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12.59 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I, too, start by welcoming the debate as well as the efforts of the all-party group against anti-Semitism and the Government to eradicate anti-Semitism. There is a sensible consensus on this issue in the House.

I have no criticism of the Minister, but I will make one helpful suggestion for future debates. In his press release, the Minister honestly outlined the areas in which the Government believe that further action needs to be taken—addressing the number of cases brought to prosecution, tackling anti-Semitism on university campuses, and challenging hate crime and extremism on the internet. The Minister has very helpfully said that he will update us on progress when he responds to the debate. Perhaps, in future, he might be willing to do that at the beginning of a debate, as that would give us the opportunity to ask further questions on the back of the information that we have received, rather than simply hearing the Minister’s response at the end, when there is no opportunity for us to ask more questions.

I recognise that the Government are doing a good job, and it is clear that progress is being made in a number of areas. However, the Minister, who has responsibility for community cohesion, has also said that there is no room for complacency, and that is quite right, because there is no reason or justification for complacency. I am sure that other hon. Members will have been sent the figures for violent assaults on members of the Jewish community in the UK last year, when they reached record levels. Even in what is portrayed as leafy,
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trouble-free Surrey, there have been incidents recently of swastikas being daubed on vehicles, pavements and signposts. Just as worrying—if not more so—are the allegations involving teachers in certain schools being anti-Semitic, because there would clearly be a long-term impact on the pupils if any indoctrination were taking place. There is no room for complacency.

The Government have made some welcome proposals in relation to increased funding for the Holocaust Educational Trust, which we fully support. Like many, if not all, the hon. Members here today, I have been on a visit to Auschwitz organised by the trust, and I think that we all came away with a permanent impression. The evidence of the industrial scale of killing there certainly left an indelible impression on me. That is something that we cannot, and never should, forget.

There are areas in which the Government are making progress, but some additional questions need to be asked. The Minister has said that by April 2009 police forces will collect data on hate crime, including anti-Semitism. Will he update us on how many police authorities are already in a position to do that, so that we can get a feel for whether that is a realistic target? If he tells us that only three or five are ready, clearly we are not on track. If he responds by saying that only 10 per cent. are in a position to do it, we might need to examine the matter more carefully.

The Minister has also highlighted the fact that local authorities can use their devolved capital funding for investment in security in schools, which is welcome. Will he clarify what will happen where there is no devolved capital funding available? Is there any scope for additional funding from a central pot to be made available if the local authorities cannot access funding for themselves?

Good progress is being made, but, as the Minister highlighted, there are also areas in which further progress is needed. He mentioned the prosecution of hate crimes, and it would be useful to know whether research shows that there is a greater inclination not to pursue hate crimes involving anti-Semitism—as opposed to other hate crimes— through to prosecution. It would be useful to know whether there is any difference or whether the problems are consistent across all hate crimes, in which case any proposals would be beneficial in tackling all kinds of hate crimes and ensuring that they are taken through to prosecution.

The spokesman for the official Opposition, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), asked specific questions about the action that is to be taken in universities, and I hope that the Minister will respond to them. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned hate crime and extremism on the internet. The Government clearly need to take action in that regard, but also to acknowledge that in some cases it will be difficult for the service providers to know precisely what is going on. This relates not only to anti-Semitism; I understand that there are issues relating to the way in which some of the political websites report on women MPs in the House of Commons. Some very aggressive things have been said. The Minister needs to look at those issues.

I should like to conclude by saying that there is all-party agreement on this matter. There is a consensus and a desire on the part of all Members of Parliament to ensure that anti-Semitism is consigned to the dustbin
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of history, where it belongs, and that firm action is taken as and when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head in any corner of the country. The Minister is guaranteed our support on this matter, and we welcome all the efforts that he is making to tackle the problem.

1.5 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I thank the Leader of the House for very appropriately allocating Government time to debate this issue today. Only yesterday, in Stamford Hill, yet more serious anti-Semitic graffiti appeared. I have left a photograph of an example for the Minister. The stencilled graffiti are clearly part of a concerted campaign calling for jihad in an area with a significant Jewish population.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): Is it not even more sinister that it chillingly describes jihad as the only solution for Israel?

John Mann: Indeed. Worryingly, reports are also coming in that the problem has spread to other parts of north London in the past 24 hours. This highlights the necessity not only for vigilance but for ongoing action. I encourage all Members on both sides of the House to join and actively participate in the all-party group against anti-Semitism.

One thing that has characterised this issue perhaps more than most others in my brief six or seven years in the House is the fact that we have managed to achieve a coalition, not only intellectually but in relation to activity and working practice. Perhaps even more remarkably, the Government have managed, cross-departmentally, to bring every single one of the eight Government Departments into active participation, and allowed us, the ordinary Members of Parliament, to be vigilant in regard to those who do not place this matter high on their priority list, with a view to ensuring that all eight Departments participate fully.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On the point about collaboration that the hon. Gentleman has rightly made, does he think that it might be helpful, when the Government draw up their statement of British values, to include a history of Jews in the United Kingdom and an observation about tolerance? Any new citizen signing a citizenship contract should be aware of the history of tolerance in this country.

