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Baroness Bakewell (Lab): This has nothing to do with the BBC. This is an attack on people who are old and who are living lonely, isolated and unhappy lives. They depend on broadcasting more than any other segment of the community. That has been provided by the BBC for decades to the satisfaction of the older part of the population, which we know is increasing. This is a government benefit being cut and dumped on the BBC because the BBC is being targeted for political reasons by the Government.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Baroness has great knowledge of these matters. I am sure that what she says will be noted. The fact is, we have the charter renewal and all matters raised by noble Lords will be looked at.

Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB): Is the Minister aware that very considerable cuts have already been made? He will know that recently it was discovered that the BBC is already going to lose a huge proportion of the licence fee. Do the Government feel happy about seeing the squandering of a national asset through 1,000 slashes? As I say, cuts have been made and I am prepared to reveal to the House as an example—and here I declare an interest—that I was asked to take one-third of the fee that I used to get for my programme on Radio 3. I did so happily in the interests of cutting costs.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord also has great experience in the BBC. I and my colleagues will no doubt listen very carefully to what he has to say.


Question for Short Debate

5.36 pm

Asked by Baroness Tonge

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the political situation in the Gaza Strip.

Baroness Tonge (Ind LD): My Lords, this week marks the first anniversary of the Israeli attack on Gaza named, rather euphemistically, Operation Protective Edge. We are also remembering the attack on London’s transport system on 7 July 10 years ago and, even more recently, the attack on British holidaymakers in Tunisia. These events are not unconnected. When by our actions over years and decades we teach people to hate us, we can expect only that they will, whether we are Jews or gentiles. Consequently, ISIL is now at the gate—I prefer to call them barbarians.

Gaza is a tiny strip of land of 139 square miles—the size of Boston in Lincolnshire. It has 1.8 million people. Hamas has ruled in Gaza since it fought and deleted Fatah there in 2007, following Hamas’s victory in the European Union-monitored election for the Palestinian Authority in 2006, when it was not allowed to form a Government. Our Government backed the view that the wrong side had won. That is our version of democracy. Indeed, we took a similar view when we backed the coup that deposed President Morsi of Egypt. Israel has blockaded Gaza ever since then and launched three attacks on the hapless people there since 2008.

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Operation Protective Edge was the most vicious attack so far on these people, who live in an open prison and have no means of escape. During the operation, 2,251 people were killed, 551 of them children. Thousands more have to live the rest of their lives with terrible injuries. Half a million were displaced from their homes and it is to be remembered that the Israelis claim to have warned people of the impending attacks on their homes with the so-called knock on the roof, but when there is no safe place to escape to because you live in such crowded conditions, some preferred to stay put. Such cynicism on behalf of the IDF.

Ambulances and their personnel were attacked and 77 health facilities were destroyed. Only a tiny proportion were found afterwards to have been storing weapons of some sort. MAP has just published its report on the heath facilities remaining in Gaza. Some 261 schools were destroyed and Gaza’s universities were damaged severely. Small factories and other places of work were targeted—the list goes on and on. An average of 680 tank and artillery shells each day pummelled the densely populated areas in the course of the 50-day war, twice as many as during the previous attack. Water supplies, sewage disposal and electricity supplies have been disrupted and not restored. UN-Habitat estimates that 71,000 housing units are needed. Gaza has been reduced to rubble in many areas and the people survive as best they can.

Yes, Hamas was at fault too. The Minister is always telling me in her replies to my Written Questions that the rockets fired by Hamas are the main cause of the problem. I have to point out that on every occasion any Member of this House or the other place has met Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas, he has repeated his offer of a prolonged ceasefire together with recognition of the state of Israel within the 1967 boundaries. In the absence of any response from Israel or its allies, including our Government, the firing of rockets into Israel is what they have been forced to do as a form of self-defence from the prison that is Gaza. During Operation Protective Edge, those rockets from Gaza killed six civilians and 67 military personnel. It bears no comparison to the force and cruelty of the response by Israel, a cruelty now confirmed by testimonies of soldiers of Israel’s own defence force in the Breaking the Silence movement. They are very brave men to speak out.

“Disproportionate” was a favourite word used by our politicians. With that word they appeared to condone what was going on last summer. The Prime Minister, in fact, made no comment at all.

