Previous Section Index Home Page

14 Jun 2006 : Column 247WH—continued

Many Jewish leaders are involved in important interfaith activities. Good examples are Sir Sigmund Sternberg, who devoted his life to interfaith activities, and my good friend Dr. Richard Stone, who has worked hard on the Three Faiths Forum. Perhaps the best example of all is the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks. He makes great play of the importance of religious education; he attended a religious school, Christ’s college, Finchley. That is probably what gives him his wider perspective. We all very much appreciate his thoughtful comments on the “Today” programme, including those that he
14 Jun 2006 : Column 248WH
made this morning. He emphasised the importance of tolerance across the minority communities and across different faiths.

This Government have done much to support the Jewish community. For example, there is holocaust memorial day. The Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002—my private Member’s Bill—was carried by the House with cross-party support. The Government have done wonders on holocaust restitution issues. In particular, they set up the spoliation advisory panel to deal with the return of looted works of art. However, there is a number of outstanding issues. There is the question of compensation for the civilian detainees of the Japanese, such as my constituent, Isaac Abraham, whom I mentioned earlier. It now looks as though, at long last, justice will be done for Isaac, although perhaps not for the rest of his family. In respect of the Kindertransport, there is a long-standing grievance that our Government ought to be taking up with the German Government over pension rights. We have yet to get the Jewish community radio station, Shalom FM, established; it has had great difficulty obtaining a licence from the Radio Authority.

There is unfinished business in terms of tracking down the war criminals of the second world war. I am pleased that the Home Office and police seem to be paying more attention to that, but there is a great deal of urgency in, for example, trying to trace the evil perpetrators of genocide, particularly those involved in the worst activities of the SS Galicia division. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, there is the need to be much firmer and tougher in tackling the problem of anti-Semitism.

On a more positive note, ever since its return—and even during the expulsion—the Jewish community has played a full part in our country’s success in every field, including the arts, sport, business, politics and the professions. The community has always contributed beyond its size in activities that are of benefit to the whole of society, putting in far more than it ever received. Jewish community values are British values. Since June 1656, the Jews have become a settled presence in all walks of life. Despite incidents of anti-Semitism, the process of Jewish resettlement has been peaceful. There was no grand gesture or pronouncement, but a pragmatic and practical process of emancipation and integration of the oldest minority in our country, proving that diversity does not mean division.

In commemorating 350 years of the Jewish community’s presence in our country, the modern Jewish community remembers the beginning, with Menasseh ben Israel and Oliver Cromwell, and looks forward to many more centuries of contributing to British life. Ultimately, the anniversary commemorates the greatest benefit, which is not to Britain’s Jews but to Britain itself, as a uniquely tolerant nation. We wish the Jewish community mazel tov for its 350th anniversary.

9.56 am

Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): I start by slightly correcting the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). He said that it is difficult for someone who is Jewish to go to all synagogues. I am Jewish and have been welcomed in all synagogues. Indeed, I am a member of an orthodox synagogue and the chairman
14 Jun 2006 : Column 249WH
of governors of a pluralistic school that serves the whole community. Perhaps the reason for that is that I have lived in the area my whole life.

I pay tribute to one of my Jewish predecessors as Member of Parliament for Ilford, North, Millie Miller, who was a Labour MP until her untimely death in 1977. My constituency, when taken together with those of my neighbours, is the largest Jewish area, with the largest number of Jewish electors, in Europe, and I am proud of that. We have five synagogues in my constituency, with nine neighbouring it. There are three schools—Ilford Jewish primary school, King Solomon high school, and the school of which I am chairman of governors, Clore Tikva. There is Sinclair house, serving the community’s needs, from the youth to the elderly, and that is excellently run by Jewish Care, which should be commended for that.

I move on to the compliment paid to sportsmen by the hon. Gentleman. He left two out, and I was shocked, because they are players for the best football team in this country, which everyone knows is Leyton Orient. Those two players are Barry Silkman and Mark Lazarus, who contributed excellently to Leyton Orient’s promotion in 1969-70. I shall not trouble hon. Members by naming the rest of the team, but I could if pushed.