John Mann: I am sure that the Minister will take that consideration back to those making the decisions.

I want to highlight a couple of the positives in relation to Government action. In my view, the Home Office has been the most decisive in taking action. An example is its agreeing to change the hate crime reporting system in every police authority in England and Wales, which will have benefits not only for the Jewish community but for all communities affected by hate crime. That is a significant step forward. Only two weeks ago, the Crown Prosecution Service produced a report, which I have described as meticulous in its detail, outlining the service’s action plan for the future. The plan has been timetabled, and it has clear outputs. It is extremely encouraging to see that development taking place.

Of course, there are issues on which we need more action. These include devolved capital funding, because a significant amount of that funding has gone to local authorities for school buildings. Objectively, a large
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increase in the amount of money has come through this year, and it is a permanent increase. If one looks at the authorities with Jewish schools that have capital security needs, one can identify the authorities in Manchester, Barnet, Stockport and Leeds. The more discerning local election result analysts will immediately grasp that that covers all the parties present for this debate and also coalitions between some parties. I urge politicians of all those parties to squeeze our own authorities, individually as well as collectively, somewhat harder to ensure that they deliver on meeting those needs given that the Government have provided them with the capital to do so.

Perhaps the issue that the Jewish community is most concerned about, and on which we seek more progress, is anti-Semitism in higher education. About 80 per cent.—an extraordinarily high percentage—of young Jewish people go to university, but that necessarily means that any problems on campus will have a disproportionate impact on that community. However small the issues on any one campus may be perceived to be, they are of great significance. Unfortunately, on some campuses, “small” is not a term that one could use. The problem is often not physical attacks, although they do occur; it is more often a problem of what I would call antisocial behaviour created by a hostile atmosphere on campus.

An extremely successful seminar with young Jewish students and others was recently hosted by Baroness Morgan. It gave me greater confidence that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is going to take action on this issue. It will be most welcome when the Department states that it is going to establish its own working group to work in partnership with the community to deliver real results. It is possible to make real progress in the universities. We saw that with the action of the National Union of Students, which is now one of the leading bodies in being intolerant of intolerance; it has directly tackled anti-Semitism. Its action helped to build confidence, to end discrimination in university timetabling and to provide institutional university leadership that is minded to take swift action on the basis of clear written policies on what should be done. I believe that, over the next year, we will see even faster and more positive change in the universities, which is vital.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): In my estimation, most universities have an egalitarian approach and most students are incredibly egalitarian in every regard. Clearly, however, where incidents of hate crime occur, they should be stamped on immediately. There is a duty on the vice-chancellor of every university to ensure that proper protocols are in place and that all students know exactly what they are so that these hate crimes can be stamped out from the start.

John Mann: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I am increasingly confident, following the meeting convened by Baroness Morgan—I believe she is going to convene a second one—that detailed progress will be made. The all-party group and—I hope and I am sure—the Government will be honest in their assessment of whether progress has been made. No one wants a tick-box approach; we want real tangible progress, so that a Jewish student on campus feels that it is a pleasure and a privilege, rather than a hassle, to be at any university in the country.

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As well as an announcement from DIUS, I hope that we will hear a swift announcement on the mooted “UK-Israeli academic collaboration fund”. Another important issue is the boycott of academia from Israel by an increasingly irrelevant University and College Union, which has rather clouded our reputation abroad and the respect accorded to British universities. If that union wants to regain proper status and standing in the universities, I strongly recommend that it concentrate on the real issues that university lecturers and others need addressing rather than on the frivolities brought in at the extremes of politics to fill a vacuum that has clearly occurred. An announcement from DIUS would be equally welcome; swiftness is important.

Not all achievements are domestic. I see that that the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) is in his place and he doubtless wants to contribute. With me and others, he has visited other Parliaments. The German Bundestag is carrying out its own inquiry, which is modelled on ours, and Canada’s Parliament is contemplating doing the same. The US Congressional anti-Semitism task force is now back up and running. Increasingly important work is going on in Latvia and the Baltic countries on the back of pioneering work over the last few years by Lord Janner. The work that we parliamentarians have done is important and we will continue to do it. At this point, I would blatantly advertise the joint all-party group and Holocaust Educational Trust visit to Poland, which is taking place in July—a significant number of Members have already signed up to it—in order to engage the Polish Parliament in these issues.

Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab): My hon. Friend raises an important point about cross-national co-operation. I know of a case in which senior officials of a mainstream political party in a particular country were expelled for making the most appalling anti-Semitic comments. Politicians, along with everybody else, have to take responsibility for ensuring that their own parties do not entertain anti-Semitic views.

John Mann: I absolutely endorse the spirit and the detail of what my hon. Friend says. He is totally right and what he said applies to this country as much as to any other.

Professor Irwin Cotler of Canada, who is a former Justice Minister, I and others have formed an international parliamentary coalition for dealing with anti-Semitism over recent months. I am pleased to announce that we will be hosting the coalition’s first international conference on anti-Semitism—it is aimed specifically at parliamentarians—in London in February 2009. I am delighted that the Foreign Office will fully support this vital conference; I am working with it to ensure success. Members will be invited fully to participate in that conference.

