2.58 pm

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) on securing the debate and on the content of her speech. She set out what happened, but also the lessons to be learned and, like the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), told us what we should be watching out for, especially bearing in mind what is happening across Europe.

Members might be aware that I am the chair of the all-party group on commemorating Srebrenica. I want to commemorate the anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. My interest in Bosnia and Yugoslavia arises from having worked for the United Nations mission in Kosovo between 2000 and 2002, just after the NATO

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bombing of Serbia. While I was in Kosovo, I had the opportunity to speak to different people and heard about the genocide from some of the victims’ family members.

The background to the massacre is the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the ’90s, which, as we all know, led to the conflict. That war sparked numerous atrocities and attempts at ethnic cleansing, such as the mass rape of women, which the United Nations has said can be described as a war crime. Studies have shown that something in the region of 20,000 to 50,000 Bosniak Muslim women were raped by Serb forces and abused for many months.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North said earlier, many atrocities occurred. I think about 100,000 Muslims in total died in the whole Yugoslav conflict, but the reason why we are concentrating on Srebrenica is because of the way it happened—its deliberate manner and the fact that people were taken into this particular area, a UN safe haven. This was not a situation, such as that in Libya or Iraq, where one does not know what is happening on the ground and difficult decisions have to be made as to whether to go in without knowing what the consequences might be; here was a clear case of a group of 8,000-odd men and young boys deliberately being taken into a safe area. What makes it even more horrendous, and it reminds me a bit of what happened in Rwanda, was that there were—I stand to be corrected—Belgian, Canadian and Dutch troops there who were supposed to protect those people, but failed to do anything about it. That is what is truly shocking. It was not a case of, “Shall we intervene?”; they knew that people were being massacred, and they stood by and did nothing.

So far, we have not had an apology from those countries, saying, “This is what our armed forces failed to do.” There has been no apology from anyone. As has already been mentioned, everyone knew what was happening there. Years before the massacre, people knew what has happening, and everyone failed to protect the victims. One thing that is sometimes forgotten is that it was not just a case of 8,000 people being massacred in one go, but the failure of people who should have been there to protect them.

Martin Horwood: To be fair to the Dutch commander, Colonel Karremans, by the accounts I have read, I think he was committed to try to protect Srebrenica and the people there. It was the failure of the UN to deliver close air support, which he repeatedly requested, that effectively doomed his troops. His troops did engage with Serb forces at times. They had had hostages taken and were in a difficult position—almost impossible militarily. It was the failure of the overall UN command to deliver air support that doomed his mission.

Yasmin Qureshi: That may be one explanation given, but I think the hon. Gentleman would find that most people who were there would not agree with that version of events. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) is a former colonel who was in Bosnia at the time. I happened to talk to him a couple of days ago. He was there just before the massacre. He said that he had asked for British troops to remain and said that they

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should not be taken away, but regrettably, they were removed. Apparently, he passed on his sentiments—as we have all come to know, he is clear in his views and would express them forcefully—that it was not right that those other forces should be there. He gave an example of the Belgian logistics team asking for British troops to protect them while they carried out a logistics operation. What were the Belgian troops doing to try to protect their own? They had to call the British Army in to protect them. I think it is quite well known internationally that some armies and forces are much braver and more willing to do things.




I know that I am verging on controversial territory, but some forces perhaps tend to take the path of least resistance. That is exactly what we saw in Rwanda.

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): As someone who has been there, does the hon. Lady think that, whatever the rights and wrongs of Dutch or NATO troops, for any European who saw the Serbs separate men and boys from women alarm bells must have been set off about the past of this so-called civilised continent we live on?

Yasmin Qureshi: That is absolutely right. The hon. Gentleman puts it even better than I have. That is the point I am trying to make. It was so obvious what was happening. Everyone knew. I would go as far as to say that people turned a blind eye to what was happening. It was like, “We couldn’t care less about these people.” Exactly the same happened in Rwanda as well, where troops from certain countries also turned a blind eye, and a whole load of massacres took place there.

The world at large needs to know what happened, as do the continent of Europe and people in our country. It is regrettable that although it was a few years ago that the European Parliament passed a resolution to say that the anniversary should be appropriately commemorated in all European countries, only in the last year or two have commemorations taken place. The first commemoration happened last year in Lancaster house, and this is the second year. I organised a book of signatures yesterday in the Members’ Cloak Room, and I am pleased to say that 160 hon. Members signed the book in one day. Obviously, people in this House understand and appreciate the matter.

I know that the Department for Communities and Local Government has been doing some work and has contributed some money to allow such events to happen, but the matter needs to be taken even more seriously. Councils and organisations throughout the United Kingdom need to be aware of it, and we should ensure that people know about it. First, it is a way of recognising what has happened. Secondly, it is a reminder of what can go wrong. After the second world war and the genocide of the Jewish people, we thought that such things could not happen again—certainly not in mainland Europe—only to find, just 19 years ago, that such things did occur again.

Stuart Andrew: Last night at Lancaster house, one of the most striking sentiments I heard was one of the mothers saying, “I am not going to say ‘never again’, because people said that after the second world war, and here we are; we suffered it again.” We all say those words, but they are not good enough, are they? We need far more action.

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Yasmin Qureshi: I absolutely agree. I was there at the memorial service. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.

I want to pick up on something the hon. Member for Cheltenham and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North said about attempts to prevent such things from happening again. I declare an interest, although I am sure it is completely irrelevant, because it is not because I am Muslim that I am making this point, and many colleagues and friends have made this point already. At the moment, in our country—I do not think for one minute that it will lead to that sort of level—if we look at media coverage in television, the newspapers and front-page headlines, 99.9% of the coverage is anti-Muslim. A lot of the media publish complete lies on their front pages. For example, there was the Muslim plot to kill the Pope—a complete lie. There was also the story about Muslims wanting Muslim toilets at public expense—a complete lie. It goes on and on.

Independent research carried out by a number of universities has shown that the constant negativity, the made-up stories and the media not telling the truth, or not putting things in context, has given a lot of people a bad understanding of Muslims and their religion. All religions have questions to answer, and there are things in all of them that can be looked at, but concentrating on one group of people and telling lies about them is really wrong.

A recent survey showed that 33% of people think Muslims are not really right for this country, that their religion is not appropriate and that they do not belong here. I feel very offended, because, although I was not born in England, I was brought up here, and this is my country. There are 3 million Muslims out there, but they are all being slated because of the actions of a few.

A lot of people in some parts of this country have never come across a Muslim, a black person or an Asian. Any information they have about a particular religion, group, culture or community will come from what they read in the paper. The images and information they have will be formed by that, as opposed to by meeting people.

In that respect, it is great that we have free speech and a free press, but people should show some responsibility. This hatred perpetuated towards particular groups leads to events such as those in Bosnia or in the second world war. If we look at some of the information and literature put out by the Germans and the Nazis, we see that the words used against the Jewish people were very similar to those being used against Muslim people in this country. In Bosnia and Yugoslavia, a lot of hatred also built up against different groups.

That is why responsibility has to be exercised by not only our media, but our political leaders. Some of them have said things that perpetuate the image of Islam as being somehow inconsistent with the British or the western way of life. That is a wrong narrative, and it needs to be addressed.

I hope I am forgiven for digressing slightly, but it is important to mention this issue, because hatred against a particular group does not just happen overnight. Somebody does not suddenly say, “Right, tomorrow we are going to kill this group of people.” Good, decent people are subjected to certain images and ideas, they get caught up in the frenzy of it all and atrocities

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happen. I am sure some people in Bosnia now think—years later, when they have had time to think about things—“God, what did we do?” People get carried away; the human mind is very susceptible. That is why we have to be careful.

The Government have done some good work on this issue, but I ask the Department to do even more. If the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Prime Minister could be at next year’s holocaust memorial event, that would certainly send some messages.

3.13 pm

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I want to speak briefly, because it is important that people reading the debate realise there is all-party support for the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) and for what she has done today.

This is an important debate, partly because it is a memorial debate—there is not much we can do about these incidents, but we can talk about them. Often in our debates, we ask for finance, for something for the health service or for education. Occasionally, however, it is right that we in the House of Commons remember what happened in the past, even though there is little we can do about it. In that way, we can, I hope, draw some lessons.

