend to characterise those murderous individuals by their Muslim faith. It is that the people who subscribe to those extreme views and carry out the atrocities describe themselves as doing it in the name of Islam. Although they may be lacking in many qualities, they and those who send them on their mission possess in abundance one quality above allthat of expert propagandists.
Those people do what they do precisely because they know that by operating beyond the bounds of what is acceptable in a free society against a free society they will have a good chance of subverting the pillars of that free society and driving wedges between the different communities that make it up.
Insufficient stress has so far been given in the debate to two ways of tackling the problem. The first I have already mentioned: propaganda. If the people in question are such expert propagandists we need to set up the machinery of counter-propaganda, with the full support and essential co-operation of the leaders of the moderate Muslim community. How is it that young people may be brainwashed into sacrificing their lives in
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a belief that there is a religious basis for the view that they will be rewarded in the afterlife in some exaggerated way? They hold those views because someone has indoctrinated them.
We need, desperately soon, people from the Muslim communityreligious leaders with impeccable qualifications and immense depth of religious knowledgeto put forward the true interpretation of their religion, and to undermine the false vision that is given to impressionable young people capable of being indoctrinated.
Secondly, an important factor that has not yet been mentioned is the accessibility of the political process. I am sure that all hon. Members look forward to the day when there will be as many Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament who are Muslims as there are Members in those parties who are Roman Catholic.
Dr. Lewis : I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention and I look forward to her speech. I salute the work that she has done to stress the importance of members of ethnic communities accepting the values and language of British society, to which they belong, and in which we want them to participate fully.
Mr. Winnick : I noted what the hon. Gentleman said. Perhaps that will happen, in time, on both sides of the House. We already have Muslim MPs on my side, although obviously there will be many more. When I first came to the House39 years ago, for a different constituencythere were just two Jewish Members of Parliament. That was simply because it was difficult for anyone who was not whiteand, probably, a Protestant, although there were a few Catholicsto be selected for a winnable seat, and therefore to sit on the Tory Benches. Now, of course, the situation is totally different. That shows that the Tory party can make progress, but very slowly.
Dr. Lewis : Apart from the partisan twist at the end, I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman made those comments because he anticipated precisely what I was about to say. Coming from a Jewish background, I am well aware of the history of representation in the British political process, and I am delighted to say that when I see in Parliament someone from a religious background similar to mine, it makes not a scrap of difference: if they are on the opposite side of the House, they will do everything they can to defeat me in argument, and I will do the same, because our religion is secondary.
Mr. Grieve : I cannot allow the comment of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) to pass without adding that when Mr. Gorbachev first visited London in 1984 and met Mrs. Thatcher, his reaction, on being introduced to her Cabinet, was to say, "But they are all Jews," and he was not altogether incorrecta substantial percentage of the Cabinet were.
Dr. Lewis : That is enough of that. The essential point is that at this stage of political development in this countrya fortiori in the United Stateswhether one is Jewish is almost completely irrelevant to one's views.
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Mr. Winnick : Is the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) aware that in about 1958, a year before the election, the retiring MP for Finchley said to his friends at the House of Commons, "Do you know what's happening in my constituency? They've shortlisted two people; one's a Jew and one's a woman." The woman, of course, was Mrs. Thatcher.
I return to the essential point. We must hope that it will not be too long before political debate is carried on between members of the Muslim community in different parties with total disregard for their common religion. It is essential for any incoming ethnic minority communityeven more so for their descendants who are born and brought up in this countryto realise that the political process is wide open to them. If people in the Muslim community feel that a double standard is applied to Muslim societies abroad in comparison with Israeli societies, the answer is not to go around attacking Jews in this country, but to get themselves into the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties, or any other party that appeals to them, and get themselves elected to this place.
We are experiencing the perennial problem of how a tolerant society should deal with intolerant minorities, without debasing its own values. I have quoted, and will continue to quote, the wise words of the late Sir Karl Popper, who said, in his paradox of tolerance, that we should tolerate all but the intolerant, because if we tolerate the intolerant, the conditions for toleration disappear and the tolerant go with them. That is why parties such as ours have had reluctantly to give our approval to certain measures, introduced in the House only yesterday, that we would normally never dream of implementing in a free society. We have to remember that a minority of fanatics have declared war on our free society, and that when a war is declared, some freedoms have to be limited to ensure that that war is not lost, and that all freedoms are not abrogated.
We should be considering how the Muslim community in this country can learn from how the Jewish community in this country gradually evolved, got itself involved with the political process and was able to strike a balance between understandable historic links with the background of certain countries and cultures and the decision taken by its people to make their lives in British society of the present and future.
Finally, if the threat is to be defeated, that will have to be through a combination of resilience by society, a refusal by the majority Muslim community to be seduced by the fanatics, and security work by the intelligence agencies. Those agencies can succeed only if members of the Muslim community who share liberal values and love freedom get involved in intelligence work to ensure that their good name and the good name of their community are not further sullied by the activities of a fanatical minority.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): I know that we are supposed to say nice things, but today I really mean it: we are having an excellent debate and I have learned a
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great deal from hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) for my departure during his contribution. I assure him that it was essential.
I shall talk about the processes that we are going through with the legislation. The hearings of the Home Affairs Committee and its report, printed in April, before I joined the CommitteeI am a new kid on the blockhave already had an impact on Government thinking and on legislation in the form of the Terrorism Bill, which had its Second Reading last night. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will comment on that.
I abstained last night because I cannot go along with the view that it is essential for the police to have up to 90 days to hold suspected terrorists before charging them. I shall not rehearse the arguments, as during the Committee stage next week on the Floor of the House, they will all be advanced when the amendments are discussed. However, changes have been made and I appreciate them.
Those changes include a High Court judge rather than a district judge overseeing detention prior to charge. Proposals for the possible closure of mosques appear to have been dropped. They could have caused more problems than they would have solved. When there have been problems with mosques, they have usually arisen because the mosques have been taken over by radical groups not of the neighbourhood. Reinstituting the original mainstream local Muslims might have been more useful than closing the mosques entirely.
Proposals to proscribe the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrirsometimes described as a political party, sometimes as a cultalso appear to have been dropped. I welcome that, as its proscription could have created martyrs. Driving it underground would have meant that we could not keep an eye on its activities, and that would have been unfortunate.
"an act of disbelief, and that the return of the khalifahan Islamic state headed by the caliph, the 'successor' to the prophet Muhammadis the only answer to every problem faced by Muslims in the modern world. How can voting be an act of disbelief? Those such as members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, who insist that it is, claim it means participating in a democratic system that upholds the will of man over the will of Allah. For them, Islamic government is 'God's rule' and they reject democracy as 'people's rule'."
I must give credit for that piece. It was written by a Muslim called Murad Qureshi. I thank him for explaining why Hizb ut-Tahrir recommends to its members that it is unIslamic to vote. That is extremely unhelpful, especially in towns such as my own where 20 per cent. of the community is Muslim.