We should commend everything that my community has done in its 350 years here, and look at some of the reasons for that. I should like to talk briefly about my family. One of the greatest honours that I have had was when I swore my Oath of Allegiance in this House, wearing my skull cap, on the Old Testament. I was touched, and I know that my family were touched. We felt that that was possibly one of the most special things likely to happen to me, aside from the birth of my children and my marriage. That is a privilege for which I am grateful, and I will continue to be grateful to the electors of Ilford, North, for many years to come, I trust.

How did I become Lee Scott? It is quite a funny story. My father went into the armed forces. Our name at that time was Schuldberg, which would have been quite long for posters. The story goes that my father was standing next to a Scotsman, and we became Scott. I am only grateful that he was not standing next to a Gurkha.

I want to talk about a particular organisation in my constituency. There are many that I could single out, but there is one that is doing unbelievable work, an organisation called Drugsline Chabad. It is run by part of the Jewish religion called the Lubavitch, and it serves the community’s needs. It works with a project for the Muslim, Sikh and Christian communities, and with any other religion that wishes to plug into it, to try to stop the vile trade in drugs and youngsters’ use of drugs. It also helps to rehabilitate those who, unfortunately, have gone down that route. Its work across the community reflects the work done by many other organisations and interfaith groups working in my constituency to benefit our entire community. That is what it is all about.

Most Jewish Members of Parliament here today, and those in this House in the past, have come here to serve the whole community of their constituency. That is vital. I am Jewish and I am British. I am proud of that, and that is vital, too. We heard earlier from the hon. Gentleman about anti-Semitism in the past, and what
14 Jun 2006 : Column 250WH
is still happening today. Before entering the House I worked in the charitable world for a number of years. It was my privilege to visit Theresienstadt with people who had been at that camp. When you see what man has done to man—to women and children—you ask yourself whether we have learned anything from history. When we see some of the atrocities being carried out against all religions in the world today, we have to say that perhaps we have not.

I pray for all religions that there should be no prejudice against them. We all worship one God. We all have the same needs. Therefore, I hope that anti-Semitism—the hon. Gentleman was perfectly correct to say that it is still happening today—is eradicated. It is vile and cannot be permitted. Some far-right fascist parties—I shall not even give them credit by naming them—had minor successes at the recent local elections. We must learn from history, and I would tell anyone, however they vote, not to vote for far-right fascist parties.

To finish my few remarks, I would like to say not only to the people of Ilford, North but to the entire Jewish community that we can be proud of what we have achieved and there is so much more we can continue to achieve. We must work together with all other communities to make a difference for our country. As long as that continues to happen, we will be able to continue to celebrate our 350 years, and the many hundreds of years to come in which we can serve the people of Britain.

10.2 am

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on securing this important debate. The only reason this debate is taking place is that he sought it and put forward the subject for discussion. He serves all his constituents extremely well. I know that he displays commendable knowledge and dedication towards his Jewish constituents and carries out his duties with absolute sincerity and success. I congratulate him on all the work he does, inside the House and out, for his Jewish constituents and for all those he represents.

The debate is an interesting one. In the contributions so far, we have heard a detailed history of the Jews in this country and heard a lot about the contribution of the Jewish community to British society as a whole. In my brief remarks, I would like to focus on the nature of the Jewish contribution to British society, and specifically consider the basis on which that contribution takes place, the lessons that can be learned with regard to other communities in Britain today and the contribution that can be made to the ongoing debate about the nature of British society, multiculturalism and citizenship.

The Jewish community is, and always has been, diverse. The origins of Jewish people in this country are diverse and there are social and economic differences between them, but there is a Jewish experience. That experience comes from the common bond most Jewish people have through a background of coming to this country as asylum seekers or, in some cases, what we now term economic migrants. Despite those differences—the individual differences and the differences of social and economic background—there is a strong sense of
14 Jun 2006 : Column 251WH
community, which is extremely important in understanding the notion of a Jewish contribution.