I have been to Sarajevo and stood at the corner where Franz Ferdinand was shot, and it is extraordinary to be at that place, which is on the cusp of history. Oceans of print have been written about what caused the assassination and the catastrophe that engulfed Europe in the years following. A lot has also been said in the debate about the responsibility of the Dutch and the Belgian troops—what they did and did not do—but we miss the point if we focus too much on that.

Ultimately, what happened was not the fault of the Dutch or the Belgian troops; it was the fault of the people who conducted the massacre—they were the evil ones. The debate is important because it acknowledges that, somewhere in our human condition, there is a streak of evil, which can spring up in the most unlikely places and in all people. The point of this debate is surely to affirm a very simple principle, which I can articulate and then sit down: we are all part of one humanity.

3.15 pm

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I would certainly like to associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh).

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) for securing the debate. I was saddened to hear about her conversations with the Mothers of Srebrenica and about their criticisms of the delay in apprehending perpetrators. As she rightly says, that sits badly with the original claims about achieving justice for the victims and their families. I was genuinely shocked to hear that one of the direct participants in the massacres has a senior job in the regional government and that a school that was the site of one of the massacres is still being used as a school. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that truth and reconciliation in affected communities is so important in giving survivors permission to move on with their lives.

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As we have heard today, 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys lost their lives in a criminal, genocidal frenzy. Women and girls were brutally and systematically raped as an act of war. It is almost impossible to begin to understand what the justification for that could be—I find it completely incomprehensible. These things happened in Europe, just 19 years ago.

Let us remind ourselves a little of the background. In his well considered and measured speech, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) rightly took us back to UN Security Council resolution 819, which designated the 30 square miles around the town of Srebrenica as a United Nations safe area. The resolution condemned Bosnian Serb attacks on the UN peacekeeping force, their interception of humanitarian assistance convoys and their deliberate actions to force the evacuation of the civilian population. It demanded the immediate withdrawal of Bosnian Serb forces from the area surrounding Srebrenica—a relatively small town—and requested the safe transfer of wounded and sick civilians. It required both sides in the conflict to demilitarise the town, but this they failed to do.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations requested additional military support, which was not forthcoming. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) passionately recounted, the failure of United Nations member states contributed to the inability to maintain the safe area.

Srebrenica fell to Serb forces on 11 July 1995, prompting a stream of refugees to the UN bases at Potocari and Tuzla. A mortar and tank attack on the UN base made it undefendable. By the end of the day, the Bosnian Serbs were in control of the whole area. On arriving, they began to separate off all the men and boys aged between 12 and 77. A column of 15,000 people fled towards the town of Tuzla, but it was pursued and shelled. A thousand of those who were fleeing were killed that day, but over the following 72 hours the captured Muslim men and boys were marched to killing fields for execution.

Nineteen years on, some of those responsible have been brought to trial and held to account for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide; but reconciliation is a complex process that takes place within communities and across generations. It takes time, honesty and determination to achieve it. As I prepared for today’s speech I recalled a similar debate earlier in the year for Holocaust memorial day. I, like many others, remembered how after the second world war we said “Never again,” and set up the United Nations to promote international peace and security; yet we have still witnessed outrageous atrocities around the world.

In the days immediately following the Srebrenica massacres this House met and heard accounts of the events. MPs discussed the role of the United Nations peacekeeping force, the circumstances in which the UN force fled the safe zone it had created around Srebrenica, and what provision was to be made for the thousands who had been displaced and who were in need of urgent help. Srebrenica showed us that the United Nations needs access to effective military capability, and needs to demonstrate willingness to act. Srebrenica was one of six UN safe areas. Those who were gathered in the

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designated safe haven around Srebrenica had, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East said, the right to expect that the United Nations would keep them safe.

In 2010, on the 15th anniversary, President Barack Obama said:

“This atrocity galvanized the international community to act to end the slaughter of civilians, and the name Srebrenica has since served as a stark reminder of the need for the world to respond resolutely in the face of evil.”

It is clear, with hindsight, that the international community should have intervened in Bosnia before Srebrenica. We should have been more resolute in our actions, once there, and should have provided the protection we were there to ensure. The Opposition have made clear our support for a strengthened United Nations that can intervene and uphold its commitment to maintaining international peace and security.

On Friday, when we mark Srebrenica memorial day and remember the victims and their families, we must renew the pledge of “Never again,” and renew our commitment to educating the present and future generations, so that history does not continue to repeat itself. I congratulate the Government on their commitment to remembering Srebrenica, and on their focus on fighting the forces that drive genocide. Last year’s funding of £170,000 was a welcome and important step. It established the UK’s first memorial day, created a dedicated online archive, and sent community leaders on visits to Srebrenica. The £800,000 that the Government have pledged for this year and next year, which will be matched by the charity Remembering Srebrenica, will ensure that the project develops and reaches further into our communities. With 750 young people visiting the area to learn the lessons of Srebrenica, we will be better placed to challenge intolerance at home and abroad, and to understand its extreme consequences.

I warmly welcome the work of the charity Remembering Srebrenica, and commend its founder Waqar Asmi’s commitment to creating a cohesive society for everyone. I also commend the charity’s aim of encouraging everyone in our society to learn about the consequences of hate and discrimination. It is critical that we should understand the horror and the legacy of events in July 1995, not just for the renewal of our pledge of “Never again,” but so that we can strengthen our communities to challenge prejudice and division, whatever their nature. All of us in the Chamber today recognise the importance of that work. It is vital to continue to remember such heinous atrocities of deep-seated xenophobic sectarianism. That drives a determination to foster resilient, inclusive and respectful communities here and abroad.

I know from his blog that the Minister has visited Srebrenica and I look forward to hearing the reflections he will no doubt recount in his response, but I want, if I may, to draw on something he said in his piece, about the phrase “ethnic cleansing”, which suddenly became part of everyday news-speak. Those two simple and mundane words express an amoral political intent to cleanse a country or area of human beings: a genocide of communities because of their difference. Yet such simplistic terms cannot possibly convey the true horror of war and genocide. The only true lexicon of war and genocide must be the real stories of the victims and their families, and I will give voice to a couple of those stories now.

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One is the tragic story of Hasan Nuhanovich, who survived because he was an interpreter, first for Canadian UN troops and then for the Dutch troops. He describes events on 11 July when thousands of people, mostly women and children but also men and boys, fled the town and arrived at the UN base. Some were allowed in but the gate was then closed and a hole in the fence was sealed. That left about 5,000 to 6,000 people inside the base and 20,000 people outside. He heard the killing, screams and shots, and then the UN base fell to mortar and tank attacks. He says:

“The UN told me to tell the people to start leaving the base in groups of five—they didn’t say anything else.”

The people were hoping and thinking that the UN was in charge and would know what to do, but when they reached the gate they saw Serb soldiers standing there, pushing the men and the boys away from their sisters, wives and children. There was a separation taking place right there outside the gate. People realised at that moment that they were not going to any safe place; the Serbs were going to take them away.

Hasan concluded:

“My family was among the last ones to stay inside. I tried to keep them inside the base for as long as possible. But they were forced. Three UN soldiers came inside with three UN military observers and looked at my family and told me, ‘Hasan, translate to your family, tell them to leave right now.’ I was crying. My brother, who was 19, was sitting on the chair. Of course, my parents knew what was going to happen. But they were behaving in a different way; they actually tried to calm me down—they felt that if I start panicking, I would cause trouble for myself. If their elder son, myself, could remain inside the base, could stay alive, let’s at least try to do that. They knew my brother was going to be killed, they knew they were going to be killed. All the time as they were walked out of the base, my parents told me, ‘Hasan, stay. You can stay. Your brother will be with us; he will be OK.’ I was walking behind them, screaming and saying, ‘I am coming with you.’ But my brother turned around, and he started screaming right at my face: ‘You are not coming with me, you are going to stay inside because you can stay.’ And that was the last time I saw my family.”

Hasan has since discovered what happened to his mother. She killed herself with broken glass rather than submit to rape at a police station.

On the excellent Remembering Srebrenica website, I read the story of another Hasan, who at the age of 19 was part of the column desperately fleeing Bosnian Serb forces on foot, through the woods, away from Srebrenica. His story is terrifying and raw with the horror of the events he witnessed, but at the end he tells us that in 2009 he took a job at the memorial centre and has settled to raise a young family of his own. He tells of the pain of having to recount his story to visitors several times a day, but he is happy to do so, he says, because

“now, finally, someone is listening.”