To dispel any myth that all young Muslims are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, I will quote from a document that I received from a young man. He did not
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tell me his name or where he lived, so I have been unable to respond to it. He wrote:
"do not have any influence over the youth due to them having such different points of view. In a town in West Yorkshire (Keighley) the local M.P. has raised the issue of forced arranged marriages. She has been condemned by some of the community elders, but has been applauded by the Muslim youth for standing forward and addressing the issue. So I believe it would be wrong for people to assume that they can communicate with Muslim youths through the community elders."
That has long been my belief and it is, I think, where many Labour-controlled local authorities have gone wrong. They felt that they just needed to pick up the phone, ring a few known leaders and that was their contact with the community. It has been wrong all along and I hope that will start to change. We are now gaining another view of how our Muslim communities operate.
Since we seem to have plenty of time, I will mention a number of things that happened to me in the recess from which I learnt a great deal about Hizb ut-Tahrir, young Muslims and, to some extent, my female constituents who are Muslim, although I already knew a great deal about them.
At the beginning of the recess I was invited to the Leeds BBC studio, where I seem to spend a lot of time. I was doing a down the line interview and phone-in with the BBC Asian Network. When I arrived, a young man was sitting in the waiting area. He made himself known to me and said that he was one of my constituents. He was a very pleasant young man. He told me about the problems that he was having with neighbours dumping rubbish behind his house, and I said that I would help him as his MP. We then went into the studio and the interview started.
The young lady who was the anchorperson in LondonI believe that she was Hindu, although I am not sureand managed the whole discussion asked that young man, who, although a little vague, seemed sympathetic to Hizb ut-Tahrir, whether it was true that in universities they bully women from their religion about their method of dress. He said, "Oh no, we don't bully them. We explain to them what will happen to them in the afterlife if they continue to dress inappropriately." Even I was stuck for words. My jaw dropped and I did not know what to say to him or the anchorperson. That explains the attitudes that are prevalent in some of our universities.
I went to another universityI will not mention its name, as I do not want to damage it. I was told that, during the previous Ramadan, members of Hizb ut-Tahrir went into the canteen and were forthright in condemning young Muslims who were eating there because they should have been fasting. Eventually, the university's security people had to be brought in to move them on. It was explained to the group's members that it was up to each Muslim to determine whether he or she fasted during Ramadan and that it was not up to that clique to tell them how to conduct themselves.
When I went to the university a few weeks ago, I was told that Hizb ut-Tahrir has taken over the Islamic society and was preparing to take over the students union. I am not sure what has happened about the students union, but I hope that it has not been taken
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over. Such events are really sad, because it is the hundreds of mainstream Muslims at the universitygood, intelligent young men and womenwho should be the guiding force in our communities. They have the correct ideas, they are enlightened and they are terrific people.
I do not regard members of Hizb ut-Tahrir as fluffy bunnies or as nice, but I am still quite pleased that the organisation was not proscribed. That would have been the wrong the direction to go in, because it would have made them martyrs.
Mrs. Cryer : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. That would have been useful. I also thank him for his comments about Searchlight, which is well balanced and opposes anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim organisations. I pay tribute to it because it did a great deal of work in my constituency during the general election to combat the poison of the British National party. I appreciate the work that is done by Searchlight staff, and it has been a pleasure to work with them. Anyone who describes Searchlight as in any way anti-Islamic is totally wrong.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I congratulate the Chairman and all the members of the Select Committee on a first-class and prescient report. I did not come with prepared remarks, but I want to say a few words before the Front-Bench spokesmen make their contributions. I simply want to reflect on what happened in my constituency earlier this year and on some of the lessons that I have started to draw from those events.
I do not pretend for one moment to have a blueprint or any solution to the problems that the debate has explored. I recall the sense of almost physical shock that went around Aylesbury when it was discovered that one of the bombers had been living in the town. Although the initial shock dissipated somewhat when it was discovered that the man had lived there for only a short time and was not from the largest Muslim community in townthe Pakistani communitypeople were left with many questions and uncertainties.
On a point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) alluded, over the past few months white constituents have much more frequently raised their sense of mistrust and fear, both in conversation and in formal correspondence. That is not just a fear about known terrorists, but a fear that a large part of, or the entire, British Muslim community is somehow a kind of fifth column that cannot be relied on to stand up for this country. We cannot dismiss those fears, or the fact that events since 9/11 and July will have added to the number of people who feel a sense of disquiet.
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I visited a mosque soon after the police raid on Northern road in Aylesbury. The initial response was a forthright condemnation of terrorism, and the second response was a sense of real frustration at the extensive publicity given for many months to a handful of unrepresentative individuals. There was also frustration that some of those people had not been taken to court, or booted out of this country, long before.
I have a few reflections to make on the challenges that we face as a country, starting with the tension between different generations in the Muslim community. I agree strongly with the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) and the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) that it is not enough for any of uswhether constituency Members of Parliament or Ministersto talk only to the elders of the Muslim community, although clearly it remains important that that is done.
There are real issues about tensions between generations in that community, and I subdivide them into two distinct problems. One is that in the largest Muslim communitiesthe Pakistani and Bengali communitieswe find relatively low standards of educational attainment, participation in higher education and work-related skills, just as we do for poor whites and Afro-Caribbeans in Britain. Those are not new issues. Also, in every such ethnic or religious group, the boys seem to do worse than the girls. Those problems can certainly lead to disaffection. In some cases, they can lead to young people being tempted into crime, because they can afford a better standard of living that way than by carrying out an unskilled but legitimate job.
I have had meetings with senior members of the Muslim community in my constituency where they have said to me, "The trouble is that white society is corrupting our young men, with crime, drugs and a focus on sexual gratification which we reject." In a sense, that social problemwe are aware that it applies to a number of different communitiesis perhaps more susceptible to the intervention of policy makers than the second subdivision. That relates to those from the Muslim community who are well educated, but who, as the Chairman of the Committee said, find their sense of identity neither with the United Kingdom and British traditions and institutions, nor any more with their parents' way of life; they sometimes reject their parents as insufficiently Islamic. Instead, they find their identity in the community of world Islam, or in an extreme interpretation of that community. Through satellite and cable television, they can obtain access to media that provide an Islamocentric or Arabocentric view of the world that is absent from mainstream television news coverage. Fellow citizens of ours learn about countries such as Kashmir, Palestine and Chechnya in a different way from those who rely on BBC news, Sky or other mainstream media outlets.
We cannot communicate with the elders alone. We all have to find ways of communicating with all members of the community. With regard to those who are well-educated, it is, as my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) said, a matter of somehow trying to make our political institutions accessible and attractive to aspiring young men and women. We need
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them to want to change the world by participating in British politics rather than seeking to reject not only particular policies but an entire method of doing business.
