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I do reaffirm it. Normally, when an hon. Gentleman is mentioned by name, I usually ask
whether the Member concerned has raised the matter with the hon. Gentleman to allow him to be in the Chamber. I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman; I reaffirm that.
Of course, this matter was slipped in by way of a report, and I might have to be tighter about business questions. The danger of being tighter is that legitimate matters that hon. Members might want to bring before the House, such as the bereavement of a famous football star, might not be allowed. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind what business questions are about.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): On a separate point of order, Mr. Speaker. Again, I seek your guidance about ensuring that the record in Hansard is correct. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that Her Majestys Opposition had opposed the introduction of flexible working. That is not correct; we did not vote against it, and I seek your advice on how we can ensure that the statements in the record are correct.
Mr. Speaker: The best advice that I can give is, Dont bring that up in a point of order, because it is not a point of order.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a separate point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall the Opposition day debate on Burma yesterday. Because of the number of speakers, the Minister replying had only 10 minutes in which to try to respond to the whole debate. In the course of those 10 minutes, two hon. Members, whom I will not name, intervened and used up valuable time. Neither of those two Members had been present for any substantial part of the debate; they had come in a few minutes before the end of the debate and intervened. I am not sure whether that is a matter of order, but it is certainly a matter of convention in the House that Members do not behave in that way. I would appreciate it if you reasserted that convention.
Mr. Speaker: In the situation that the hon. Gentleman describes, there is no breach of the rules. A Member coming into the Chamber late can seek to intervene. It is up to the Member addressing the House to decide whether they accept that intervention; it is not a matter for the Chair.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of anti-Semitism.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House for calling this debate on anti-Semitism. It comes at an appropriate time, as it has been a year since the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism reported on its inquiry. On Monday I laid a Command Paper before the House. It gave an opportunity to reflect on the all-party groups work, and todays debate is a good opportunity to congratulate all Members of this HouseBack Benchers from all partieson the contributions that they have made, and to congratulate our stakeholders.
More than 100 people were present on Monday, including spokespersons from Front-Bench teams from all the political parties, Members of the House of Lords and stakeholders from the Jewish community, including Jon Benjamin, Jeremy Newmark and Richard Benson from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council. Just as importantly, there were many people of other faiths, and as the chair of the Faith Communities Consultative Council I was particularly pleased about that. The name of our consultation document that has been sent to faith communities is Face to Face, Side by Side, a phrase coined by the Chief Rabbi himself. I was also pleased that he was present on Monday to contribute to our celebration of the work of the all-party group, the Command Paper and the work that has been done, one year on.
I am going to talk about the measures in the document, the work of the all-party group and other measures as well. It is a good time to state our gratitude to the all-party group and the team of officials who have been working incredibly hard to bring 10 Departments together, while working in harness with the Jewish community to bring about a cogent set of proposals.
I will talk in a moment about the proposals made by the Department for Children, Schools and Families on school linking, the proposals to allow devolved capital to be used to provide security for school buildings for the Jewish community, better data collection involving the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which is important, and the role of the inter-faith strategy and how it ties in with that work, as well as my Departments work with other Departments supporting the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism.
Although a great deal of work has been done, I am sure that hon. Members will talk about the great deal of work that remains to be done. I am the first to accept that a great deal remains to be done about hate crime on campuses, for example. I will talk a little about that, as well as about our recent debates in the Chamber about Holocaust memorial day. I received a number of representations after Holocaust memorial day calling for additional funding for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. I am pleased to say that we have enhanced its funding from £500,000 to £750,000.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): While the Minister is on that subject, I am sure he will agree that the trust deserves admiration for and congratulations on its tremendous work. It is very important to increase education about the history of the past 70 years, to help to minimise for a new generation the chance of a repetition of that history.
Mr. Dhanda: I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point. Although this debate is about anti-Semitism, one of the most encouraging aspects of this week, and of Monday in particular, is that other faith communities and groups that face prejudice are set to benefit from the outcomes of the inquiry. The valuable lessons to be learned from the work, which is supported by some funding from my Department, are now being learned in other parts of Europe and around the world. We should all be pleased about that.
That work must be underpinned by policies and strategies to increase racial equality and build community cohesion, particularly through education. More generally, I am pleased to say that my Department has made some £50 million available throughout the country to fund community cohesion projects. We have made significant progress on many of the commitments that we made in response to the inquiry, which made 35 detailed recommendations. However, we recognise that there is no room for complacency.