Those who survived endured the most excruciating and traumatic experiences. Mevludin Orich lay for nine hours in one of the killing fields, playing dead while Serb troops patrolled the blood-soaked field, finishing off anyone who showed signs of life with a pistol shot to the head. He heard an old man plead, “Please don’t do this to us, children, we haven’t done anything to you,” but the old man was also shot.

Lying on top of Orich was his dead cousin, Hars. At one point, Orich saw a Serb soldier walk towards him. The soldier paused to shoot a man in the head, and then continued to walk toward Orich. Orich closed his eyes,

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but the shot did not come. Close to midnight, the shooting stopped and the Serbs left. Orich managed to shake off his cousin’s body, stand up and head into the forest. To do so, he had to climb over the bodies of the dead and the dying. That type of scarring and traumatising experience is bound to haunt the survivors, their families and their communities for decades, even generations, to come.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): I have been to Srebrenica and Potocari to see at first hand the devastation left by the events of 1995, and I have spoken to many of the women and their children who survived that atrocity. Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the biggest remaining issues for many of the families involved is closure, because there were many situations where the acts were so despicable that the bodies and remains of family members have still not been obtained, and so are unable to be buried in the cemetery in Potocari?

Lyn Brown: I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. One of the things that shocked me when considering the idea that reconciliation is happening in Srebrenica in Bosnia and nearby was the lack of detail about where these mass graves are. There might be another 100 mass graves out there. The gentleman I just spoke about—the second Hasan—needs to know where his dad and brother are because he wants to be able to bury them, but he cannot do so. Until such knowledge is out, reconciliation is hard.

I say to the first Hasan that we are listening and that is what today is about. Reconciliation will help to mitigate, to some extent, the trauma and the scars of people in this community, but for many of them what they lived through will be with them forever; it will pass down through generations, as events reverberate.

We can all agree in Westminster Hall today that Srebrenica was a very dark day for Europe, when once more it was consumed by a cloud of deep-seated xenophobic sectarianism, and innocents were yet again brutally murdered and mercilessly slaughtered in the name of nationalism. We have to find a way to rid ourselves of the cancer of intolerance and discrimination, and we must create a United Nations that is capable of fulfilling the noble mandate that it was given. The people of Srebrenica had a right to expect protection; the international community failed them. We must see, we must know and we must remember Srebrenica. And we must learn.

Dr William McCrea (in the Chair): I think we all agree that the debate so far has been very moving. I call upon the Minister to respond to it.

3.33 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Stephen Williams): First, I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), as I often do in these debates. As usual, she delivered her speech powerfully and in an emotionally charged way. I thank her for doing so because this is an occasion when it would be very easy to talk about diplomacy, and the rights and wrongs of what happened 19 years ago and earlier, but it is what happened to the people in those circumstances that counts. I thank her for speaking in the way that she did.

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It is customary on these occasions to thank the initiator of the debate, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin), so I do that both in the customary sense and in the sincere sense. I do so not only because I am the Minister responsible for the Government’s work in this sector but because it is something that, as a Minister, I find incredibly moving and powerful, compared with some of the other things that I have to do. In addition, it is an issue that has interested me for a long time.

Both the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) reflected on the events that took place in the 1990s. With the possible exception of yourself, Dr McCrea, none of us who have taken part in this debate were MPs at that time. I was a young councillor—I was in my mid-20s—in Bristol, watching the TV coverage night after night, from the original invasion of Croatia and the bombardment of Vukovar by the Yugoslav national army, as it was at that time. I then saw how events unfolded in Bosnia and then, of course, in Kosovo in 1999. I felt angry and impotent that all this was happening in our European family of nations.

I will not stray into discussing the culpability of any of the troops on the ground, as some colleagues have done; for a start, that is probably beyond my remit. What I will say, however, is that we ought to remind ourselves that troops on the ground—whether they were from the UN or from the nations that were referred to—are responsible to democratic Governments. Perhaps it is the politicians of that era who should have been spoken of in condemnatory language, and I will stray no further than that in going beyond my remit.

The Department for Communities and Local Government gives significant amounts of money—the hon. Member for West Ham mentioned the £970,000 that our community integration budget has put into the Remembering Srebrenica events, both for last year and the next two years—and staff in the Department make a big personal commitment. There is a ministerial commitment as well. Those who were at Lancaster house last night would have heard all three Ministers who have an interest in this issue—the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Baroness Warsi and myself—speak from different perspectives. The three of us do not always agree on everything, but we are committed to this project, both for what it says about Britain in Bosnia—the project is very much appreciated in Bosnia itself—and for the effect that it can have on the next generation of community leaders and politicians in this country.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North opened the debate by mentioning Sarajevo and its resonance this year. When I was in Bosnia in April, I, too, stood on the corner where Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated. The generation of politicians who put together the League of Nations after world war one said, “Never again”; the generation of politicians after 1945 who put together the UN said, “Never again”; and no doubt our predecessors back in the mid to late 1990s said, “Never again.” Well, “never again” does not happen by accident; it happens by tough, grinding diplomacy.

I will stray slightly beyond my remit again, Dr McCrea, to say that, as a passionate Europhile within the Government, I think we sometimes need to remember that it is a major achievement of the European Union

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that conflict has not broken out among its member states. Moreover, apart from Albania it is the former Yugoslav republics that are still queuing up to join the EU. Of course, Slovenia and Croatia are already in. A couple of years ago, I went on a Westminster Foundation for Democracy visit to Macedonia with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) to help Macedonia with its preparations to become a member of the EU, and one day—I hope soon—Serbia and Bosnia will join that European family of nations as well. Then, perhaps, “never again” will actually have achieved a diplomatic outcome.

The hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) mentioned commemorating Holocaust memorial day in the UK. She also said, in respect of the second world war, that all the attention tends to be given to the holocaust and asked about what is happening next year. In 2015 it will be both the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz—the hon. Member for West Ham has not been to Auschwitz yet, but I went many years ago, and we will renew the agreement to go together at some point soon, before that anniversary—and the 20th anniversary of events in Srebrenica.

I represent the Government on the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and I assure the hon. Member for West Ham that we are thinking carefully about the significance of both those anniversaries and making sure they get all the appropriate attention from the Government, the royal family and—they more important than the politicians or other leaders—the survivors. The survivors of the holocaust are now smaller in number and many of them are quite old and frail, so we need to ensure that it is done in an appropriate setting for them, too.

Let me turn to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and our commemoration of Holocaust memorial day each year. Some of us spoke in the annual debate in January in the main Chamber, and most hon. Members were careful to ensure that we talked about all of the genocides that have taken place, which, with the exception of the holocaust, have sadly all happened in the lifetimes of all hon. Members in this Chamber: the unravelling of Yugoslavia; Rwanda; Dafur; the events taking place in South Sudan, and Cambodia.

Mr Marcus Jones: I agree. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that we need to disseminate that information, particularly to our schools, to ensure that it is firmly embedded in our education system, so that youngsters learn about these atrocities and can learn from the mistakes of the past?

Stephen Williams: Yes. The hon. Gentleman is inviting me to stray again from my remit, but I have done it once, so let me do so once again, this time into the territory of the Department for Education.

Having visited schools, as I am sure all hon. Members do, I have spoken to history teachers—and to history admissions tutors at universities, in the days when I was the Lib Dem higher education spokesman—who tell me that children do learn about the holocaust and the Nazi period, although perhaps too much. I think they also need to learn about world war one, which is highly relevant over the next four years, and about the other genocides that have taken place in the lifetime of their parents. I am sure that every responsible history teacher and citizenship teacher in the country will ensure that they do so in the next 12 months.

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Hon. Members mentioned closure, and the hon. Member for Glasgow North mentioned the important work of the International Commission for Missing Persons. Many powerful memories will stay with me from my visit to Bosnia, and the visit to the ICMP in Tuzla will certainly be one of them. Adam Boys, a Scotsman, is doing the archaeology of warfare—forensic science—digging up mass graves that contain not whole bodies, but dismembered bodies.