One point that I wanted to make was touched upon in the report but has not been mentioned this afternoon. It is about what goes on in our prisons. For perhaps a decade, there has been a growing number of Muslim prisoners in prisons and young offenders institutions. I believe that the Prison Service needs to give close attention to the religious and citizenship education of those people. The chaplaincy service is crucial. I have seen reports that the Aylesbury young offenders institutionthe Minister will know that it is one of only two high-security institutions in Englandhad some real problems a few years ago with a man who, as well as providing religious instruction was providing access to some extremist texts. I am glad to say that that is in the past; indeed, the governor has praised the local imam for his constructive and energetic work in the prison chaplaincy team.
Mr. Denham : I shall highlight a couple of references to prisoners in the report to reinforce what the hon. Gentleman is saying. We were struck by how forcible France and the Netherlands were in saying that prisons are a major source for radical recruitment. It can be a strong link. Young people who have gone off the rails and into drugs and crime would, seemingly in a positive way, get their lives sorted out through contact with faith, but have it later perverted into a form of extremism. Despite the fact that Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, seems to have followed that route, it did not seem to be a major problem for us, but France and the Netherlands put their case very strongly. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue.
Mr. Lidington : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I know that the Government are discussing the training of imams and the conditions under which imams from overseas should be admitted into the country. I offer the Minister a historical precedent. In the 1820s, Sir Robert Peel defied Conservative party opinion by giving a grant to the Roman Catholic college for the training of priests at Maynooth in Ireland. Peel saw that the main religion of the island of Ireland was, and would remain, Roman Catholicism, and he much preferred to acknowledge that fact and to have some, albeit indirect, influence over the education and training of Roman Catholic priests through support for Maynooth, than simply to leave that training and education to happen in some way that he might not know about or approve of.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Select Committee described the real challenge in his earlier contribution: the cultural, and in large cities the physical, separation of different communities. I am fortunate in that the population of the town that I represent is not yet large enough to permit the physical or educational segregation of entire racial or religious groups. However, I know from studies I have done of other parts of the country that that does happen in cities in parts of northern England, for instance.
I do not pretend for a moment that this challenge can be overcome quickly or easily. I do not believe that bussing school pupils around in an attempt to
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enforce racial or religious balance would promote harmony between people from different communities. The opposite would probably be achieved.
Mrs. Cryer : I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has any suggestions as to how we can get over segregation in schools in towns such as Keighley. In the area I represent, there are three schools where 95 per cent. of pupils are Asian Muslims. How do we overcome that?
Mr. Lidington : I think there are two ways to do that. One way is to do painstaking and time-consuming local work to build relationships of trust between organisations and individuals from different communities. The other is to enable people from the minority communities to have the confidence, particularly in respect of language, where that is a problem, to take advantage of the opportunities that life in this country offers. When they are able to do that, there will also be fewer reasons for people from the majority white community to think that they must move their children out of an area because they do not want them to mix with children from another group whom they feel are very different. Sometimes white families feel that because English is not always the home language of some children, they will absorb disproportionate amounts of time and resources at school. That is what produces the phenomenon of white flightof white parents saying they want to move their kids out. Some of those families might have unattractive motives but others have a genuine fear that their children might be held back because too much of a teacher's time will be absorbed in trying to help children who have trouble with the basics of the English language to start with.
Mr. Lidington : The hon. Lady obviously knows her area in a way that I do not. The answer to the dilemma that she poses will be in liberating parents either to find places at the schools to which they wish to send their children or to take the initiative to commission a new type of school that will provide the education that they seek. I understood that that lay behind much of the policy announced by the Government in yesterday's White Paper. We shall have to see whether it is delivered.
The hon. Lady performed a service to the country by the way in which she highlighted the importance of language and the importance of the role of women from the Muslim communities. Such issues are desperately sensitive. There is a real problem when children are held back. It is the last thing that the parents intend, but children might be held back because one parent has come from the subcontinent. The mother may go straight into a tradition of purdah. The language at home may not be English. In those circumstances, cultural isolation will be reinforced in a new generation. There might be tension between the pressure that the children come up against at school from their peer group and the mores that they are expected to adopt at home.
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As politicians, we should not be in the business of telling people how they should organise their marriages and private lives, but the Government must deal with certain issues, such as whether some proficiency in the English language should be required at the point of entry clearance rather than only at the point of naturalisation for citizenship.
I shall not labour the point about foreign policy, but it is completely reasonable for a Minister from any party to say that the Government hear what foreign policy a particular group in Britain wants, but judge that, in the wider national interest, they will pursue action that the particular group does not wish them to take. To deny that foreign policy has had any impact on community relations in this country is to fly in the face of reality. The arguments that have been repeatedly put to me by my Muslim community have been twofold: first, that it was not being listened to and that the political system seemed unresponsive and, secondly, that a double standard was operating in western Europe and north America, that it was one law for Iraq and a different law for Kashmir or Chechnya.
Without going into the merits or demerits of the arguments, there were deeply felt views within the Muslim community in my constituency, especially among the younger generation. It is for the Government of any party to find a way to engage in dialogue so that people know that what they say, how they vote and how they use the political system can make a difference. We have to accept collectively that issues such as Kashmir matter greatly to a large number of British people. We must alter our way of thinking and our notion of the British view of the world to take account of the fact that, for many British citizens now, what happens in the areas from where their families originally came will be important to how they frame their political judgments and how seriously they feel part of our mainstream society.
Like almost everyone else who has spoken in the debate, I am conscious that I have been liberal with the gloom. However, I want to finish on a positive note. I remain an optimist about community relations in this country. I would sum my reasons for that approach in two ways.
First, I look at history. I remember many years ago having reason to read the minutes of a Privy Council for the 1560s. I found reports coming into the Ministers of Elizabeth I of riots that were taking place in Essex because of the presence of communities of Dutch weavers. They had moved in as a result of Spanish rule in the Netherlands. There were the protests with which we are familiar todaythe incomers were taking jobs, they were not speaking the language, and they were different. We have a record of being able to overcome such differences through time and through hard work. It is a mistake to think that there never were difficulties in the past.
Secondly, and most importantly, I am an optimist because of what I saw in Aylesbury this year. There was a feeling of shock, but I remember vividly standing in the marketplace the day after the police action in the town. I was there for the midday ceremony, which was mirrored nationwide, to commemorate the victims of the London tube bombings. We stood there and heard the local imam denounce al-Qaeda and terrorism in vehement and moving language. As I looked around,
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I saw a true cross-section of British society. I saw the local chief of police, a lot of local councillors from all parties, a large number of young men from the local mosque, the office holders of a local branch of the Royal British Legion and 200 or 300 others. That gave me hope and confidence for the future.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, on securing this important debate. I agree with the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) about the quality of today's contributions. The quality of the main debate yesterday in the House about the Terrorism Bill was similar, and it was carried out in an appropriate tone.