There is so much to report that to save time I must refer noble Lords to the UNHCR report, which has just been published, which gives detail to what I have said. It has now been referred to the UN General Assembly, mandating UNHCR to monitor the implementation of its recommendations. I thank the Minister and our Government, because they have, together with the European Union, have supported that motion, but the blockade continues and no reconstruction is visible to the people there. Rubble and filth remain.

Nearly 64% of the population of Gaza is under the age of 24. They are malnourished and have reduced access to education in which Palestinians have always prided

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themselves. Industry in Gaza is practically non-existent, half the agricultural land is unusable, and now the tunnels have been closed by Egypt there is no commerce to speak of either. Excluding the little children who have their own terrible physical and psychological problems as a consequence of Israel’s action and the fear of more to come, that is still a huge number of young people traumatised by years of conflict and depravation. They are undereducated, unemployed, unable to escape and filled with a burning hatred of Israel and her backers in the West.

There is a growing dissatisfaction with the Hamas Government within Gaza. Hamas in response is becoming stricter in enforcing Islamic code on all Gazans. If a recent report of the Times of Israel is correct, ISIL is putting pressure on Hamas to become more and more extreme. More and more young people in Gaza are giving their support to Islamic Jihad, which is responsible for most of the sporadic rocket fire from Gaza now. ISIL is there too. If young people from the United Kingdom are inspired to leave their homes to join ISIL, we must surely understand how the young people of Gaza may behave. Is this what western Governments want? Is this what Israel really wants? Israel is already active in the Sinai desert between Israel and Egypt, and has been for some years. If ISIL gains ground in Gaza, what will Israel do then? Are we going to see another attack on the imprisoned people of Gaza until they are reduced to pulp?

I have just been to the memorial service for the genocide at Srebrenica, and I wondered whether in a few years time we might have to attend a memorial service for what we have let happen to the people of Gaza. I hope not. It makes it imperative that our Government—who are responsible for this whole mess in the first place by betraying the Arab people, from the Sykes-Picot agreement and Balfour Declaration onwards, and by our subsequent blind support of the Israeli Government—insist on talks with Hamas by all parties. We must realise that they are now the moderates, even though there are signs that they are getting tougher on the people of Gaza as they themselves are challenged. Will our Government consider changing their policy towards Hamas as they did years ago with the IRA?

In conclusion, will the Government consider an arms embargo on Israel until a two-state solution is achieved? The Export Control Act 2002 is quite clear. I was on the Committee considering that Bill when I was in the other place. We should not sell arms to any country that would use them for internal repression or external aggression. Whichever way you look at Israel’s behaviour towards the Palestinians, it fulfils one or both of those criteria, yet we continue to sell arms or armament parts—military equipment—to Israel.

Will we talk to the businessmen and academics of the Israel peace initiative to restart the talks on the two-state solution based on the Arab peace plan—an initiative that comes from the people of Israel themselves? Will they insist that Israel recognises the right of Palestine to exist, and support this at the United Nations?

I end as I started. The barbarians are at the gate. Our civilisation is in danger. This is one area where we could make a huge difference.

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5.46 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness. We may not always agree on the Middle East but I recognise and acknowledge her commitment. Perhaps it was just a little one-eyed to claim that the raining of Hamas rockets on Israel is a form of self-defence.

The humanitarian, economic and political problems of Gaza are interrelated. On the humanitarian side, the UNHRC report of 22 June refers to the war a year ago. In many ways the report was unsatisfactory, as the commission itself acknowledges, but it does make a case against the Israel Defense Forces which needs an answer. The commission recognised its limited resources, its short timeframe of less than seven months from inception, the fact that halfway through its chair had to be replaced on a question of impartiality, and its limited resources and restricted access. Israel refused to co-operate with the inquiry, as indeed it refused to allow me and the Middle East committee of the Council of Europe which I chair to visit Gaza. The commission inferred a criticism therefore of Israel without having the benefit of the Israeli case, which in any event was the fault of Israel. The commission mentions the attempts of Israel to limit civilian casualties and the warning of attack, albeit, I concede, in congested areas, but the numbers of casualties speak for themselves.

By contrast a report on the IDF in the Gaza war led by retired US General Michael Jones and Professor Corn, formerly principal US expert on the law of war, was assisted by Israel. Perhaps not surprisingly, it reaches very different conclusions on the use of civilians as human shields by Hamas and the positioning of weapons in heavily populated areas. It is a pity that the two reports were not collated in some way.