Such was the planned nature of what took place in the mid-1990s, it was not just a massacre; there was an attempt to cover it up by physically separating the bodies with bulldozers—I am being graphic—and scattering the remains over a wide area, deliberately, so that the crime was to some extent physically covered up. The remains of the people were thought at the time impossible to identify. Of course, now, through advances in science, it is possible to identify them. Many people are now getting that closure, but sadly it is often closure from the match of a DNA blood sample—the laboratory in Tuzla has blood samples donated by all surviving relatives who wished to do so, to be matched with a missing male relative—with a piece of a ribcage, the bone of a hand or part of a skull, not to a whole body. However, at least at that point a burial of partial remains can happen and some closure is afforded.

Every day, remains of parts of new bodies are being discovered and individuals are identified. However, there are still thousands of unidentified, unaccounted-for deaths in Bosnia, so the ICMP’s work will need to continue for many years to come.

Ann McKechin: Just on that point, the Minister will be aware, from his visit to the ICMP offices—I also visited and was moved by the warehouse where the remains yet to be identified are still kept—that it is now working in the middle east. It has already been to Libya and, given the events that are occurring as we speak in Syria and Iraq, it is likely that this type of work will be required on an even larger scale. I hope that the Government consider supporting this venture, allowing it to expand, because it will provide in future years the closure that it has provided to the victims in Yugoslavia.

Stephen Williams: That point was forcefully made to me at the time by Adam Boys, but continuing the funding is a matter for other parts of Government. The British Government have been one of the main supporters of the ICMP—that is certainly acknowledged—but sadly its work will probably be needed for many years, not just in the former Yugoslavia, but in other conflict areas.

The hon. Member for West Ham, who leads for the Opposition, mentioned the Remembering Srebrenica project—a £1 million commitment by the Government—and also Dr Waqar Azmi’s Ummah Help charity, which helps to take delegations of young people to Bosnia, specifically to Srebrenica. It is curious that the Department of Communities and Local Government does that, but we do it for two reasons. First, people from all over the world live in our major towns and cities, which, as a Liberal, I celebrate. In my constituency casework there are still refugees, mainly from Kosovo rather than Bosnia, and I am sure that there are people living in West Ham, Bolton and Bristol who are directly touched by what is happening. The effects of other conflicts are felt by families in our country. It is right that we support that reflection and understanding.

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Secondly, we ask people who go on these delegations—the plan is to take some 800 people to Bosnia in the next two years—to use that time and apply the lesson of history that they will have learned in Bosnia in their own communities when they return to the UK. The 75 people who have been out on these delegations so far are all now feeding back their pledges about how they are going to make Tower Hamlets, Newham, Luton, Birmingham, Bolton, Blackburn and other places more cohesive and harmonious places to visit. The most obvious thing they are able to do is organise their own Remembering Srebrenica events throughout the country this year, and 16 events are taking place, in addition to the official events in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh that have been mentioned.

On Sunday evening, I attended an amazing event in Luton, which was organised by the five young people who were on my delegation in April. They made their own powerful speeches; two of the mothers, who I will mention shortly, spoke; and Ed Vulliamy, who was an ITN journalist at the time but now writes for TheGuardian, gave his perspective as a British witness who was there. That powerful event was followed by an Iftar event, this being Ramadan. Several other events are taking place, including many organised by the police, including the police in Hertfordshire, City of London, Greater Manchester and Northamptonshire.

The practical reason why we are funding the project is so that people can learn the lessons of what so easily can happen. Several Members referred to that. Let us not forget that this is a place where the winter Olympics took place and where, when I was growing up, better-off friends went on holiday. I would still like to go to Dubrovnik on holiday. It was a civilised part of Europe, albeit a Communist dictatorship, where people had co-existed for a long time, and it unravelled very quickly. We must learn the lesson that community cohesion does not happen by accident. It is the responsibility of us all in public life to constantly work at it and nurture it in our constituencies and communities across the country. That is why it is right that a significant amount of British taxpayer’s money goes into that programme—not just to appreciate the lessons of history, but because it has direct practical application in making our country a better place.

The hon. Member for West Ham, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham and the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), who was with us earlier, mentioned that ugly phrase, “ethnic cleansing”. While the practice had been around for a long time, the phrase came into use during that conflict. We all remember Martin Bell, who compered last night’s events in Lancaster house, speaking about it. It shows how we can use phraseology to obscure an awful practice, and it is right that the hon. Member for West Ham used graphic language to bring to life what actually took place.

To add some of my own reflections to those of other Members, on my visit we were hosted in Srebrenica itself, by its mayor. He must have been a decade younger than me. He was the only person from his class in school to survive that massacre. Imagine that happening to any of us. We are all of an age where we possibly have school reunions. Imagine if someone’s school reunion was just them; the only person left from their class. That was the experience of the mayor of Srebrenica. The person who looked after him at the time was our guide

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for the whole visit, Mohammed, who was a couple of years older than the mayor. He guided the future mayor up into the mountains. A lot of people survived by fleeing into the forests and the mountains, pursued, shelled and shot at by the Bosnian Serb army, trying desperately to get to the safe haven of Tuzla. Members will be familiar with those awful scenes at the Potocari battery factory of people behind barbed wire pleading to be saved. I am not sure whether it is the same Hasan as the one mentioned by the hon. Member for West Ham, but the Hasan who guided us round that battery factory lost male members of his family. The most awful thing of all is that he lost his twin brother.

Opposite that battery factory where people sheltered is the Srebrenica memorial cemetery, where 8,372 marble obelisks stand as a physical memorial to the men and boys who were killed. The youngest had not yet entered his teens and the oldest had not quite entered his 80s, and there were all ages in between. On the memorial we saw in Sarajevo, on every single line—it was in alphabetical order and there were no Stephens to be seen—was the year 1966, which is the year I was born. In trying to comprehend the scale of the deaths that took place in a few short days, those sorts of things bring it home.

What really brought it home to me, and the most powerful memory of all—this remarkable group of people has been mentioned by several Members—was the Mothers of Srebrenica, a group of women of all ages who have dedicated themselves to ensuring that the rest of Europe never forgets what happened in their homeland. While they are called the Mothers of Srebrenica, they are widows and people who have lost a brother, a nephew, a father or a grandfather. The scale of male bereavement is all-embracing. Some lost 40 or 50 male members of their family. I have quite a small immediate family; others might have larger families. Imagine someone losing just about every male relative they know—that brings home how they have suffered. The hon. Member for West Ham was right to point out that some of these people have suffered not only with their bereavement, but with the physical and sexual abuse that they had from the Bosnian Serb army that murdered their menfolk.

How do we get something from this issue? That is what we should reflect on. The Government are putting investment into the visits, so that all the young people, police and other community leaders going to Bosnia can come back to Britain, having learnt the lessons. I will end my speech the same way I ended my speech in Lancaster house last night. Learning the lessons of history, thinking about what a reasonable parliamentary occasion this has been and going to the events are all very well, but none of that counts for anything unless we all pledge, just as we are asking the young people to pledge on these visits, to look at how we can make all our constituencies better places. That is my challenge to myself, to Members and to everyone else.

3.56 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Humanitarian Situation (Iraq)

4.12 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I am grateful for the debate, because it is timely, and I am glad that the Minister is present.

I care very much about Iraq. I have been involved with it since the late 1970s, when I met some Iraqi students who had left Basra and Baghdad for Cardiff. They opened my eyes to the brutality of the regime of Saddam Hussein and I campaigned against its abuses—first through an organisation called CADRI, the Campaign against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq. Many Members of this House were members, as well as exiled Iraqis such as Hoshyar Zebari, who is now the Foreign Minister of Iraq, and Latif Rashid, a former water Minister.

In the late 1990s, I was involved in setting up an organisation called INDICT, which campaigned for Saddam and other leading members of the regime to be prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide through an international tribunal set up by the United Nations. Later, we campaigned for prosecutions to take place in individual countries that had an international jurisdiction with respect to war crimes and crimes against humanity, but that did not happen, despite our best efforts. I went to many countries and we interviewed many Iraqis in exile, but only one country almost went through with the process, and that was Belgium. At the last minute, however, the Belgian Parliament changed the rules of the game.