This debate could not be any more timely. The report may well have been published before 7 July and 12 July, the date on which we came to the realisation of the significance of the events of 7 July. We would all agree that the recommendations are even more pertinent in the current environment.
I spoke yesterday in the main debate in the House, so I will not reiterate the points I made. I echo the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington); I am pleased to speak both on behalf of my party and because of my personal experience from my constituency where a community is still dealing with the fact that the London bombs were made there by local lads. That is something we will take a long time to come to terms with.
Less in response to the Committee's recommendations, but inevitably and rightly, the Government are seeking to engage with multi-faith and, specifically, Muslim communities in places such as Leeds, Keighley and Aylesbury. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for her kind invitation to attend the meeting in Leeds. Alas, after the events of the summer, I was only at that time finally able to take a family holiday, or I would certainly have attended what I believe was a successful occasion.
Despite that positive work, the Government have not made the link, which is obvious to me and my party, between terrorism in the community and the raft of Home Office legislation that they are publishing. If ever there were a time for joined-up thinking, it is surely now, and I hope that this important debate will contribute to the process. As I said yesterday, there is a real need for the Government to acknowledge and accept that there is real fear and mistrust in communities such as those in Hyde Park and Beeston in Leeds. It is precisely those feelings that will make it more difficult for us all to move forward to a situation in which we feel that events such as those of 7 July are less likely.
We must tackle all the issues involved; we cannot separate them. Many, including stop-and-search, are mentioned in the report, which was published before 7 July. However, other issues are regularly raised with me, such as the power to close mosques and the threat of deportation to countries that still practise torture,
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whatever guarantees might be given. There is also a real feeling that there is a threat to free speech and valid debate about Palestine, Chechnya and, of course, Iraq.
Given my experience in local communities, I cannot mention Iraq without saying that the Government must acknowledge the truth about the damage that the Iraqi conflict has done in such communities. Can we all at least admit the simple reality that the disastrous conflict in Iraq has made it more likely that citizens from our own Muslim community will turn to terrorism?
Mr. Winnick : I apologise for missing the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I hope that he is not saying that the Government's policy on Iraqwe can agree or disagree about it, and I disagree with him about itoffers any possible justification. If that were the case, what about the Serbs and those of Serbian origin living in this country who very much opposed the action taken to stop the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Kosovo? I hope that the hon. Gentleman supported that action. Would it be a justification for those of Serbian origin living in Britain to engage in terrorism?
Greg Mulholland : The hon. Gentleman has just highlighted the problem. Does the fact that no one could possibly justify what has happened mean that we cannot talk about it? That is a dangerous route for us to be going down, and we must stop doing so and acknowledge the simple truth, regardless of the right or wrong of going into Iraq or any of the conflict.
There is also the terrorist legislation, which we cannot but mention in the debate. Specifically, as I made clear yesterday, there are the plans to extend detention without trial to 90 days which are causing particular concern in some communities. We must be honest and ask what message the Government think those measures send in terms of the helpful dialogue that they are attempting to have.
I want to pick up a point made by the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen about the message that we send out and to talk briefly about the influence of the media, based on my own experience. Following the situation that emerged in Leeds in the summer, and having been an MP for less than three months, I had to deal with the international and national media. From that experience, I can say that the international media in particular, including one United States television station that I shall not name, had decided why people from Leeds had bombed their own capital city, and tried to force that agenda on those of us who were trying to give a realistic picture of life in our communities. I am afraid that some national British newspapers were little better in their coverage. I mentioned yesterday that several people who lived at the property in Alexandra grove were tried and convicted by the media, including the Egyptian Dr. al-Nashar, who was too afraid to return to his job at Leeds university.
In this House, we all believe strongly in the right to free speech, so unfortunately there is little we can do to stop the media exercising theirs. However, all of us have to acknowledge our responsibility to try to counter such negative messages, to resist the temptation to be macho to suit the agenda of some of the national media and to realise that this issue is very sensitive. I am glad that the Government have moved on some of the language that they have been using, and I hope that that continues.
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I reiterate the fundamental point that I made yesterday and several times previously. The solutions to what happened on 7 July do not lie fundamentally in rafts of legislationeven good legislation that we would all support. The solutions come largely from the communities. I shall give some examples of the positive things that have happened since the appalling revelations of 12 July. Local leadership was mentioned as important in the Select Committee report, and such leadership has been fundamental in Leeds since 7 and 12 July. I praise the local faith leaders, the inter-faith groups, the local representatives of all parties and Leeds city council for the firm and powerful leadership that they have shown in dealing with a very difficult situation. I hope that that has shown people nationally and internationally the true face of the great city of Leeds, which makes me very proud.
Several speakers have picked up on the importance of schools, and there is no doubt that they are fundamental. We must look at how children are educated. To give a positive example, I should say that I am the governor of Brudenell primary school, which is about a mile from the so-called bomb factory. On 12 July, when I was called back to Leeds, I was at the police cordon. A young girl, at that time in year 6, came up to me. She knew who I was, as I was a councillor before becoming an MP in May. She told me a little about what had been happening. She said, "People are calling me and my friends terrorists". As part of my responsibility not only as an MP but a governor, I phoned the school to ask what it was doing to help the children through this. I am delighted to say that the excellent head teacher of the school said, "Don't worry; we have already done it". There had already been a plenary session in the hall to talk to the children about what had happened and why. I am sure that there are other examples in different constituencies; schools are vital in that regard.
As someone who is known to represent what is in part a multicultural area, I very much want to participate in the wider debate. There has been much discussion about multiculturalism as a concept and many commentators have said that it is dead in this country. I must say that a lot of debate on the subject so far has been very sterile. There is just one question that we should be asking: how do we make our diverse, multi-faith and, yes, multicultural communities work in 21st-century Britain?
To pick up on something mentioned in both the report and our debate, we have to look at the whole issue of British identity today. I had a public disagreement in a newspaper with the Minister on this issue, but although I disagreed with her conclusion, I absolutely agreed with her sentiment and her attempt to raise the issue, because it is an important one that we must debate and try to work through.
I have only one point of strong disagreement with anyone who has spoken today, and that is that I utterly reject the concept that a spouse who marries in a legitimate way should be forced to take any kind of test to find out whether they can speak English. The ramifications would be worrying. It would mean that a person could not meet someone in south America, fall in love quite genuinely and want their spouse to move over here and learn English. We have to be careful about going down that route.
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Dr. Julian Lewis : I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but does he agree that it is absolutely essential that when people come to this country without a good command of English, they should recognise that they will be at a disadvantage? Does he agree that people in that situation should not be pandered to in schools by having their children taught in the language of the country from which they have come, rather than that of the country that they have come to? My grandparents were at a disadvantage all their lives because of their, at best, moderate command of English, but their children and grandchildren were not, because schools taught them English, not the language of the country that my grandparents had chosen to leave.