The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK remains far too high. The Community Security Trust recorded 547 incidents in 2007. Although that represents an 8 per cent. fall over the previous year, it is still the second worst figure on record. We must therefore continue to work with all our stakeholders to bear down on the problem.
Since the publication of the inquirys report, my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and his colleagues have worked to encourage parliamentarians in other countries to conduct similar inquiries. The Government greatly appreciate the groups work and have offered it support, including financial support. My Department has provided funding, which has helped the inquiry to go across Europe and beyond, to the United States and Canada. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and our embassies and high commissions have worked with the all-party group to make its overseas visits a success, offering practical support and local advice on parliamentary structures and suitable contacts.
A key development has been the establishment of the inter-departmental working group, which consists of representatives from across Whitehall, the parliamentary committee against anti-Semitism, representatives from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust, and other Departments, including the FCO, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney-Generals office, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and my Department, as well as the police, who have worked closely with us.
The working group is unique in that it brings together the Jewish community and Departments to ensure that commitments made in our original response are taken forward. The working group has been hailed across
Europe and in the United States as a model of best practice. However, we cannot leave the matter there. We will review the work again in 2010 and there will be regular meetings of the inter-departmental group at least twice a year.
We have ensured that by April 2009 all police forces will collect data on all hate crime, including anti-Semitism. We recognise that anti-Semitic discourse continues to be a concern, and to this end we have funded the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism to research the impact of anti-Semitic discourse on the atmosphere of acceptance of anti-Semitism.
The inquiry also focused on the importance of school linking. The Government acknowledge that and are providing £2 million in funding over the next three years, which is supported by a £1 million donation from the Pears Foundation. I should like to put on record my personal gratitude to Trevor Pears for his support for the project. That funding will provide a national website and resources to help to support schools in forming effective links.
Members who were present for our debate earlier this year on Holocaust memorial day will recall the support expressed in all parts of the House for the scheme that the DCFS is funding, with some £1.5 million, for two sixth-formers from every sixth-form college to have the opportunity to travel to Auschwitz. I was fortunate to meet a couple of sixth-formers from the Crypt school in my constituency who had been. I know that the scheme is welcomed throughout the House.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I had the good fortune on Tuesday to travel to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust and students from my constituency. Everybody who was therethe Members of Parliament and all the studentsfound the day a deeply moving experience. Will my hon. Friend the Minister assure me that support for such visits will continue?
Mr. Dhanda: I can, for the very reasons that my hon. Friend has stated. Those visits have received support from across the House. I know from conversations that I have had with young people who have been that the visits have made a difference to their lives, and I am sure that that has been her experience, too.
Time is short and it is important to give other hon. Members the chance to contribute to the debate. Ongoing work is being done on anti-Semitism and the internet, which I shall happily discuss when I wind up the debate. I have already mentioned the importance of targeting anti-Semitism on our campuses, on which my Department and the inter-departmental group is doing sustained work with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Through our work with the police and the CPS, we will continue to work to ensure a greater number of prosecutions, which is incredibly important.
Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab):
The Minister is touching on an important issue, which is what is happening on campuses. I should like to highlight the excellent work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which means that students arrive on campus much more aware of the
dangers. However, is there not a considerable responsibility on university authorities to take more action? The issue is not just about crime, but about that telling phrase, which I remember from my Northern Ireland days, the chill factorthat is, not necessarily crime, but making people feel that they are unwanted. Do university authorities not have a greater role to play in making their campuses welcoming to people, so that we can have genuine academic freedom?
Mr. Dhanda: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The powers are already there, in legislation, but it must be incumbent on individual universities to take this issue and those powers seriously. That is part of the reason why my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education brought out guidance earlier this year. He has also met Jewish students to see how that work can be taken further.
I conclude by saying that although a great deal of work has been done, I appreciate that there is much more to do.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): The official Opposition welcome unreservedly this topical debate, which is the first such debate we have had, although I remember debating the issue in Westminster Hall about a year ago. We would welcome topical debates on other aspects of racial and religious hatred, such as Islamophobia.
The debate allows the House to consider the Governments progress report on combating anti-Semitism, which followed last years Command Paper, as the Minister said. The Command Paper followed the all-party parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism, which was chaired by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). We honour the work of the all-party group against anti-Semitism, and I try to stay in close touch with its chairman, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who is present. I am especially mindful of the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), who is a vice-chairman of the all-party group and who might seek to catch your eye today, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Before turning to the progress report and issues that arise from it, I want to consider briefly the context in which the report was setnamely, the level of anti-Semitism in Britain today and its impact on the country generally and on the Jewish community in particular. I have mentioned racial and religious hatred. All forms of hatred against people on the basis of their race, religion, sexuality or conditionindeed, all forms of hatred against peopleare an unqualified and unmitigated evil. However, there is a special horror for those of us who are Europeans, in the widest sense of the word, in and about anti-Semitism. The reason for that is almost too obvious to state: the holocaust.