My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) both mentioned examples of individual Jewish successes in contributing to our society. These are just a few of the names that show the nature of individual contributions from Jews to British society: Professor Chain, the discoverer of penicillin; the late Judge Rose Heilbron, who was the first woman judge; Lord Winston and Jacob Epstein, who have both already been mentioned; and John Cohen, the founder of Tesco.

However, the contribution has a wider significance. An examination of the Jewish contribution to British society over the centuries shows that there is no incompatibility between being a proud Jew and a proud citizen. The lesson of the Jewish contribution is that integration, not assimilation, is the model. When we are discussing models of citizenship now and in the future in our multiracial, diverse society, that is an important model to which we should put our attention.

Reference has already been made to the experience of the first Jewish MP, Lionel de Rothschild, who was prevented from taking his Oath for 11 years after he was first elected. It was only after 11 years that he was able to take an Oath where he did not have to state the words

In my area of Liverpool, the earliest records of the Jewish community go back to 1722. One of its proudest forebears was Herbert Samuel, Viscount Samuel of Toxteth and Mount Carmel, who was British Home Secretary twice, in 1916 and 1931, and was also the first British high commissioner in Palestine and Transjordan—a vital post, in which he served between 1920 and 1925.

We rightly concentrate today on the positive contribution of Jewish people to our society. We cannot ignore the great hostility that Jews faced in this society as immigrants and, indeed, as Jews. We should not forget that the Aliens Act 1905—the first immigration Act in this country—was enacted to stem the flow of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution from eastern Europe. After coming to this country, Jews often faced discrimination. That discrimination could relate to employment, and many Jews became active alongside non-Jewish people in the growing Labour and trade union movement. Discrimination could relate to housing. I remember being very shocked when my parents told me that when they tried to buy a house in Manchester in the mid-1940s, they gave a name that did not sound Jewish because they had been told that Jewish people were not allowed to buy houses in that area.

That discrimination spread to universities, where, until relatively recently, there was a quota of Jewish students allowed to join medical schools. Discrimination took many forms, and we are all aware of it in the social sector as well. The advent of Jewish golf clubs came about because Jews were deemed not fit to be members of other golf clubs and it was feared that they would take them over.

Discrimination has taken place against Jewish people on the basis that they are immigrants, and on the basis that they are Jews. The battle of Cable street was
14 Jun 2006 : Column 252WH
mentioned by my hon. Friend—an occasion that has an important place in the history books. However, there have been many other incidents, perhaps of a less grand nature, where fights took place in the school playground between children as Jewish children were told that they had killed Jesus. I would like to think that that is something of the past, but anti-Semitism has not really gone away.

What has the response to all that been? When anyone faces discrimination and prejudice, the response has to be to fight against it and hope that other people will join the battle, which might be individual or with others, and might be political. Jewish people recognise the need to be positive and show initiative, and to fight by showing what they can achieve. Education has always been seen as important because of the Jewish value of learning, and family and community support have always been an essential part of Jewish individual achievement. In short, Jewish people have been able to combine religious practice in great variety—there is no one mode of Jewish practice—with Jewish cultural identity and being British. None of those three things is static, and the Jewish experience shows that they can be combined.

I hope that my experience as a Jewish person and of the Jewish community has already assisted other minorities in our society. In the 1980s and 1990s, I was the leader of Lancashire county council. One of the first issues that I encountered when I became leader in 1981 was what I saw as the total neglect of and ignorance about the needs of Muslim communities in areas such as Blackburn, Burnley and Hyndburn. I found that there was little understanding of their needs. Their correct wish to maintain their identity and to have their religious and cultural needs met was fully understandable and acceptable, yet the authorities found it difficult to understand. Seeing things differently was considered to be hostile.