Greg Mulholland : I absolutely agree. That is a strong, well made point, which echoes what has been said by several speakers, particularly the hon. Members for Keighley and for Aylesbury, who touched on genuine cultural difficulties. It is vital that all of us engage with and accept those cultural difficulties, often in the face of real barriers to acceptance of those difficulties in the communities.
We must take on board the Committee's report and, more importantly, address the causes of riots, of ghettoisation in some northern towns and cities, and of the appalling events of 7 July, which was when we all realised how serious some of the problems are. I want to reiterate a point first made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather): she said that we would not be talking about the issue if we were not absolutely clear that it was not Muslims who attacked London on 7 July but criminals and fanatics who happened to be from a small, fundamental fanatical minority of Muslims in West Yorkshire. One thing that has been inspiring to all of usall the way up to Government, I hopeis the absolute and outright condemnation of the terrorist acts from all communities that were in any way associated with the events of 7 July.
Equally, we have to ask the question that we have had to ask ourselves in Leeds, Dewsbury and Aylesbury, which is why four young men from West Yorkshire went to bomb their own capital city. The Muslim community has to ask because the men were Muslims; people from Yorkshire, including me, because they were from Yorkshire; and all of us, as British citizens because they were also British citizens. The Minister is committed to the process of listening and understanding, so I would ask her to continue to do that and more.
I strongly commend the hon. Member for Keighley for having said that we must reach out to the young and disaffected sections of communities, because they are the ones most likely to be tempted down the path of fanaticism and disillusionment. We must alsoagain, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady's workconnect with the women of Muslim communities. I share her belief that it is largely through the women that we will find solutions to the problems. I was delighted that she fought off the British National party threat so convincingly in the election. I was not threatened then by the BNP, but I must be doing something right now because after only a few months I am listed on its website as an enemy of the BNP.
We must ask questions, but some of the answers might be difficult to accept. Nevertheless, we must listen, and there will be economic, religious and political aspects to the answers that will be unpalatable. We need to break through and work with all sections of our ethnic minority communities, especially with the Muslim communities in our northern cities.
One point that I should like to make strongly is that I realise, as we all do, that we cannot engage with those who have already taken the path of fanaticism. We cannot deal with people who have chosen the kind of thought process that was outlined by the hon. Member for Keighley, as we dealt with the IRA in the past. Therefore, we need to engage those who are vulnerable to the message before that message gets to themthat is the challenge for all of us. There must be more dialogue. There must be listening, as the Committee has said. I am sure that we would all agree.
The terrorist attack on 7 July came from one of our multicultural communities. It is to those communities that we must go to prevent it from happening again. It has been described many times as an attack on our way of life, and we would all agree that it was. Now we must ask ourselves, what is our way of life in 21st-century Britain and what do we want it to be?
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): It has been a pleasure to listen to the debate, and I thank the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) and his Select Committee for their report, which I found extremely interesting. The debate has also been interesting. This forum, which perhaps offers us an opportunity to discuss such matters in a slightly more leisurely and relaxed way than we could in the main Chamber, is especially valuable.
I hope that I may be forgiven if I do not run through the individual contributions, as perhaps it is customary to do. I valued the contributions on anti-Semitism made by my hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). It is a subject that has concerned me considerably and I have participated in other debates about it. We have to acknowledge that, whatever its origins in Britain, it went very quiet until it was resurrected on the back of the hostilities in the middle east. That is one of the issues that we may have to consider at greater length another time.
I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington). He is a rare thing among Conservatives in that he has a substantial Muslim population in his constituencyto that extent, our party is at a disadvantage, which we must address. One or two other colleagues have such constituencies, but he was able to bring his expertise to bear based on the fact that he has to manage community relations on an active basis.
I am conscious that, although I have a growing Asian community in my constituency, including Muslims, I do not have the distinctive communities that have been discussed in this debate. My experience comes from the fact that, some three years ago, I was asked to do community cohesion for the party, as well as to
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undertake my other responsibilities as a Front Bencher. As that has involved trying to ensure that my party is open to participation by members of all black and ethnic minority communities, it has involved me in a great deal of travel up and down the country and a considerable amount of exposure to diverse communities. It has been a rewarding process. My comments on the report stem from that, and in so far as I may have derived misleading impressions from what I have seen I will stand to be corrected.
One of the things that I was struck by is that the report starts on the basis of the Cantle report, which is a proper place to begin. The Cantle report highlighted what may seem to be a statement of the obvious: despite years of multicultural endeavour by Government, with money being poured into areas, initiatives, statements and legislation, the process by which communities of different cultural and religious backgrounds are progressing together appears to be full of negative impacts and, in effect, we are becoming a segregated society. That was my impression in some of the areas that I visited.
Notwithstanding the ritualistic efforts made at governmental and local government levels to address the problem, in many cases, that does not seem to permeate lower than those levels. The neighbourliness that underpins any society, multicultural or otherwise, is not present.
If people are not communicating with their neighbour because they come from a different religious and cultural background, the essential building block of society is not present. My experience is that that is a prevalent phenomenon. Indeed, one of the first signs of an improvement is when one finds oneself talking to someone who, having made a number of critical comments about another ethnic or faith community, excludes the person living next door because they have had some form of human contact with them.
Unfortunately, that does not seem to be happening sufficiently frequently in Britain today. I picked up on one of the consequences of that when I attended a Muslim students' conference in the midlands some time ago, when I sat on a platform in a room in which there was segregation between men and women, which did not surprise me. During the discussions, I picked up on their astonishing anger, alienation and distorted perceptions about the world in which they live.
After the events of July, when the Minister of State started on her extremely worthy perambulation throughout the country to meet Muslim communities, I was recorded as having expressed criticism about whether that would be effective, a view that has been echoed during the debate, because of the nature of the people whom she was likely to meet. I said that, because of the phenomenon of anger, alienation and distorted perceptions, I found it explicable that suicide bombers should emerge from such a community.
The reaction was interesting. I thought that I might be criticised greatly by Muslims for making a comment that seemed critical of their community. I received no such response. The reaction came from the other end of the spectrum on the basis that what I said in some way justified suicide bombing. To me, that encapsulated some of the difficulties that we experience when trying to
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have rational discussions about the problem. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) commented on that earlier.
The Select Committee report rightly highlighted the question of whether terrorism has had a negative effect on community relations. Unfortunately, it is overwhelmingly obvious that it has. That is not because it has made Muslims more alienated from British society. Indeed, many Muslims have made a great effort to bridge the gap. One issue that worries me in particular is that the voice of the rest of the community is not necessarily being heard in its attitude of hostility and dismay at the presence of a community in Britain with which it cannot interact.
I am referring to a great challenge. Because such matters are not politically correct, they are not spoken about openly. That brings me back to the fact that political correctness might be making it more difficult for us to deal with the problem. I do not whether it is because Conservative MPs are regarded as being less politically correct, but my mailbag and the responses that I receive from people in my constituency suggest that the Muslim community in Britain now has a considerable problem with its image in the wider community. We must deal with that. It is unjustified because the number of people who are likely to be suicide bombers is infinitesimal and such people would be denounced within the Muslim community.
