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I want to say something about the good work that I saw being done by the founders of the Anne Frank House in relation to education and school resources. The house—the museum—speaks for itself, but there is a particularly good room where a set of moral choices are put to children and other visitors. That is quite
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demanding, and something that I think we could emulate. I also visited the Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel. I suppose that the nearest equivalent here is the Community Security Trust. We studied not only what the centre was saying about the security situation, but the inter-faith co-operation that it was actively promoting in cities such as Rotterdam, which has a large Islamic population and where there is a clear potential for tension. I also commend to the Minister the material produced—helpfully, in English—by the Dutch counterpart of his Department on its community cohesion plan. It is excellent and very readable, and I hope that officials here will study it.

All those tensions, and the need to resolve them, will become more critical in the event of a systematic slowing of the world economy. Deprivation and setbacks lead to a sense of victimisation and a wish to take it out on others.

Like some other European systems, the Dutch system does not have a structure involving all-party groups to which we could relate directly, so we may not be able to set up quite the same kind of inquiry, although when Dutch parliamentarians visited the House this morning we talked to them about what we have been doing. That is why the international initiative led by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw is so important: it can involve all Parliaments.

I believe that we should be less worried by those who admit to their problems than by those who push them under the carpet. Some time ago I visited the European Parliament, again with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, and I remember vividly a conversation with a legislator from one of the Baltic states. When I asked “What is the position with anti-Semitism in your country?”, the answer was “It is not a problem for us.” I do not know whether that was naivety or disingenuousness, and in a sense I do not care, for both are equally concerning.

Many things that we do in this place are one-offs. We produce a report, a press release is issued, and we all move on to the next business. The business of anti-Semitism, however, is a process. It involves many partners as well as the Government, and many interests over and above those of Jewish organisations. We ought to remember the wise words of the Chief Rabbi, who pointed out on Monday that anti-Semitism never stops with the Jews, but always proceeds to other kinds of intolerance. While in no sense denying the uniqueness of the holocaust as an historical event and while also being absolutely supportive of all the efforts the Government, the Holocaust Educational Trust and others are making to keep its memory and the lessons to be learned from it alive, we need to remember collectively that intolerance and hatred are indivisible evils—and we, as democrats, should fight them, because, for us, tolerance is indivisible as well.

1.30 pm

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): I am very pleased to be called to speak in this important topical debate.

The publication of the Government’s “One year on progress report” gives us the chance to reflect on how far we have come, and also on what still needs to be done. The report shows a commitment to making genuine progress in tackling anti-Semitism, particularly in the areas of hate crime prosecutions, universities and internet hate. It also highlights that the Government are taking
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this subject seriously and tackling anti-Semitism head-on; I also think their cross-departmental working is particularly important.

I spoke from a regional perspective when Parliament last debated this subject in July last year, and I shall do so again today, as Greater Manchester was a geographically important part of the initial inquiry because it has the second largest Jewish population in the country—about 30,000. About a quarter of that population live in Salford, the local authority for my constituency.

In last year’s debate, I touched on figures compiled by the Community Security Trust on anti-Semitic incidents in 2006. The number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Greater Manchester seemed disproportionately high compared with those for the rest of the country: Greater Manchester has 10 per cent. of the total UK Jewish population, but its 144 reported anti-Semitic incidents was 24 per cent. of the total. The 2007 figures released earlier this year show a small increase on the 2006 figures: 147 incidents, which was 27 per cent. of the total incidents in the UK. As in the previous year, some incidents reported by the Community Security Trust in Manchester were shocking. A man in north Manchester was verbally abused and had bricks thrown at his head simply because he was leaving a synagogue after his religious observance. Such incidents are deplorable.

The Greater Manchester figures could be seen as bad news when compared with the figures for the rest of the country, and in 2006 there was, in fact, a fall in anti-Semitic incidents across the rest of the country of 8 per cent. As I said in last year’s debate, however, the opposite is the case: Greater Manchester police are exemplary in recording and monitoring anti-Semitic incidents and in co-operating with the Community Security Trust. Therefore, the high figure of incidents from the first year of 2006 and the slight increase in 2007 should be seen not as a sign that things are getting worse in Greater Manchester, but that more incidents are being reported. That is to be welcomed, because understanding the problem through accurate data is an important step forward.