The evidence collected by INDICT of the crimes that had taken place and of the direct involvement of certain members of the regime was subsequently used in the war crimes trials in Baghdad, some of the sessions of which I attended. Over a number of years, as the special envoy on human rights in Iraq for both Tony Blair and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), I went to Iraq about 26 times in all, and at times when it was quite difficult, but I have many friends there. The idea was to help the Iraqis after 30 years of a brutal regime; we tried to explain the niceties of human rights and what they meant in practice.

I still have friends in Iraq. I was last there 18 months ago, when there was a stand-off between the peshmerga of the Kurdish regional Government in Kirkuk and Mr Maliki’s Iraqi forces. They did not actually clash, but it was certainly a stand-off.

I also meet people from the Iraqi Parliament regularly at the Inter-Parliamentary Union; I always look out for them and we spend some time together. The women in particular need to be commended for their bravery. I will not name anyone, but one woman doctor is a Member of Parliament and she has stayed in Baghdad the whole time. She still practises as a doctor, but she is also active as a politician. Since the start of the recent conflict, she has been sending me messages regularly about their concerns in Iraq. I pay tribute to the bravery of such politicians, because it cannot be easy always to be surrounded by about 30 bodyguards—each MP has about that number, which illustrates how dangerous and difficult the situation is.

Since January this year, the surge in violence between armed groups and Government forces has resulted in an estimated 1.2 million internally displaced people in

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central and northern Iraq and an estimated 1.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the right hon. Lady on bringing the issue to us for consideration. The Christians in Iraq are under particularly serious pressure. They are centred around Mosul and the plains of Nineveh, but the takeover by ISIS has had a detrimental impact on them and they are threatened, because of their religious views, with crucifixion, beheadings, bomb attacks, beatings and loss of property. Does she agree that we must always ensure that religious persecution stops and that religious freedom wins?

Ann Clwyd: Certainly. In fact, the last time I was in the Kurdish area, about 18 months ago, I went to a conference of all minority religions—there are not only Christians, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, but many other religious groups as well. The conference was supposed to bring them all together. I also met various groups individually, some of which wanted to set up territories of their own, although I think that they have been persuaded that that is not a good idea. We need to ensure safety for all the minorities of Iraq.

The attention of the world is focused on the terrorist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIS or ISIL. Inside Iraq, however, the group is only one part of a larger revolt that has been years in the making. Although there is some co-ordination between ISIL and other Sunni groups fighting in northern Iraq, ISIL is only part of the revolt. Anger against Nouri al-Maliki and the behaviour of the Iraqi Government has been building for almost eight years.

The Maliki Government reneged on their promises to build an inclusive Government with the Sunnis and went after moderate Sunni leaders as soon as American troops left. It is regrettable that the Iraqi Parliament has had to adjourn again until the middle of August. It did convene, but has adjourned because it could not agree on the election of a new Speaker.

Iraqi army and police crackdowns over the past year in cities—including Falluja and Madain—have been part of the escalating Sunni-Shi’a tit-for-tat violence that has plagued Iraq for over a year. In one incident in April 2013, dozens of Sunnis were killed by Iraqi security forces in the town of Hawijah during what had been a peaceful protest. As a former US official in Iraq, Ali Khedery, wrote in the Washington Post on 3 July, the US policy during the crucial years following the 2008 Sunni awakening was to place its faith in Maliki to build an inclusive system rather than supporting other political actors.

The international community should support a process in which all political stakeholders could be brought together to review the political process and devise a whole new formula for the sharing of power and resources in Iraq. More specifically, it should step in and play a role in helping solve the real problems in Iraq by encouraging a unity Government. In the end, the involvement of other countries, particularly those supporting only one side or the other in the conflict, can only destabilise the region further.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Lady on raising this important issue. Like her, I have real knowledge of the region, having served

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in the no-fly zone over northern Iraq in a previous career as a Royal Air Force officer; last year I returned there, invited by the Kurdistan regional Government. She is absolutely right that the international community needs to support the area.

Some 100,000 refugees from the Arab south and 260,000 refugees from Syria are being supported by the Kurdistan regional Government, and there are now half a million extra people displaced from Mosul and Anbar. I welcome the £5 million of funding that the Department for International Development has brought forward in support, but the right hon. Lady is right that we need the whole international community to stop the crisis from becoming even worse and prevent the complete splintering of the country.

Ann Clwyd: I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I was partly instrumental in setting up the no-fly zone: I visited Kurdistan when I was shadow International Development Secretary, and then came back and spoke to John Major about what I had seen—Kurds fleeing over the mountains from helicopter gunships and so on. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman took part in the no-fly zone.

The numbers are horrific. The armed conflict in Iraq has spread from Anbar to Mosul and into parts of central Iraq. With sectarian clashes growing, already nearly half a million Iraqi citizens have been displaced from Anbar province. After the ISIL takeover of Mosul and large areas of northern Iraq, perhaps half a million refugees fled from Mosul, many of whom took refuge in areas controlled by the Kurds. There are reports that many are now returning to Mosul because they feel that they have no other choice and that the city is relatively calm at this moment.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate and commend everything she has done by way of her engagement with Iraq over the years, which I greatly respect. I agree with her about the importance of engaging others in the region, but faced with the humanitarian catastrophe that looms and given the suspicion of Governments, including external Governments, is there a particular role for non-governmental organisations, including those from Britain? How far will they be able to get effective relief to people in the very difficult circumstances of the conflict on the ground?

Ann Clwyd: That is the challenge. I have no easy answers. I was about to spell out those challenges, in fact. One is access for humanitarian organisations to people in need—we know how difficult that has been in Syria, for example. There is also the scale of need in reaching all those requiring assistance. I will be highlighting both those issues as I go along.

Humanitarian organisations’ access to people in need continues to be a significant problem due to the multiplicity of actors. On one side, it involves liaising with the Iraqi armed forces—especially the security forces—Shi’a militia and the Kurdish peshmerga. On the other side, it involves armed opposition groups including Ba’athists, tribal militias and members of the former regime and military, along with ISIL. In addition, there may also be forces from other states such as Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to liaise with.

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Access for humanitarian agencies to areas of Iraq under ISIL control is difficult. Humanitarian organisations have limited dialogue with ISIL because of a lack of familiarity with its chain of command, and so often have to get authorisation from different leaders and groups to ensure safe access. So far deliberate obstruction does not appear to be the problem; it is more the time that needs to be taken to establish proper channels of communication, particularly with extremist rebel groups and actors. There are, however, established contact points with the Sunni tribes already, which is helping with gaining access.

Thousands of displaced Iraqi civilians are stranded at checkpoints separating the areas controlled by the Kurdish regional Government and the rest of Iraq. At first, civilians who fled the ISIL-controlled areas were being allowed to enter Iraqi Kurdistan, but in recent weeks and days, access has been severely restricted by the KRG. Some of those who fled are seeking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan while others want to travel southwards to the capital and beyond. The former are mostly Sunni Muslims who fear air strikes by Government forces and their allies, as well as the possibility of further brutality by ISIL. The latter are mostly Shi’a Muslims from the Turkmen and Shabak communities who are trying to flee southwards to Government-controlled areas of Iraq where the majority of the population is Shi’a and where they feel there is no risk of an Islamic State takeover.

With the withdrawal of the Iraqi army from northern Iraq, the KRG have gained control of the disputed oil-rich town of Kirkuk and other areas. In recent days they have announced plans for a referendum on independence—a move fiercely opposed by the Iraqi central Government. Regardless of the political wrangling between Baghdad and Erbil, it is absolutely imperative that civilians displaced by the conflict are granted refuge in and safe passage through KRG-controlled areas. I ask the Minister, what representations are being made in that regard? What assistance has been and will be offered to the Kurdish regional Government to help them respond to the needs of the displaced in areas under their control?

Although Iraqi and international political discourse both seem largely out of step with the rapidly changing reality on the ground, the sectarian dimension of the conflict is becoming more marked by the day and Iraq’s diverse communities are struggling to grapple with the new reality. They increasingly wonder where and how they can be safe. For example, in both Turkmen and Shabak communities there is now division among Shi’a and Sunnis. Turkmen Shi’a are trying to flee to the Shi’a stronghold in the south, but the Turkmen Sunni are not even contemplating going there: they are staying put in the north, terrified of Government air strikes against areas controlled by ISIL.

A woman whose relatives—two young children and their parents—were killed in an air strike in Tal Afar on 22 June stated:

“We are not with ISIL, but when the government bombs ISIL we are in the middle and when we get killed nobody cares”.