One of the reasons that the problem is so acutein a sense, it is a circular argumentis that the lack of contact between Muslims and the rest of society is so great that these issues are fertile territory for the problems to be exacerbated once terrorism begins. We must break that vicious circle.
Since the events of July, the Government have been making real efforts to tackle the problem. I hope that the Minister took my criticism in good heart when I expressed concern that they were looking too much at Muslim leaders and community leaders, and not enough at some of the underlying issues. I am conscious that she has gone to considerable efforts to get to know other communities and the young, in particular, with whom so many of the problems lie. The other problem is that some of the actions of the GovernmentI am going back over an historical processare not making matters better. The Government seem to have adopted a twin-track approach. First, they clamped down on security. That resulted in the Terrorism Bill, about which I have serious reservations. Secondly, they tried to reassure the Muslim community that Islamophobia would be tackled and that Muslims would be provided with protection. That has resulted in the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. I am not sure that we are going in the right direction.
Far from the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill quietening discourse, to the wider community, it seems rapidly to be turning into a talismanic totem for a small minority. The statistics clearly show that, even among the ethnic minorities in Britain, Muslims remain a small group, yet they seem somehow to be driving an agenda of change that others resent.
I never know when I read The Daily Telegraph whether I am reading fantasy or fact. None the less, one often reads of local authorities that appear, for instance, to have been coerced into removing piggybanks
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from their offices because of a Muslim objectionnot, I suspect, an objection approved by the religious authority. Professor Sir Zaki Badawi would have laughed his head off when he heard about it, yet at the official level we appear to be dancing to those tunes. That is not helpful. Far from contributing to the building of good relations, it seems to be digging the ditch of incomprehension deeper and deeper.
Dr. Julian Lewis : One of the most striking examples was of a prison officer being suspended from duty and disciplined because, when hurling some keys down a chute, he called down, "Pity there isn't a picture of Osama bin Laden at the bottom." That was deemed to be offensive to Muslim prisoners. I would expect most Muslim prisoners to be affronted by the suggestion that they would be offended by such a derogatory comment. That case went the full distance. It was eventually settled by the Home Office.
Mr. Grieve : I know of a number of examples, but it is difficult to comment on individual instances, particularly those that have taken place in prisons. I am more worried about examples that seem to verge on the barmyfor instance, banning hot cross buns in schools in east London, although Iqbal Sacranie openly said that there was no basis for the ban. However, such things happen. That is unfortunate, because it conveys the impression that there is a constant urge to provide privileges to one group, rather than trying to address the issue of how they are to be brought into the mainstream.
Mr. Denham : The Select Committee addressed that very point. I hoped that the hon. Gentleman would support our conclusions. We did not take the view that the legislation should not be progressed because it might be controversial. We were concerned that an appreciation of the limits of the proposed legislation was not shared by the Muslim community as a whole. We said that it was important not to raise unrealisable expectations. We called on the Government to make a big effort to ensure that the exact nature of the Bill was understood. We went on to say:
Mr. Grieve : I read that passage and I heartily agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is possible to be misled at both ends about the scope of the legislation. I have objections to the legislation on narrow legal grounds: it will not be helpful and it will not make good law. However, I accept that some people are exaggerating its probable impact, and that others are exaggerating the benefits that might flow from it. It is worrying that, even with the second introduction of the Bill, misconceptions about what it might, or ought to, achieve are still quite widespread, certainly within the Muslim community.
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Another point that emerged in our debate, and which I hope flows from the comments I have made, is to do with national identity and building common values. I heartily agree with what has been said on that. Unless we as a society can build common values, celebrate them and explain what those values are all about, it will be difficult for us to make progress. One of the problems is that we have been poor at explaining what our values are.
I recently addressed a meeting largely consisting of Muslims, and I was struck when, on the subject of religionI should perhaps explain that I am a warden in an Anglican churchan articulate and very pleasant woman in the audience who was wearing the hijab explained that it was difficult to be a Muslim in western society because of the constraints of her religion that were upon her. The report perhaps does not fully acknowledge that point. She said that the disciplines her faith impose on the individual make it difficult for Muslims to adapt to some aspects of the western society and culture in which they live, and thereforethis follows logicallymake it more difficult for them to interact with others.
I was slightly amused because she used an expression that one often hears, "Islam is a way of life," and I responded by pointing out, "Well, actually you know, Christianity is a way of life as well." She was rather amazed by that. I tried to go on to explain that the underpinning of our society, and what has made Britain so attractive, is the willingness of people to make compromises in respect of tolerating others and interacting with them even though we may disagree with their views, and, indeed, their moral and spiritual outlook.
Until we get it across that that is one of the fundamental values on which our country is based, we will have great difficulty in bringing about the community cohesion that we all desire, because we will continue to have people considering that they live in a valueless society. The point has been made in the report and this debate that it is the belief in the valuelessness of the society in which they live that is driving some young Muslims into extremism.
There is a nihilistic element to that extremism. A celebration of death is a common phenomenon among the young. We tend to brush it under the carpet in western society, but it is not particularly unusual. The fact that many young Muslims see their elders as sharing some of their[Interruption.] It sounds like someone is making a cappuccino. As I was saying, some of the problems are intergenerational. There seems to be a perception among many young Muslims that their parents have no answers to these problems. One of the things we hear is that politics is kept out of the mosque, when they want to discuss important social issues within a religious framework. I have some sympathy with that point of view.
I have come to the conclusion in respect of many Muslim girls who decide to wear the hijab, or even to go further and wear the veil that in some instances that is a form of rebellion against their parents. Some of them also believe that, because they practise Islam in a purer way than the older generation, that justifies them
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breaking loose and getting professional careers. That is interesting and heartening, and perhaps it should alter our view about why people embrace certain religious symbols. Despite that sign of hope, there is a real problem, but how do we address it?
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, I do not want to end on a low note. I remain greatly optimistic about the future of this country, but think that we need to bear two things in mind. First, if we are to overcome what Cantle identified so correctly, it can only be done at the most local level. The idea that the rituals in which we engage as politicians, which may be important in providing a setting, can solve the problem is wrong. Only if we facilitate the interaction of people on a neighbourhood level will we start to break down prejudice and moderate and alter people's behaviour. If one's neighbour, whom one respects, says that something that one does makes the relationship difficult, one is more likely to do something about it than if nobody speaks about it although the subject is taboo, or than if someone proclaims from on high that something should not happen. We are moderated much more by those around us than by any official diktat the state can provide.