Mr. Evans: I agree that the accurate reporting of these crimes is important—and not only in the UK, but in the rest of the world. The Council of Europe, on which I sit, produced a report last year which seemed to show that things were a lot worse in the UK than in other parts of Europe. Clearly, that is not the case. We are far more assiduous in recording these hate crimes than other European countries. Perhaps one good thing that could come out of the international conference is that we might get across to other MPs that their police forces and legal systems ought to be taking anti-Semitism far more seriously in their own countries.

Barbara Keeley: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Not only have we in Greater Manchester got better reporting of such crimes, but, happily, we also have more prosecutions. A Jewish man was walking down a road in north Manchester when he was verbally abused—we heard of many similar verbal abuse incidents, such as of young people going to school or of people going to and leaving their synagogue. The perpetrator was traced by the police, admitted the offence and then sentenced to rehabilitation work with the local youth offending team. I hope the example Greater Manchester police have set
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in working with the Jewish community and co-operating with the Community Security Trust is followed through.

In last year’s debate, I also touched on school security. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and I visited the King David school in Manchester, which educates 1,000 pupils, many of whom we met. I reported in the earlier debate that the security measures we saw on our visit to that school were surprisingly complex, and all of it had been done on the expert advice of the Community Security Trust. Closed circuit television and fencing are, perhaps, normal in schools, but anti-shatter glass was also being used and reinforced walls were required, as well as security guards and a security rota of parents. There were regular bomb drills, too, as well as the usual fire drills. These security measures were, at the time of our visit, being funded by the parents. My right hon. Friend and I thought it shocking that such security measures were necessary just because of the religious faith of the pupils. The move forward on support for the security of Jewish schools is very important; that is one of the key recommendations of the inquiry, and it is great that progress has been made.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners made it clear that schools and authorities can use their devolved capital funding for investment in security equipment of the sort that we saw at King David school. That pledge is crucial because many schools, such as King David, require them. It is a comfort to parents to know that they have them, but the funding question is key. It is important to follow-up on that. It has been a good move to say that schools can fund such equipment. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) has written to every local authority with Jewish state schools, but I also know that he has not received responses from many of them. I suggest that the Department for Children, Schools and Families should take further action. It should now request that local authorities make formal responses on the action taken as a result of the letter. We need to make sure that across the country appropriate levels of funding are both available and being used to meet school security needs. The Department, the all-party group against anti-Semitism and the Community Security Trust need to look at that from time to time to ensure proper delivery. I hope that the progress made so far can be continued, and that Ministers working on this will periodically report back to us.

The original inquiry also concluded that there were other ways for schools to tackle anti-Semitism more generally. I seem to be the only Member who has spoken who has not managed to go on one of the Lessons From Auschwitz programme trips with the Holocaust Educational Trust, but I intend to do so, and it is clear from talking to colleagues that that is a life-changing experience. Pupils at Bridgewater school in my constituency benefited from the programme in November. It is very important that we continue to educate young people about the holocaust, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to the programme.

The inquiry also identified that community cohesion and understanding can be further nurtured by forming strong links between schools of all faiths; that is key, too. The year-on report commits the Government to
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extending the work of the Schools Linking Network, with the provision of funding for that; that is also key. I hope that that and other programmes can be further extended, along with continued commitment to the Lessons From Auschwitz programme.

These commitments must be combined with cross-government measures to tackle anti-Semitism in universities. I hope that much more progress on that can be made over the next 12 months. It is fine tackling these issues at school, but it is equally problematic if things are difficult for large numbers of Jewish students when they move on to university.

Although there has been real progress in terms of the Government’s response to the inquiry, as Members have said, we can never be complacent about this subject. The work of the inquiry and the all-party group provides a solid platform in the UK for tackling anti-Semitism. We reaffirm through this work the kind of society we all believe in—one that is just, democratic and tolerant. Regardless of race or religion, we are tolerant of everyone and everyone has the same worth. That is why this debate is important, and that is why the Government must continue to keep their strong focus and to build on the progress made over the past 12 months.