As the Minister has reminded us, the Government recently marked Holocaust memorial day with a debate. Looking around the Chamber, I see that many hon. Members who attended that debate are present. There was a powerful and unmistakable consensus in that debate that the legacy of the holocaustitself the consequence of more than 2,000 years of anti-Semitism in Europeis still with us. Let me give a striking example. Many places of worship in Britain today have
been subject to violence, including churches, mosques and gurdwaras. There have been atrocious incidents, but only one religious institution in Britain is under threat to such a degree that those who attend it are advised not to linger outside after worship: the synagogue.
We all commend the outstanding work of the Community Security Trust, which is involved in dialogue with the Government at a deep level. The Minister spoke about the multi-faith dimension of work on this issue. It is characteristic of the CST that it offers to other religious institutions and faith groups its expertise in protecting congregations and synagogues. Like a virus, anti-Semitism is peculiarly mutative, adaptable and resilient. It is multifaceted and, as was observed in the Holocaust memorial day debate, a light sleeper.
When I was growing up, anti-Semitism was largely confined, in the context of extremist ideology, to neo-Nazi groups, but that has changed. It is now also championed by some who claimmistakenly, as my Muslim constituents would point outto speak in the name of Islam. It is in that context especially that contemporary anti-Semitism, in general, and the Governments progress report in particular, must be considered. I shall concentrate on four issues: the internet, anti-Semitic incidents, universities and the responsibilities of institutions more widely.
As I have said, anti-Semitism is peculiarly adaptable. It adapts to technology, and anti-Semitic hatred is now available online at the click of a mouse. The Governments report says that the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will
host a ministerial seminar to find ways of improving action and impact on internet hate.
The Minister said that he would touch on those matters when he responds to the debate. It would help if he told the House whether the Government had any objections to signing the additional protocol to the Council of Europes convention on cybercrime, and how the recommendations of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe conference on the same subject have been followed up.
The Government have committed to introducing national police monitoring of anti-Semitic incidents and offences by 2009. Again, it would be useful if the Minister confirmed that that deadline will be met and if he described what the Government will do to encourage the reporting of anti-Semitic incidents and offences. Picking up on a point that he made, I know he will agree that we must not be deceived by the fall in number that he reported into thinking that the problem is necessarily easing, because one could argue that the figures from the previous year were artificially boosted by what happened in Lebanon at that time, about which there were many reports.
As for universities, as the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar) said, the menace of anti-Semitism is particularly acute in higher education. That menace does not express itself only in the visible activity of anti-Semitic groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. Jewish students also report anti-Semitism on campus as a mood, an atmosphere and a mode of discourse. The right hon. Gentleman described it as a chill in the atmosphere. That leaks out especially, perhaps, from debates on the middle east, and can prevent Jewish students from enjoying a normal university experience. It can even deter young Jewish people from attending certain institutions altogether.
It is significant that the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the CST and the Jewish Leadership Council support the Union of Jewish Students in the view that much work remains to be done. I note that the all-party group is disappointed that the DIUS is still only considering the CSTs proposal that it should set up a sub-group on anti-Semitism in higher education. When will Ministers take a decision on that?
Finally, I want to address the responsibilities of institutions and of local and national Government. We believe that it is wrong for institutions to participate in events that are hosted by anti-Semitic parties such as the British National party. It therefore follows that it is also wrong for them to participate in events hosted by other anti-Semitic organisations, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. I make that point because it was reported this week that John Holmwood, a sociology professor at Birmingham university, which is an excellent institution, spoke at a local debate that was organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir. It should also be unacceptable for local authorities to support groups that are willing to engage actively with Hizb ut-Tahrir, such as the Cordoba Foundation; we understand that that is the case in Tower Hamlets. The Cordoba Foundation appears to be involved in Campusalama Government-sponsored programme to tackle extremism on campusso we would welcome clarification from the Minister on that.
I repeat that we welcome the debate. We honour the contribution that the Jewish community makes to Britain and has made for many years. We stand united, in this House, against anti-Semitism. There are huge challenges and there has been some progress, but there is a great deal more work to do.
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