Secondly, we must consider our values. Western democracy must have clear values if it is to survive, so it shocks me that we have, for a long time, failed to articulate what they are. We need to do so urgently. I fervently believe that if we do, there will be a response. In my experience, individuals who are confident about their identity find it easier to live, to work and to co-operate with individuals with other identities. The danger in Britain is that we have, in some ways, so debased the values that underpin British society that we find it difficult to understand the values of Muslims who come here, and we fail to offer a vision of the future of British society that has the necessary appeal to persuade them to bridge the gap to us, or us to bridge the gap to them.
The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears) : Considering that it is the Thursday afternoon of a busy week, I have enjoyed the opportunity to listen to Members from all parties, particularly in light of yesterday's debate on Second Reading of the Terrorism Bill. Today's debate has given us the opportunity to explore in more detail, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said, some of the underlying issues that are part of the overarching strategy that will, we hope, enable us to deal with these problems. I shall take some of the points raised away but shall do my best to respond to them today.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) does an excellent job of chairing the Home Affairs Committee; we are often on the receiving end of a fairly intensive grilling, which is exactly as it should be. The Committee is absolutely on the ball and goes to the heart of issues that really concern us. I can genuinely say that both my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I find it useful to have our thinking and policy making tested and challenged in that way.
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The Committee deserves credit for raising these issues before the events of 7 and 21 July. It was ahead of the Government on that. I shall go through all the things that we were doing, but hon. Members will realise that since 7 July and the Committee's sittings on this issues, there has been a renewed focus and extra energy. We have begun to see connections between work on community cohesion and on engaging Muslim communities that were not as prominent as they might have been before those events.
Everyone acknowledges that the events of 7 and 21 July were horrendous, but something quite encouraging came out of them. Hon. Members have told us about what happened in their constituencies. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) talked about the services that took place and the way in which there was a coming together of people from all faith backgrounds and those of no faith. There was a sense of solidarity that they were united, not just in condemning the atrocities but in saying, "How do we go forward? How do we work together? How do we deepen and strengthen our relationships in this country in terms of the values that unite us?" If we can build on that solidarity, we will make a big difference.
We face these issues across the world, not just in this country, but internationally. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen talked about the meetings of the Committee in France and the Netherlands. There is to be a European seminar at the beginning of December on radicalisation and prevention. All Governments are hugely exercised by those issues.
One big strand of our work on the counter-terrorism strategy is prevention. To prevent terrorism, we need to follow the path of individuals, to see at which points in their lives they are particularly vulnerable to the teaching and powers of extremists and to work out how we can increase the protective factors around people's experience so that they are less likely to be drawn into that kind of activity. Much intensive research and practical work is going on. Some points are to do with further education and some with the prison system. We need to work out how we can intervene, to ensure that the situation does not continue and how we can reverse it.
Obviously, we have the Terrorism Bill, but today's debate is about wider issues. I assure the Chamber that the legislative measures that we are introducing are not aimed at any community, let alone the Muslim community; they are aimed at terrorists. We must be clear about that. The Bill's measures will be controversial and there will be debates in Committee over the coming weeks, but they are genuinely aimed at trying to prevent terrorism.
That is the right approach, because people want us to have sufficient powers to tackle terrorism, but people also reject crude stereotyping and discrimination. Aiming our powers at a particular community would not be supported by the people of this country. We well understand that combating terrorism and having good community relations are intrinsically linked. Much of the work we need to do in gathering intelligence and
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information from local communities depends on having open channels of communication so that people feel secure and confident enough to come forward to give us information.
The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) talked about how important it was for the security services to have communities involved, so that they can reach out and be more effective in their work. He will know that we are in the process of doubling the number of people in our security services, and our ensuring that we reach out to a range of communities in that recruitment process will be incredibly important.
We recently brought in a statutory duty for police authorities to examine the diversity of forces, to ensure that they are properly representative of the communities that they serve. Sir Ian Blair of the Metropolitan police has specifically said that he wants to recruit more Muslim men and women into our police service, so that we will have a much better and closer relationship with those communities. We are making progress, but it is not fast enough. We need to do more in terms of positively recruiting people into the service.
We also have to ensure that we tackle the genuine feelings of many in communities about inequality and poverty. I do not for one moment think that that is a justification or an explanation for people getting involved in extremism and terrorism. However, feelings of inequality and alienation can sometimes provide the breeding ground and the basis for the extremist message to get through. We have to be conscious of tackling those issues.
I will now discuss the matters that hon. Members have raised. First, I will deal head on with the failure of the Home Office to provide the Cabinet Office paper on "Young Muslims and Extremism". Clearly, it was prepared some time agoI think it was two years oldand I am sorry that members of the Committee did not have access to the full range of papers. There was no intention to hide the work that was going on. Perhaps there was feeling that it was more about the path of the individual and radicalisation, and not necessarily about community relations. With hindsight, we can see all too clearly that the path of the individual is connected to the effect on the wider community.
Mr. Grieve : I am particularly grateful to the Minister for that acknowledgement. I realise that the issue is difficult for the Government. Sometimes Governments prepare documents that they much prefer to read themselves and not put in the public domain. However, I hope that the Minister will take on board the comments made, particularly those of the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). The truth is that the more open our discussion, which should include some of the unpalatable facts, the better will be the quality of the debate and decision making that follow from it.
Hazel Blears : I shall come to openness and transparency shortly, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen accepts my comments about the Cabinet Office paper.
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On my right hon. Friend's request for details about the commission on integration, I am informed that we do not have a record of an inquiry having been made. However, I certainly undertake to give him more details and papers. I have no intention of that being done at the Home Office without the Committee having access and am entirely happy to provide those papers. My right hon. Friend talked about the commission, and I shall give further details. The Home Secretary has said that we will set up that commission, and we are working on its terms of reference, ideas for which we have sent out to the community for consultation because we want to make sure that it looks at the correct things.
The ideas for the initial terms of reference are how to engender an increased sense of Britishness that is inclusive of all communities, how to push further to tackle the inequalities that can trap people into segregated lives, how to create a shared sense of cultural norms and behaviour, particularly in relation to different faiths and cultural identities, and how to encourage and incentivise communities that choose to live segregated lives to engage more broadly. That very point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer).
What incentives and encouragements can we put into the system to change things in a realistic and practical way that will make a difference on the ground? The important thing is that the commission will look across all faiths and none, rather than simply at the Muslim community. It will be helpful to have the engagement of Hindus and Sikhs and the Christian Churches. The meetings held by the Home Secretary on the issues have engaged all faiths, and I have had a real sense of people learning from each other. Some religions have gone through some of the same difficulties and come out with helpful compromises and positions. There is a keenness among the faiths to share those ideas and the journeys that they have made together.