1.39 pm

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May I begin by paying tribute to Britain’s Jewish community, which has contributed to British life over many centuries? Its contribution has been immense, on many occasions setting Britain at the forefront of science, the arts, music and medicine. Be it in the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th or 21st century, the Jewish community in the United Kingdom has made a huge contribution to our way of life and to the advancement of the social condition. Indeed, this place has a history of very distinguished Jewish parliamentarians, from Prime Minister to Back Bencher. The Jewish contribution to British parliamentary democracy and the British parliamentary system has been significant indeed.

I should like to pay my own tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust and in particular to Karen Pollock, its chief executive, and her excellent staff—Nancy Tenenbaum and the others who work so hard. They do a vital job, and I am grateful that the Government have put in additional funding for the trust. I hope that they will keep that funding under review and if they feel that more is required, given the rising anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom, that funding will increase. The number of incidents decreased slightly last year, but as the Minister rightly mentioned, the previous figure was the highest since figures started to be recorded in 1984. There is no room for complacency, as colleagues have pointed out.

It is right that we are all reminded about anti-Semitism and the atrocities of the holocaust not only as adults, but as children in schools and as students in higher and further education facilities. However, I hope that the Government will not be tempted to legislate in respect of holocaust denial. I know that there is some debate about that, and I hope that the Minister will comment on that. Although I find it abhorrent that people should take that position, at least if people deny the holocaust in the open, that position can be countered and refuted, rather than driven underground for the lies to be peddled
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from a secret location. The importance of education will continue as other influences, such as the internet, which has no borders, peddle myths about the holocaust into people’s homes up and down this country. The Holocaust Education Trust’s work is important not only for those reasons and for education, but because it is the right thing to do.

This issue is not just about physical attacks on individuals—reference has been made to recent attacks in north London and Manchester, where the largest Jewish community in this country live; it is also about attacks on property, verbal abuse, offensive literature and, as I have said, neo-fascist and neo-Nazi websites.

I shall discuss the media, but first I wish to ask a question: can someone be anti-Israel, but not anti-Semitic? Yes, I think so. Can someone be anti-Semitic, but pro-Israel? Probably not, and that is why the media’s role is so important; they have to be neutral and non-partisan. Unfortunately, we still do not have the internal report that the BBC collated on the claims that it was biased against Israel. One might ask what Israel has got to do with anti-Semitism, but that is very relevant, because the messages that broadcast and print journalists put out about Israel have a direct impact on anti-Semitism on campuses and on the streets of London and Manchester.

My concern is that in some, but not all, parts, the BBC is still institutionally biased against Israel. If it is not, as a public corporation that is funded by British taxpayers through the licence fee and also directly through Government funding, it should make available to full public scrutiny—perhaps before the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport—the internal report that it commissioned. I have written to the report’s author on several occasions asking for the release of that information, yet it has not been forthcoming. What has the BBC got to hide? If it has nothing to hide, it should let Parliament and the people who pay for the BBC see the report.

The music industry also has an important part to play. Over recent years, much research has been done on rap music and on hate lyrics concerning all parts of the community—for example, homophobic lyrics and violent and abusive lyrics against women in some rap music. However, very little research has been done—perhaps the Government might want to consider conducting some research in this area, in partnership with the music industry—on skinhead and neo-Nazi music, which peddles anti-Semitic messages and racist music.

Other faiths have a key part to play in curbing anti-Semitism. The Muslim Council of Britain should speak out far more. I welcome the comments that Pope Benedict made in his Cologne speech. I think that the Church of England should do more; it should speak out against anti-Semitism. Locally, I should like to praise the work of Reverend Rous, who runs Donnington Baptist church in my constituency and who does a lot of work in this area to educate young people, in particular.

In conclusion, I congratulate the state of Israel on its 60th birthday. May Israel live in peace and may British Jews live in peace. We must all fight anti-Semitism. If we do not, we are betraying the fundamental British values of freedom of speech and freedom of religion—values that we abandon at our peril.

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1.47 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I have the honour of representing the constituency that has the highest proportion of Jewish people in the country; one in every five of my constituents is Jewish. I think that my constituency has more synagogues than any other, and they represent every strand of Jewish faith. There is none to which I cannot go, not being a Jew myself, which means that I can get a full flavour of the different parts and ceremonies of the different faiths. More importantly, I get the opportunity to speak to many different people from the Jewish community.