Clearly, children suffer most, as the Save the Children report amply illustrates. The World Bank report published on 27 May shows just how dire the economic plight of Gaza is, and it can be improved only by a political breakthrough. Whatever problems Israel now faces on the external front, within the turbulent Middle East it is strong. Surely it is best to make concessions from a position of strength. Alas, there is no evidence of any compromise from Prime Minister Netanyahu, who appears to wish only to manage the situation and has no long-term vision.

I have a couple of questions on politics for the Minister. On the Israeli-Hamas front, what can the Minister tell us about the reported talks brokered by Qatar trading a five-year ceasefire by Hamas for an end to the blockade? How strong are the pressures in the European Union for more direct talks with Hamas? There has been some recent evidence of a warming in relations between Hamas and Egypt, which are very important. For example, Hamas has been removed from the terrorist list in Egypt and the Rafah crossing was opened—alas, only to be closed again after the outrages by ISIL-affiliated people in Sinai. There are contrary signs, such as the murder by Hamas of Fatah activists during the troubles.

As a postscript, the facts are clear on the population of Gaza. In 1948, there were less than a quarter of a million people in Gaza; in 2015, there are more than 1.8 million. Fertility rates in Gaza are much higher than among Palestinians in the West Bank and, indeed,

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Palestinians in Israel. Do the Government and other aid donors take this problem seriously? Is family spacing part of the UK and EU aid policy? If not, there will clearly be little improvement in Gaza’s situation, particularly in that of their children, as the per capita income will inevitably decline.

5.50 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, we all understand how passionate everyone gets on the question of Israel-Palestine and what is happening in Gaza. We also recognise that on Gaza, as on the West Bank, there are two competing narratives, both of which have deep senses of grievance and historical wrongs which are incompatible. I think we also recognise from recent reports that there have been unacceptable activities on both sides, some of which count as atrocities and some of which might perhaps be classified as war crimes. As far as possible, I do not want to take one side or the other but I simply say that the current situation cannot last. It will not last and will eventually break down, and when it does it will be worse for Israel and the region. That is why we have to engage.

For Israel, the costs of a further attack on Gaza would be enormous, above all for Israel’s already battered repetition in the democratic world. The costs in terms of Hamas’s control of Gaza, as we have seen, are that it would begin to lose control to more radical groups. There are already reports of not only Islamic jihad but groups affiliated to ISIL infiltrating Gaza, so the prognosis is poor. That is why we cannot leave the situation as it is. The role of Egypt in the last few years has not been helpful. One recognises why the Egyptians also feel that this is not their concern but they clearly have to play a more constructive role.

The instability of the region is increasing. There is the extent to which Jordan, unavoidably a player in the whole Palestine issue, is being destabilised by the refugees coming across the border from Syria. There is also the extent to which the Syrian civil war, as it staggers into its fifth year, is already becoming a generator of violent Salafism across the Middle East and a driver of radical Islam—here, as there. We all have to recognise that the situation in Gaza, and in Palestine and the West Bank as a whole, is one of the recruiting sergeants for ISIL.

I am conscious that in Bradford we are affected by what happens in Gaza and the Middle East, and that more recently in Bradford we have had some disputes between Shia and Sunni. These things come home to us. It is not just a matter of what happens there, so again we have no choice but to engage. There are reports of the role of Qatar in providing funds for reconstruction. Indeed, there are some encouraging suggestions of attempts to get Israel and Hamas together to talk about a five-year truce. Everything that can be done by the United Kingdom Government to promote that, together with our European partners and others, seem immensely worth doing. If we are, as our Prime Minister has just said, in a generational conflict with ISIL, this is the theatre with which the British must engage. It is connected to and cannot be separated from the broader conflict. Her Majesty’s Government must therefore be fully engaged in pushing all parties to the conflict together to try to avoid the situation getting worse.

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5.54 pm

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I have visited the Holy Land of Israel and Palestine five times since 2000 and I have commitments to lead study tours or pilgrimages next year and the year after. I have yet to go to Gaza but I hope to go to the border next January. What strikes the modern traveller most is the sheer contrast between Israel and the Palestinian areas. To pass from one to the other is like passing from a really up-to-date and modern first-world state to a third-world state, living cheek by jowl with it. In economic and other terms, modern Israel has of course been an extraordinary success in a brief period of just 65 years or so. Although recent economic growth in the West Bank areas has been encouraging in patches, in Gaza the World Bank estimates the per capita income to be 30% lower today than 20 years ago. The contrast just gets greater over time, which sets up a huge instability. I understand all the arguments for a two-state solution—I think I believe in that myself—but will two states so closely linked geographically and yet on such divergent paths easily exist side by side? I always return to that question when I have been to the area.