Because of my Judaism and my position as leader of the council, I was able to use my knowledge to assist the Muslim communities, and at the beginning of the 1980s we changed Lancashire county council policy. Dietary policy was changed to introduce halal meat to school meals, and we argued with the burial authorities so that, in accordance with Islamic law, Muslim burials could take place on the same day. I brushed aside statements and reports telling me that that was not possible. I knew that not so many miles down the road, in the Jewish communities of Manchester, burial on the same day was a given, and was accepted as a right of that community. I could not understand or accept that if it was a right for the Jewish community in Manchester, it should not be a right for the Muslim communities of Lancashire. That change was made, as were changes in policy on school uniforms.

I also worked with Adam Patel, who is now a peer, to found the Lancashire Council of Mosques to help Muslim communities in Lancashire to develop their identities and to extend their knowledge on the basis of maintaining their identities as members of a wider community and contributing to that community. The Jewish experience provides a model for how people can maintain their sense of identity, how it can change over time, and how maintaining identity can make people better and stronger citizens.

14 Jun 2006 : Column 253WH

The Government’s efforts to give support in matters of particular concern to Jewish people have been mentioned. I thank also the Speaker for his efforts in recognising the Jewish community, and for holding the special celebration to mark the 350th anniversary of the return to the UK of Jews. The Chief Rabbi spoke to the nation on the BBC this morning, and talked about this debate. He quoted Jeremiah urging Jews to contribute to the society of which they had become a part, and he drew attention to the origin of many Jews in this country as the asylum seekers of the past.

I hope that the Jewish contribution has shown the way forward for people to maintain their identities in a way that contributes to society as a whole. I hope also that that is a cause for celebration, as we discuss the future of citizenship and the direction in which our society should go.

10.15 am

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) on their speeches in this enjoyable debate. I do not expect that my humble contribution will add much.

I am not a Jewish person, but I want to place on record my appreciation for what Jewish people have brought to Britain in the past 350 years. In many respects, the number 350 resonates throughout the debate, because after Cromwell changed the law, there were only about 350 Jewish people in London. It is now 350 years since that important decision, and there are about 350,000 Jewish people in Britain today. That is the second largest Jewish population in western Europe, I believe.

As the hon. Member for Hendon described, Jewish people have not always had a happy time in this country. For many centuries, it was considered that Christian people should not be involved in moneylending, which is why the first Jewish people who came here engaged in that profession, from which they clearly prospered, which led to resentment. It is shocking, and strongly reminiscent of the second world war, that in 1217 in this country, Jewish people were required to wear yellow badges to indicate that they were Jewish.

Cromwell’s decision, made in this place in 1655, was momentous. It followed several weeks of debate, including opposition from the clergy, but with strong consideration given to the Messianic prophecies. It was a strong view at that time that if Jewish people were not allowed back into this country there would not be a second coming, because Jewish people would have to be on all the lands of the earth for the second coming to happen. As well as those religious implications, Cromwell clearly had strong feelings on the matter and rightly recognised that Jewish people would help trade inside England and with other countries in Europe.

The relationship between this country and Jewish people has not always been straightforward. We rightly recognise that this country has a long and proud tradition of democracy and trade in all sorts of different spheres, but Israel was a kingdom long before London or England were ever thought of, and when where we are now was just swampy riverside. For the
14 Jun 2006 : Column 254WH
people alive at that time, there was no concept of our nation, yet many years on, this country played a crucial role in establishing the modern state of Israel. That was never a straightforward process, but I like to think that if Britain had not had the mandate in Palestine and it had been given to another power, the state of Israel might not have been born in the way that it was.

My uncle served in the British Army in Palestine just before 1948. He very much appreciated all that Israel had to offer, and our country had a difficult role to play between the Israeli and Arab communities. The path was never straightforward. Had there been a more brutal colonial power than Britain in Palestine, the Israel that we know today might not have come about after the second world war. This country stood alone in 1940 against the rise of Nazism in Germany when no other country in the world was prepared to stand up to Hitler.

I am sure that Jewish people and non-Jewish people alike will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue today. An important part of Britain’s cultural life is the hymn “Jerusalem”. Many of us know its words off by heart, and it is rather appropriate that that hymn links the Jewish community with those of us who are not Jewish but who recognise the Jewish tradition.

Next Section Index Home Page