My constituency has more Jewish schools than any other—it has five primaries, one big secondary school on a split site and a number of private schools—and dozens of charities, non-governmental organisations, societies, care homes and businesses. The uniting factor is that none has name plates, signs or boards outside advertising what or who it is, and we must ask why that is. It surprised me when I was first elected and I was going round trying to find those places to visit them. It slowly dawned on me that the real problem was the fear in which the Jewish community lives. Things that we take for granted as non-Jews, they can never do.

In the past 10 days, I have attended six major functions organised for the Jewish community, all of which opened their doors an hour early. Why did they do that? They did so in order that people could trail through the enormous security measures that have to be taken. Luckily, I can usually jump the queue, although that was not the case at one of the functions. Such measures include X-ray searches and bag inspections, the locations not being announced in advance for fear of what might happen and secrecy about who may be turning up, particularly if the guest is high-profile. The exception to that occurred last week, when the Prime Minister proudly announced to the House, in response to my question on the subject, that he was going to finish what he was doing and go on that night to the 60th anniversary of Israel event. I understand that he sent his security people into a bit of a spin.

The threat and reality of anti-Semitism is with us. We are talking not only about Islamic extremists, but about the far right, as has been mentioned, and sometimes about plain nutcases. Jewish people are the only community in our country who live in a permanent state of siege and underlying fear. Looking at it from the outside, I really started to appreciate the mentality of people who are permanently worried and looking over their shoulder. The Chief Rabbi tells a story, which he repeated earlier this week, about the telegram that is sent to a Jewish family from a relative from afar stating, “Start worrying. Details to follow.” That may be a joke, but unfortunately it represents the fear that some people experience.

I have learnt about that myself, because although I am not Jewish, I am targeted because I am seen as someone who stands up for the Jewish community. I have had hate mail and death threats. I have been on the receiving end of action by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, which has campaigned against me in my constituency because of my support for Jewish people. So I sympathise with what Jewish people experience, although I can never directly experience it myself.

The local police are effective in dealing with the problem. They work closely with the safer neighbourhood teams, which align their patrols in Jewish wards with
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Shabbat, and with the Community Security Trust. They also have third-party reporting initiatives. In 2006-07, 57 hate crimes were reported in my borough, and 50 were reported last year. So far this year, the number appears to be slightly up. I hope that when hate crimes are recorded nationally from next year, we will have separate recording of anti-Semitic incidents. I suspect that the hate crimes in my constituency were mainly anti-Semitic, but we cannot be sure without the statistics being broken down into greater detail. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to tell us about that when he replies to the debate.

The Community Security Trust is based in my constituency and I am a member of its advisory board. I was pleased that the Home Secretary accepted my invitation to visit it recently to congratulate it on its performance of its enormous task and to hear more about its work. It supports 1,000 events a year with 3,000 trained, unpaid volunteers and 55 full-time staff. It monitors anti-Semitic groups and organisations, and advises the Government and the police, and more importantly, it provides training courses and is there when it is needed. It also carries out statistical analysis, as we have heard.

I wish to focus on school security. The Government have said that capital expenditure allocations can be used for security, but I have real doubts about whether that is happening, because the money is not ring-fenced and can be allocated only within the existing devolved budgets. I spoke to the acting education officer in my borough and he told me that no money had been directly allocated for security by Barnet so far. The fact remains that in north London, the CST has recorded many examples of hostile reconnaissance at school sites, including the photographing and filming of schools, note-taking on the perimeters, and examples of trespassing and other attempts to get on to the sites. Schools are sent anti-Semitic literature and subjected to abusive phone calls, stones thrown through windows and anti-Semitic graffiti. At a primary school in my constituency, a suitcase was found chained to a lamppost outside. The building had to be evacuated and a controlled explosion carried out. I visit schools all the time, and the students—from the little kids to sixth formers—tell me time and again about the anti-Semitic incidents that they experience, whether on the 240 bus or on the way to school.

The money allocated for capital is welcome. The bursar of the Menorah foundation school wrote to me to say:

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