One man, a father of eight who had just driven nearly seven hours from Sinjar, taking a long detour to avoid Mosul and his home town of Tal Afar—both now under ISIL control—told Amnesty International:

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“We do not want to stay in Kurdistan; we just want to pass through to get to the road southbound to Baghdad and on to Najaf in the south”.

Many Shi’a Turkmen and Shabak civilians have alleged that their Sunni neighbours are co-operating with the Islamic State, while Sunni Turkmen and Shabak have accused Shi’a members of their community of being linked to pro-Government armed Shi’a militias. No general evidence is provided to support such polarising narratives, but perception can be as important as reality, poisoning relations between communities and adding fuel to an already inflamed situation.

Minorities in Iraq, including Christians, Yazidis and others, feel particularly vulnerable, and rightly so. The Islamic State referred to its Yazidi hostages as “devil worshippers” in one of its recent videos. That and the abduction of two Christian nuns in Mosul on 28 June are just two examples of a string of recent incidents targeting minority groups. Members of Iraq’s majority communities do not feel safe either. Indeed, most of those killed and displaced in this conflict were from the Shi’a and Sunni majority communities, who happened to be a minority in a particular place at a particular time.

Increasing speculation about a possible three-way split of Iraq into Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish states or entities is raising serious concerns about the further massive population displacement that is likely to ensue. Minorities are very concerned about whether, if that came to fruition, their communities would have a future in Iraq. Iraqi leaders and would-be leaders and their backers in the international community must act responsibly and work towards finding solutions to the current crisis that will ensure that members of all communities are protected and their rights respected.

The recent wave of fighting has also led to many people being detained by the Iraqi security forces and armed groups. It is becoming very difficult to track detainees as areas of control fluctuate and detainees are often moved. Amnesty International has recently spoken to released detainees from the Yazidi community who were captured by ISIL, as well as to family members of those still held by the group. At least 24 Iraqi border guards and soldiers were captured by ISIL last month in north-west Iraq. Some were released later, but the rest are being held by ISIL across the border in north-east Syria. The captives are among scores of minorities who have been targeted in a spree of sectarian detentions and abductions carried out by ISIL in recent weeks.

Dr William McCrea(in the Chair): Order. I gently urge the right hon. Lady to bring her comments to a conclusion as the Minister has only nine minutes in which to respond.

Ann Clwyd: I will attempt to do so, Dr McCrea, as soon as I can. I am obviously not very good at timing myself. I have several questions that I am sure the Minister will be able to answer.

A recent Guardian report states that ISIL has been looting antiquities from the region and selling them in the international marketplace. That happened previously after 2003 when many of Iraq’s antiquities were looted; I understand that many of Syria’s antiquities have also gone. Some $36 million of antiquities, up to 8,000 years

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old, were allegedly taken from the al-Nabuk area alone. Given that the UK is an important antiquities market and to stop funding for terrorist organisations and impoverishing Iraqis of their heritage, should the Government not ensure that “blood antiquities”, like blood diamonds from conflict zones, are not sold here?

Many families are in need of water, food and shelter, and want to feel safe. I hope that the international community will react with generosity, as it normally does, when the UN asks for funds. I know that the UN does not have enough money—it never does—for such things, but this situation is urgent because people are already dying and the situation may get worse.

4.34 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Lynne Featherstone): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) on securing this important debate, and I acknowledge her deep and long-serving experience and wisdom in the matter. It is quite something, and I learned several things from her speech.

I will give a short introduction and then immediately answer some of the points the right hon. Lady raised. With so little time left, I will not get through everything I wanted to say.

As we have heard, on 8 June in Iraq’s northern province of Ninewah, heavy fighting between the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and the Iraqi security forces led to casualties and mass displacement among the civilian population. The UN estimates that 650,000 people have been displaced, not including an estimated 500,000 people who had fled previous fighting in Anbar province. Some are in hotels and some have been temporarily housed in tented settlements, but most are staying with families. All want to go home. As fighting continues and access to some areas is incredibly challenging, it is difficult to know how many people are affected, but we know that the mass displacement and long-term disruption to the lives of millions that we have already seen in Syria are now affecting Iraq.

I want briefly to say what the Department for International Development has done. I am pleased to be able to say that the UK was the first country to send a team on the ground, deploying three DFID experts, to Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The team’s rapid assessment from the field meant we were able to announce on 13 June, three days after the capture of Mosul, an initial £3 million of support to displaced people. That included £2 million via the rapid response facility mechanism to non-governmental organisations in the region—the right hon. Lady asked about NGOs—to provide clean water and sanitation, essential medicine, women-friendly hygiene kits, basic household items, and a further £1 million for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to establish camps and provide dedicated protection teams to identify and assist vulnerable people, including women and girls. The right hon. Lady knows of my interest in women and girls and their protection.

The Prime Minister has since pledged an additional £2 million of emergency humanitarian relief to help the tens of thousands of ordinary Iraqis in serious need. This second package of support will provide emergency

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medicines, including polio and measles vaccines, food and basic shelter to women, men and children affected by the crisis. It will also enable aid agencies on the ground to trace and reunite families who have been separated while fleeing. That funding is in addition to the £292 million that DFID has allocated to support refugees fleeing from Syria. Some of that support had been in Iraq, and now Iraq itself faces a humanitarian crisis.

The right hon. Lady asked some specific questions. In terms of the politics, the walkout of Sunni and Kurdish representatives from the new Parliament last week was extremely worrying. The Iraqi Government must urgently demonstrate unity and co-operation, but I am sad to say that I see no sign of that. Political unity is the single most important factor that will counter the threat from ISIL, bring about an end to the conflict and stop the worsening humanitarian situation. It is essential that all parties involved in the political process reach the necessary decisions and compromises to form a broad-based, inclusive and representative Government who respond to the need of all Iraq’s different communities.

Humanitarian access is a major problem in areas that are controlled by ISIL. However, our humanitarian partners and the International Committee of the Red Cross inform us that some aid, including vital medical assistance and the provision of clean water, is getting through. Humanitarian actors are adjusting their programmes as the conflict continues to evolve, but it is very challenging and clearly we are not reaching everyone.

In terms of what else we are doing and representations, the UK Government are undertaking considerable political and diplomatic efforts to stabilise the region and to promote unity among those who support a democratic Iraqi state. In the KRG areas that the right hon. Lady asked about, we are working closely with the British consulate in Erbil and engaging directly with the Kurdish Government. We will provide a technical expert to the Kurdish Government to help them plan and manage the response to those who are displaced in the KRG.

On minority groups, our field team have met displaced minority groups, particularly those who have fled Mosul. As the right hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned, Christians and Turkmens are concerned about their safety and are likely to settle more permanently in the Kurdish areas, and our support will reach those people.

I was going to say quite a lot about women and girls, but I think time will run out on us. Going forward, one thing I did not raise—because I am skipping parts of my speech to get to the end—is that the Saudi Government have given $500 million to the appeal, so it is a fully funded appeal. Although it is very positive that, thanks to Saudi generosity, the UN appeal is now fully funded, needs related to the displacement and interruption of critical services in Iraq will not be resolved quickly, even though we have a fully funded appeal. We will continue to work with humanitarian partners to ameliorate the suffering of those Iraqi women, men and children enduring terrible hardship on a daily basis. In addition to financial support from DFID, we are also providing technical assistance to support the UN and the Kurdish Regional Government effectively to co-ordinate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the affected populations.

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As well as addressing the short-term humanitarian needs, we are undertaking a great deal of effort on political support to help resolve the crisis and promoting political unity among those who support a democratic Iraqi state—

Dr William McCrea (in the Chair): Order. We now move to the final debate on caste discrimination, which Mr Adam Holloway will be leading. I just mention to Members that the sitting will conclude at 5.12 pm.

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Caste Discrimination

4.42 pm

Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea, and I thank the Minister for allowing me to ruin her afternoon. I am sure she had other things that she would have preferred to be doing.

Why are we having this debate? I went to the Brandon Street gurdwara in Gravesend a few months ago, and I was amazed by the strength of feeling over a petition on caste discrimination. Since then, I have been around the country with my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who is the Prime Minister’s diaspora champion, and I visited Leicester, Southall and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller). I did not realise that quite so many people in the UK suffer because of “traditional”—if that is the right word—caste systems originating in south Asia.