My final point is that our cross-party work and the effective response to it from the Government are having an impact on civil society. In a Westminster Hall debate last year, I highlighted good practice in the world of football. I am pleased to report that, following a conference on tackling anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the football world, a significant initiative has been made that will bring about further progress. It involves the
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Football Association, which has taken the lead, the premier league and the Football League. Practical action is a real possibility in the next year or two and it may well provide a moral example to others in sport and beyond it. In other words, community and social institutions, along with Parliament, the political parties and the Government, are taking a lead in tackling the dangers of anti-Semitism. I highly commend that work and activity to all hon. Members.

1.18 pm

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): The debate is timely and appropriate and I begin by paying tribute to the chair of the all-party group, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for taking the lead on this important matter. There may be grounds for satisfaction, but no room for complacency or self-satisfaction, in respect of what has happened so far. That applies in two respects. First, the House will know that I was involved in the all-party study that took place under the auspices of the all-party group. It was a group of tolerant, well-meaning people and democrats coming together to ask whether there were any problems in this area and, if so, to confront them openly, discuss them and submit them for mitigation and solution rather than pretend that they did not exist.

That was important, but, although I do not often pay tribute to the Government, it is equally important to acknowledge their role. I have no material complaint to make about the response that they published this week. It was a considerable achievement to form a departmental coalition involving 10 Departments and to create Whitehall machinery to take the agenda forward. The first fruits of that have been seen mainly in the Home Office, policing and the Crown Prosecution Service, in the shape of decisions that have already been mentioned this afternoon. It all looks very promising, although, as the Minister has conceded, there is much more work to be done. The difficulty lies in moving the focus from overt expressions of anti-Semitic hatred such as those referred to, sadly, only this week in the Chamber, and attacks on individuals—those being the most horrible but also the most salient examples, and thus the easiest to deal with—to the much more complicated area of diffuse anti-Semitism, which involves cultural factors. Nothing is necessarily scored or even said in public, but the effects can be just as corrosive, or even more damaging.

I join others in commending the work done on the British agenda and I advise the Minister to work with the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education to ensure that that Department—in which I used to serve—takes seriously the issue of discrimination in higher education. That period of people’s lives, which is of interest to us all, should be a delight and an ornament, and it is extremely distressing if it is turned into corrupted goods.

I recall that at an early meeting with Universities UK—partly because the evidence is diffuse, anecdotal and difficult to tie down to specific instances, and partly because the academic world looks for certainty and clarity—there were some reservations about what was going on, but I think everyone understands now that there is something of a problem, and is prepared to tackle it. I pay tribute to the vice-chancellors for responding.
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They do have codes; the question is whether they are sufficiently sensitive to pick up what is going on beneath the surface.

The second issue that I want to raise, in a measured way, is the rise of the British National party. I do not suggest for a moment that everything the BNP says is anti-Semitic—its members are rather careful to avoid that—or that it should be proscribed. As a general rule, I do not like the proscription of democratic parties: I think it better to allow the public expression of views. However, it concerns me that, whatever may have happened historically, we are now seeing a dispersal of that effort into different parts of the world. If the BNP can reach small towns in the middle of Northamptonshire like Daventry, stand in wards with relatively high deprivation and, while not defeating the sitting Conservative councillor—of whom, incidentally, I am very proud—succeed in coming second and pushing the Labour party into third place, that should concern all of us, and we should work with Searchlight and others to ensure that we are briefed and alert.

I do not want to suggest that the home picture is negative. During my visit to the Netherlands last month, I became aware of the work of the Anne Frank Trust prison project in the United Kingdom. I wrote to the governors of all three of the penal establishments in my constituency following my return, and was encouraged by the fact that they all responded positively. That is an example of the work that we ourselves must do beneath the surface to change attitudes.

I visited the Netherlands on behalf of the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism, but with funding from the Minister’s Department, for which I was grateful because I felt that the visit was entirely worth while. I went to Amsterdam and The Hague. It was fascinating and, I hope, educational to observe the subtle differences between close neighbours and friends, which are always worth picking up. The first thing that I noticed about the Netherlands was that, because of its history of occupation and the holocaust and the specific circumstances of Anne Frank, it functions as a kind of national trustee for the memory of Anne Frank and of what happened on that dreadful occasion. No one who has ever visited that house, as I did, is likely to be left unchanged.

The population of Netherlands is roughly a quarter of the size of the population of the United Kingdom. As a direct consequence of the holocaust, it has a very small Jewish population: 30,000, compared with a conventional estimate of 300,000 in the United Kingdom Conversely—this relates to concern in the country about inter-community tensions, which extend beyond anti-Semitism—it has a Muslim population of 1 million, half the size of the British Muslim population. A danger arises from those two factors. Although there is a degree of restraint in public debate, some tensions may be suppressed, and the result may be a release of pressure through violence. There have been two notorious political assassinations in the Netherlands, which is extremely disturbing.

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