I hope that the commission will echo the meetings that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) and I held with communities during the summer. I hope that the commission will go out to where people are and not expect people to come to London to give evidence. It is important to reach those people who do not traditionally get a say; we shall get the commission to engage particularly with young people and women and meet people who are active in all parts of the countrythe north-west, the north-east, Yorkshire and the midlandsrather than be London-centric, which is sometimes inevitable, given how government works. Perhaps because I am from the north, I am determined that the commission should reach all parts of the country. We hope that the first meeting will be in December. It will be time-limited and will probably report back next summer. We shall then have practical issues on which to go forward.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen also asked about stop-and-search powers and whether there was confusion in the community. I was grateful for the Committee's conclusion that the section 44 powers are not being used in an unfair way. However, when the powers are exercised, do people know whether
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it is a section 44 stop or a stop under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes? Is there enough information out there?
The stop-and-search action team has an independent community panel, which includes representatives from a range of faith backgrounds, including Islam. A lot of work is being done to prepare some detailed guidance on how the powers should be used. We expect to have that before the end of the year. Work is also being done on how we communicate with the public about the way in which the powers are exercised, so that they know their rights. The Met has done some research, and found that people in the Muslim community are not sure about which powers are being exercised in which ways. The Committee has highlighted a real issue, and we will address it.
The issue of schools and citizenship education has been raised. That is an area in which we can do much more. The evidence on citizenship education is that where teachers have a degree of expertise and confidence, it is of a much higher quality. The same applies to sex education. When teachers feel that a subject is not just an add-on to their mainstream work, they are much more confident in exploring difficult, controversial and contentious issues. Citizenship education has only been running for a couple of years, but we have a joint working party with the Department for Education and Skills on how we can give teachers the confidence to open up the debate on topics such as politics and religion. All of us sometimes have difficulty discussing those issues, never mind young people who hold extremely strong views.
Mr. Denham : Would my right hon. Friend include in those discussions the organisation PeaceMaker, which prepared evidence for our Committee? It is not the only one, but we were impressed by the quality of its work.
The final issue was identity, which has been mentioned by all speakers. How do we all feel British in a multicultural country? The commission will have some good information on that. [Interruption.] I do not know whether that is a mechanical toy or a battery-fed bunny, but it is driving me mad.
I want to mention the seven working groups that we established over the summer under the banner "tackling extremism together". I am grateful to the people who took part in them. What was really important was that they were led by the Muslim community, not by the Government saying, "We are going to tell you what you should be doing." There was a range of groups working with young people and women, looking at the role of imams and of mosques and considering how we might define extremism, which is very difficult to do. I was hugely impressed by their work. The reports have gone to the Home Secretary, and we shall take forward a number of the proposals that have emerged.
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The final reports are due shortly, but we have three specific proposals: the first is to have a national road show. That came from the young people's group, which was very engaged. It suggestedin the spirit of the comments made by the hon. Member for New Forest, Eastthat we bring together influential scholars, people who can give a true version of Islam, have sufficient background knowledge to challenge the perverted view of it that is often peddled by the extremist, and are popular with young people, too. They might be controversial, but they will be able to connect, and if we can create a national road show in which they can meet thousands of young people across the country in an engaging fashion, that will do a great deal to challenge some of the messages that are out there.
Mrs. Cryer : When the road show gets going, and we select the Muslim scholars and experts, we should remember that there are many very good Muslim scholars who are women. I can, for instance, suggest a professor at Glasgow university who would be very helpful.
Hazel Blears : I should be absolutely delighted; it is my intention to include women in the road show. The group that involved women was also excellent, with some good and constructive ideas. Women can reach people, including families, and have a huge influence.
The second positive proposal that we are taking forward is a national advisory council of imams and mosques. Again, it will not be dictated to by the Government telling people how they should follow their religion, but led by the community and supported by Government. How do we get a proper curriculum and make sure that people have support for training? Many more imams are now trained in this country, and they not only express their religion in English but have a real understanding of the issues that face young people in particular in the complex and difficult world in which they need to make their choices.
The third idea that we are definitely taking forward is a national forum against extremism and Islamophobia, which will provide a forum for people to come together again and discuss how to tackle them. There is also the issue of how we give those involved capacity, and we recently announced a capacity-building fund for all faith communities; we have £5 million, and a bidding programme is under way now. We will make it as simple as we can to ensure that we get the money out to people and build their capacity to engage with the mainstream political process. If we say that the way to resolve our problems is through democracy, which we do, and that there is never an excuse to resort to violence, it is absolutely key that we make our democratic institutions and systems accessible so that people see that it is worth while getting involved in the political process, whether at local, regional or national level, and that that is the way to ensure that action is taken. Strengthening that belief in democracy is hugely important.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) raised some important issues. He asked whether we have shared the legislation with the community, and we have. We are in constant contact through many of the working groups that we have set up, and particularly the tackling extremism working group. We also have specific consultation going on about how we tackle
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extremism in places of worship. Again, that is predicated not simply on closing down places of worship, but on how we focus powers on the extremists and empower decent people in the community to take action. That consultation ends in just a couple of weeks' time, and we shall return to the issue.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned deportations and exclusions. There have been no deportations as yet, but a whole range of people are in custody on the basis that they are a threat to national security. We have signed two memorandums of understanding with Libya and Jordan and are keen to press on to ensure that we have sufficient undertakings so that we can make the deportations.
On extradition, we shall try to agree protocols for strict time limits. We do not necessarily want a statutory time limit, because if we were one day over the limit on someone's extradition, they would have to be released. We are getting proper protocols for each stage of the process so that we get those time limits in place. That is really important.
Many Members raised the issue of anti-Semitism, and I am pleased that they did, because it is absolutely unacceptable. My hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning has pursued the issue in relation to universities. Anti-Semitism, and indeed any similar action against a person, is clearly to be deplored. As my hon. Friends have said, academic authorities and student unions have a real responsibility, and we can help and support them in that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) raised the issue of anti-Semitism and responsibility. He also raised the issue of clerics with outrageous views, and he will know that we have set out new guidelines on activities that we would consider not to be conducive to the public good. We will be taking those guidelines forward as well to ensure that people do not come here and peddle the kind of hate-filled views that we have heard all too often.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley mentioned Hizb ut-Tahrir. Clearly, it does not fall within the current criteria for proscription and it was not included in the list of proscribed groups that we took through the House last week. One provision in the Terrorism Bill relates to whether glorification should be grounds for proscription, and other organisations will be examined, although I will not comment on particular ones.
My hon. Friend made some very good points about involving women, and I pay tribute to her for the sometimes difficult stand that she has taken on such issues. She has been very honest and straightforward.
I do not have time to comment on all the points made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury, but he has clearly thought carefully about the issues. He mentioned prisons, and I can tell him that we have more than 100 accredited imams going into prisons, and proceedings are monitored carefully.
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) clearly takes a personal interest in these issues. I simply say that every one of us has a responsibility to ensure that we talk about them openly and honestly and tackle some of the difficult problems. When I went to my meetings during the summer, I was
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perfectly happy to engage on issues of foreign policy, and we cannot shy away from that. When we talk about Iraq, however, we must also remember that Muslims are
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killing Muslims there. Many Muslims were also killed under Saddam Hussein, so I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's point