According to a survey on one of these castes, published by the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, 58% of Dalits—that is to say the untouchables, the Chamars, or whatever else people want to call them—believe they face discrimination because of their caste. Much more interestingly, 80% believe that the police would not understand caste discrimination if it was reported to them. Some Dalits are being ignored for promotion. They are victims of humiliation or harassment and sometimes they face being fired.

Is there a form of hidden apartheid within our shores? After some brave and necessary moves by our Home Secretary to outlaw such things as forced marriage, can we really continue to excuse ourselves for not putting people who practice this casteism on the wrong side of the law?

There has been a timeline to this. In November 2009, the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance published its report, “Hidden Apartheid—Voice of the Community”, highlighting lower-caste experiences of caste discrimination. Between April 2009 and April 2010, during parliamentary debates on the Equality Bill, Dalit organisations sought to persuade parliamentarians to include caste as a new protected characteristic.

On 1 October 2010, the Equality Act 2010 came into force. The caste power found in section 9(5)(a) of the Act allows amendment by ministerial order

“to provide for caste to be an aspect of race”.

In December 2010—I am halfway through these dates now, by the way—an independent research report asked for by the last Government was published by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. It suggested that caste discrimination and harassment were falling outside the Act. The coalition Government are still considering that report.

In August 2011, Amardeep and Vijay Begraj, a married couple—he had been working in a solicitor’s firm as a manager, and she had been working as a solicitor—came before the courts. The argument was that he, and I think she, as well, had been fired because their union, being from different castes, had not been approved of. The Home Secretary then publicly considered whether to add the caste system to the equality law.

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Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): Many of my constituents attend the gurdwara in Gravesend to which my hon. Friend referred, but more still are members of the Ravidassia community in Strood.

Dr William McCrea (in the Chair): Order. Two Members are standing.

Mr Holloway: I was so interested in what my hon. Friend was saying—that is what happened there. I am sorry, Dr McCrea.

Mark Reckless: My understanding was that the Government had given a commitment that it would bring in this order, so why has it not happened?

Mr Holloway: The Government will tell us in a moment, which is part of the reason why I have called this debate.

On 1 March, the Minister present made a statement. She announced that the Government were thinking of taking an educational approach to this and would use Talk for a Change. However, the NIESR criticised that, saying that it only raises awareness and does not assist people being discriminated against by their employer, nor by such things as day care centres.

The Government then asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to review and make recommendations. In April 2013, the Minister was asked to sign the ministerial order and on 29 July, the Government published their caste discrimination legislation timetable. It will run up to and beyond the 2015 general election. On 5 February, the Begraj tribunal was abandoned, because the judge recused herself when she was told by a third party that a witness in the case had had their home smashed up by an unknown group. On 28 February, the EHRC published its two reports on the matter and called on the Government to add in the necessary protections on caste.

Let me just give a brief outline of caste in the UK. According to the 2011 census, about 4.5 million in this country are of south Asian origin. Of those, about 20% are from the untouchables, the Chamars, the Dalit community—I think it is about 860,000 people.

What is the Hindu caste system? Who are these 1 million Dalits in the UK and where do they fit in? Imagine a pyramid and at the very top, there are the gods, and then there are four castes. The top caste, the elite, are the Brahmins; these are the people who traditionally were the priests. Then there are the Kshatriyas; they are just below the Brahmins and were traditionally the warriors and the kings. Below them, there are the Vaishyas, who were the merchants and the farmers. Below them, at the bottom, there are the Shudras, who were the servants. Below even them, by this narrative, right at the very bottom—sometimes not even included in pretty pyramids like the one I have here in my notes—are the Dalits. They are known to some as the handlers of filth, or the untouchables.

This really is happening in the UK. After lunch, we were looking on Twitter. People can have a look themselves. They should look for “Brahmin for life”, “Jat for life” and “Brahmin boys look out for each other”. There are even dating websites. There is nothing wrong with that, but what about www.brahminmatrimony.com or this from www.asiansinglesolution.com? X is an

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“Attractive, down to earth, caring, Hindu Brahmin girl with strong values and morals”.

As previously mentioned, 80% of the Dalits in the survey said that they did not believe that the police would understand if caste-based discrimination was reported to them.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): I am very pleased that my hon. Friend called for this debate. Does he share my concern at what I would characterise as the nonchalant, “Who cares?” ignorance of discrimination being pursued by the current Government’s policy in this regard? Somehow they believe that the discrimination that he has just spoken about will magically end at the workplace—that somehow because there is discrimination protection outside, we do not need to have any protections inside the workplace. Does he not think that that is nonchalant?

Mr Holloway: I will come on to that, and I know that the work that the Minister is doing also applies to it.

There has been recent court action. There was the successful case of Tirkey v. Chandok, in which the claim for caste discrimination was allowed. However, these are just what I think are called first instance decisions and are not binding. According to Swan Turton Solicitors, there was a conflicting ruling in an earlier case, Naveed v. Aslam, in which the tribunal rejected any claims for caste discrimination. It was stated that the reason was that the Government still had not exercised their power to amend section 9(5)(a) of the 2010 Act.

The simple fact is that at present, if a person in the UK is harassed because of their caste in places of employment or education or where they receive public services such as health and social care, there is no legislation in place to protect them. Let us not overstate this, but in the past few weeks I have repeatedly come upon people who have said, for example, that they feel like they are looked down on by members of what would be traditional castes. People have told me of their disapproval of inter-caste marriage. I have heard anecdotes about some people not having had the choice of marrying the person whom they would like to marry. I have even heard about people who have not felt welcome at certain places of worship.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I know that he is very well respected in the south Asian community in his constituency, which neighbours mine. Will he comment on what I have found? I do not know whether my experience is similar to his own. I am talking about just how shocking the caste system and discrimination within it can be. We see classism existing in every community, but this goes way beyond that to create a great deal of friction between different groups of people. Most concerns come from within those communities themselves.

Mr Holloway: That is a great point. What my hon. Friend is talking about is the fact that in our areas we have a lot of Sikhs, and of course among the central tenets of the Sikh faith are tolerance, equality and so on. I know that the Sikhs, certainly on our shared patch, are working on it, but this occurs far more widely across the south Asian communities in our country.

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What is the reason for saying that we need some sort of legislation? It is as I have suggested. In the area of employment, there is the example of a manager of a bus company in, I think, Southampton who had to deal with a demand from someone that his shifts be changed so that he would not have to work with someone of a lower caste. Twenty per cent. of Dalits felt that they had been informally excluded from social events, informal networks and so on.

In the area of health, the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance reported a few cases. One related to an elderly woman who was being looked after. Her carer, who was from a “higher” caste, found an icon indicating that the person she was looking after was from a lower caste, and the son of the bedbound woman found that his mother had not been washed for a number of days. We have had examples of physiotherapists refusing to treat people of lower caste. In the area of marriage, we have heard of the Begraj case. We have heard of people feeling unable to marry outside their caste.

What could legislation do? It could send the message that castes have never existed in Britain and really should not. It would protect people in workplaces, schools, hospitals and so on.

The Government’s commitment on these issues has been welcomed by victims of caste discrimination and forms just one part of the wider reforms being put forward. The Home Secretary has outlawed forced marriages, which are, as she rightly put it,

“a tragedy for each and every victim”.

Female genital mutilation is also illegal in this country. I am not sure, therefore, that we can necessarily use the argument that we might upset certain people in the south Asian community.

I forewarned the Minister of these three questions. First, the Government have published a timetable for caste discrimination legislation. Why does it run up to and beyond the 2015 general election? Secondly, will the Government involve the relevant groups and communities in their preparation of the public consultation document? It would be very good to see the involvement of some of those groups in that consultation. Finally, in plain English, when will the consultation document be published; does the Minister expect any further delays?

Dr William McCrea (in the Chair): The Minister will start her winding-up speech at the latest at two minutes past 5. She will have 10 minutes in which to wind up the debate.

4.56 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I will be very brief so that the Minister will have plenty of time to reply. First, I pay enormous tribute to the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) for securing this debate, for the way in which he has spoken on this subject today and for his willingness to grant me a few minutes of his time. I am very grateful for that.