There is so much about modern Israel that I admire and respect. Given that it has had to fight for its life three times in its brief history, I can understand the toughness that is often manifested in the modern Israeli psyche. I so well remember sitting down with a senior member of the Government there, soon after the wall was built. He turned to me and said, “I don’t like the wall but I have five daughters. At least they’re not going to get blown up on the school bus”. We have to respect aspects of that element in modern Israel.

I do not at all defend all the Israeli tactics in the recent conflict in Gaza—how could one?—but in a funny way I sort of understand them. I greatly regret what happened but what is one to do when thousands of rockets are fired at one’s civilian population from an area controlled by political forces that are dedicated in some degree to the destruction of the country? So there is much that I can understand about modern Israeli attitudes, even if I do not always like or approve of them. What I cannot understand from the Israeli perspective is the settlement programme. It is acknowledged on practically all sides outside Israel that it is both illegal and ill judged. In a certain way it is a parallel to the political mistakes in South Africa, where the South Africans simply dug themselves in and could not see the misjudgment. It took a very long time for them to come to terms with it and, for all the differences between those situations, I often see a certain parallel.

How are we to go forward? We have to work with Hamas. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, that working with it must be the future, difficult though that may be. We also need to recognise the danger of the more militant strands of Islam. As soon as the Syrian conflict quietens down, as we all hope it will, the real danger is exporting it to the northern border with Lebanon or into Palestine. However, on the economic issues, unless something can be done to address the disparity between modern Israel and the Palestinian areas, one way or another history is destined, sadly, to repeat itself.

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5.58 pm

Lord Gold (Con): My Lords, I start by looking at what has been happening on the West Bank. It is estimated that there has been real growth there of more than 5% in 2014, mainly driven by exports and private consumption fuelled by bank loans. By contrast—and not surprisingly, given the 2014 war—the position in Gaza is far worse. The Palestinian economy has fallen into recession for the first time since 2006. Unemployment has risen to 43%, with yearly average unemployment increasing by 11% this year and youth unemployment reaching a staggering 69% at the end of last year.

Clearly the 2014 war has had a major impact on the economy and life in Gaza. However, the main reason for the economic decline, which started in 2013, was the destruction of the majority of illegal tunnels connecting Gaza to Egypt, which were a key feeder to Gaza’s construction sector. In addition to the war, economic problems have been exacerbated by the blockade, by the failure of foreign Governments to meet their commitments of financial support and by serious internal tensions.

Hamas has a big responsibility here. It controls Gaza and has refused to allow the Palestinian Authority the control necessary to implement reconstruction, so it has not been permitted to take security and civilian responsibility for the Palestinian side of Gaza’s borders with both Egypt and Israel. Hamas has also misappropriated construction materials for use in terrorist infrastructures. This has been a long-standing problem. We now know that over many years much aid was diverted from essential building works to construct the network of terrorist tunnels that have been so significant in allowing Hamas to carry out its terrorist acts both in Israel and in Egypt, hence the unity of approach by both countries determined to prevent Hamas rebuilding the tunnels.

Happily, a great number of these tunnels were destroyed in the last conflict. The blockade continues, while the risk remains of these tunnels being rebuilt—signs of which have already been seen, unfortunately. Indeed, in recent weeks the Egyptian authorities have discovered and destroyed more tunnels crossing from their land into Gaza. While the 2007 blockade certainly has an impact on economic growth and reconstruction, unless and until Israel feels confident that its security will not be threatened by lifting the blockade, it is understandable that it continues. Even the UN, not slow to criticise Israel at every opportunity, has accepted that the Gaza blockade is legal. The UN’s Palmer report determined:

“Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law”.

Although security issues also have an impact on economic and business life in the West Bank, the constant threat of missile attacks was, happily, missing, and as a result the West Bank was not sucked into the 2014 war. There remain serious security issues in the West Bank and there are no open relations with Israel but, in contrast, life and the economy there are far better than in Gaza.