I am one of the trustees of the Dalit Solidarity Network and a member of the all-party group for Dalits, the chair of which is Bishop Harries, a Member of the House of Lords. Together with the director of the Dalit Solidarity Network, Meena Varma, I have been to the

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United Nations in Geneva to raise issues of Dalit discrimination in India and many other places, but also, clearly, in this country.

I will briefly put on the record the enormity of the situation. Around the world, 260 million people are Dalits —scheduled castes. They suffer grievous discrimination, terrible poverty, appalling levels of crime committed against them and, in most of India and Nepal and other places, appalling standards of living. Every week, 13 Dalit people in India are murdered. Five Dalit homes are repossessed every week. Three women are raped every day. Eleven Dalits are beaten every day. A crime is committed against Dalit people every 11 minutes in India.

The Ambedkar constitution is an excellent document. Dr Ambedkar was himself a Dalit. It absolutely outlaws discrimination and has some provision for protected employment for people of the scheduled castes. It is a very effective document, but raising these matters with the Indian Government or the Indian high commission is extremely difficult; they are quite resistant to having good discussions about it.

As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, discrimination also exists in this country. There are roughly 1 million Dalit people in Britain. As a result of both the case that he brought up, which was one that we raised in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council, and the debates that took place in advance of the Equality Act 2010, we are in a situation in which we are relying on the Government now to introduce regulation to put it on the face of the law in this country that it would be illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste.

In getting to this position, the Government of the day in 2010, the then Labour Government, with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) as the Minister leading on the Bill, accepted an amendment put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that required the Government to undertake research on caste discrimination in this country. That research demonstrated clearly that there is serious discrimination, and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said, in terms, that the British Government had an obligation to introduce the legislation. The Minister, I am sure, will tell us that consultations are taking place. I agree with consultations; everything should be consulted on, but there should be a limit to the time in which that is done. I am very disappointed that, at the moment, the introduction of the regulation will take us past the end of this Parliament and into the next Parliament. I would like to see something done in this Parliament and I hope that the Minister will give us good news on that.

My final point is that it is never popular to stand up for people who have been grievously discriminated against. I am really pleased with the way in which a number of Members have raised the matter today. Discrimination is wrong in any circumstances and against anybody, and people should be treated with dignity and respect. Our purpose today is to get into British law that clear declaration; at the same time, that will give us the moral authority to talk to others about it. I hope that the Minister will agree to introduce regulations quickly. Above all, I hope she will agree to attend a meeting with the members of the all-party group, which I am sure others could also attend, so that we can have a longer discussion about the matter. The time has come to act and not delay.

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5 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Mrs Helen Grant): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Dr McCrea. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) for securing the debate, and I thank other hon. Members who made important contributions.

The Government have always said that there is no place for unlawful discrimination or prejudice in society. That applies to caste-related issues as much as it does to race, religion or belief. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) drew attention to instances of caste hostility and prejudice in our society, and I would like to make it clear how much the Government sympathise with people in such situations. The experience of such antagonism and exclusion from one’s own community must be incredibly distressing. My hon. Friend and others have urged the Government to press on with introducing legislation to make caste discrimination unlawful, and that is exactly what we are trying to do.

Many hon. Members will recall caste being debated during deliberations on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill last year. It was the will of Parliament that a duty be imposed to make caste an aspect of race for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, and we are well aware of that duty. However, we are also aware that during parliamentary debate on this matter, speakers from all the main parties acknowledged that caste was a particularly sensitive and complex area. Some have suggested that caste legislation should be easy to introduce, but that is simply not the case. There are a number of complexities, and there is no general consensus on caste in the UK, even among communities that are most affected by it. Some have campaigned long and hard for the introduction of specific caste-related legislation, but others—who are equally well informed—do not believe that caste discrimination exists and consider that legislation is, therefore, unnecessary. That does not negate the duty on the Government and the votes in Parliament last year, but it means that we need to prepare a consultation document which, as far as possible, commands the confidence of the relevant groups.

In July 2013, we set out our timetable leading up to the introduction of caste legislation. The process was thorough and detailed, and it was designed to ensure that future legislation was fit and proper. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has been helpful in taking the initiative forward. To start the process, the EHRC commissioned some independent research into identifying a possible definition of caste. The research was also to consider which of the current exceptions for race would apply equally to caste, and to identify whether any new caste-specific exceptions should be included in legislation. The research was intended to inform the contents of the Government consultation that was due to be issued in spring 2014. However, although the EHRC duly published its initial research reports in February 2014, two issues arose earlier this year that have had significant implications for the public consultation.

The first was the unanimous agreement that whatever we did, we did not want to entrench people’s identification with a specific caste within society. That is why a review clause was included in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 to allow for future consideration of any caste provisions to make sure that they remain

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appropriate and necessary. That clause cannot be exercised until at least five years after the Act comes into force, which it did in May 2013. The EHRC had originally intended to commission a second research phase that would establish much-needed baseline data that could be used as a starting point for consideration of whether caste legislation was doing its job and stopping unlawful discrimination. Unfortunately, on further consideration the EHRC felt that that research would not be possible and that it might be intrusive and ruin good relations in communities. We have discussed those problems with the EHRC and we are now deciding how best to establish baseline data. We are conducting a feasibility study on the matter.

Richard Fuller: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Grant: I am sorry, but I have no time and I have got a lot to talk about, so I will push on.

The second issue concerned a recent employment tribunal case, Tirkey v. Chandok, in which the tribunal found that caste already had legislative protection because it is inherently an aspect of the ethnic origins provision of race in the Equality Act. I want to make it clear that the finding of a single employment tribunal does not set any legally binding precedents for other tribunals. However, the decision reopens concerns that have been debated in Parliament about the extent to which the Government must recognise links between domestic equality law and our international obligations, the relationships between those obligations and future provisions covering caste discrimination, and how such provisions might be framed.

We believe that we need to address those two developments—the Tirkey case and the lack of baseline data—as thoroughly as possible for the purpose of the public consultation. We need to assess the feasibility of any further research into caste discrimination, given the limited success that previous researchers have had in producing clear, generally accepted evidence. We also need to assess the consequences if higher courts were to take the view that caste discrimination is already unlawful under the Equality Act, which might call into question the use of further, specific provision. That is why we have announced that the consultation will have to be put back until the autumn.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham has asked me to deal with three questions, which I will go into in a little detail although not in the order that he mentioned them. He asked whether the Government would involve the relevant groups and communities in the preparation of the public consultation document. Many groups have recently had the opportunity to take part in the research commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which was published in the “Caste in Britain” reports. The Government have studied those carefully. I also look forward to the groups responding to the consultation and commenting on our proposals.

Richard Fuller: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Grant: No, I will not; I have very little time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham asked me to confirm when I expected the consultation document to be published, and whether I expected any further delays. We anticipate that the consultation will happen later in the autumn. I am as anxious as he is to get on with it, and I do not expect any further delays.

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The final question my hon. Friend asked was about why the timetable goes beyond the general election in May 2015. We set the timetable purely and simply because we felt that that was a sensible amount of time in which to do the job properly. It is a complicated and sensitive matter and we have to be careful. At the end of the day, we want to get it right. The process includes two full public consultations followed by debates on an affirmative order; it will take some time to do that exercise correctly.

I accept that the delay will disappoint certain Members, and others, but our duty to the public is to ensure that any legislation that the Government introduce meets the mandate given to us by Parliament. In this case, we need to ensure that legislation would provide thorough and proper protection for all those who need it and that the ongoing need for and merits of that legislation can be thoroughly and properly evaluated. To do that properly may take a while, but it is essential to get the detail of such important matters right. I hope that hon. Members present, and others, will have the patience to wait until we are able to consult fully later on this year.

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Richard Fuller: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Grant: Yes, I will now, and with pleasure.

Richard Fuller: I am very grateful. If I may, I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister a direct question. She has talked through many reasons for delay; if the issue was discrimination based on gender or race, would she personally be as comfortable about the arguments for delay that she has presented today for those suffering discrimination based on caste?

Mrs Grant: All I can say is that I believe that any form of discrimination is absolutely unacceptable and I will seek to deal with it as quickly and effectively as possible. That relates to caste, colour, race or any form of discrimination, because it is abhorrent and I know how much hurt and damage it can cause.

Question put and agreed to.

5.11 pm

Sitting adjourned.