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Why the difference? The key issue is the absence of Hamas. It has been a constant threat to Israel and peace in the region. It has been behind a reign of terror over the civilian population of Israel, constantly firing missiles across the border. It has used its tunnels to infiltrate Israel to kidnap and kill innocent civilians. It has controlled Gaza with a ruthless hand, unhesitatingly murdering opponents without trial. Indeed, we now know that, under cover of the Gaza conflict, Hamas summarily executed at least 23 of its opponents. The Guardian wrote that they were settling old scores.

However, there is reason for a little optimism, and I believe that we in your Lordships’ House can play an important role, whichever side of this debate we may be on. Recent newspaper reports indicate that Hamas is being threatened by Salafists and Islamic State jihadists in Gaza. This group has been responsible for recent rocket attacks in Israel, hoping to destabilise the present fragile ceasefire. Happily, Israel has not reacted to this, as its intelligence has identified exactly what is going on and, perhaps bizarrely, Israel and Hamas now find themselves with a common enemy. Better the devil you know, I suppose.

There are also reports of Israeli and Hamas officials secretly meeting in Qatar to see whether a five-year ceasefire can be agreed, and recently Efraim Halevy, former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, has called for a direct dialogue with Hamas. Perhaps there is a connection between these two developments. Having a dialogue with a sworn enemy is a step that many would regard as too large to take but—as we have seen in Northern Ireland—without taking it at some stage, we cannot progress towards a peaceful solution.

The Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel. If progress towards peace is to be made, at some time Hamas will have to abandon that aim. I would hope that the Qatar meetings are a start towards that change. If that can be achieved, progress towards the two-state solution can also be made. Since its foundation, Israel has demonstrated that a true democracy can operate and thrive in the Middle East and be successful in all areas, not least economically. Palestinians have themselves demonstrated throughout the Middle East and in many other parts of the world that they have great business acumen and talent. We should see whether we can work together to achieve some sort of recognition that working together will be better for everyone in that region.

6.06 pm

Baroness Blackstone (Lab): My Lords, it is now a year since the horrific war in Gaza in which over 2,000 Palestinians were killed, of whom 65% were civilians and over 500 were children, and 73 Israelis were killed, of whom six were civilians. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, has said, much of the infrastructure in Gaza was destroyed—schools, hospitals, power and water plants, roads, residential accommodation—displacing 100,000 people, very few of whom have been rehoused. Along with the blockade of Gaza, this wanton destruction has crippled the Gazan economy, leaving it with one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world, at

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43%, and a poverty rate of 39%, according to the World Bank. By the end of 2014, youth unemployment had soared to 60%.

As the noble Lord, Lord Gold, has just said, movement restrictions and the blockade, as well as the armed conflict, have led to Gaza’s economic performance being at rock bottom—worse in only three other countries in the world. It is estimated that 80% of the population are dependent for their survival on overseas aid. Following last year’s war, reconstruction has begun. However, the pace is terribly slow, because of the restrictions on the import of building materials due to the blockade. Lengthy power cuts continue and manufacturing has almost disappeared. After Israel’s imposition of the blockade in 2007, Gaza’s GDP was reduced by one-third, as the right reverend Prelate also mentioned.

I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gold, that this blockade is justified because of Israeli security problems. In fact, in the long term, the blockade will threaten Israel’s security. My first question to the Minister is about what steps the Government are taking to get the blockade lifted. Further efforts are surely needed following the request that the Foreign Secretary made to Egypt last month to open the Rafah crossing. Should there not be another concerted effort by the UK and the international community to put pressure on Israel to lift the blockade, which would allow the £3.5 billion pledged for reconstruction to be spent? Pledges are simply not enough; action is what is needed. Unless economic growth can be re-established and jobs created for young people, Gaza will surely become a breeding ground for much more dangerous extremism.

Last year’s war did not just result in many civilian deaths; it also left over 11,000 Palestinians injured, including 3,500 children, some of whom suffered permanent physical disability. As has already been mentioned, many more children have been traumatised, fearing to go to school, bedwetting, clinging to parents and with high levels of aggression. This is all well documented in a recent report by the Save the Children Fund. The damage done to so many children and young people does not augur well for the future of Gaza and its political system. There is a danger that some of them will grow up alienated, disturbed and easy prey for militant extremism, which the high rate of unemployment is likely to exacerbate. More aid is needed to provide psychological help to these children, as well as better conditions to give them some hope for the future.

There is already evidence that Salafist militants now claim allegiance to ISIL and are becoming very active in Gaza. They recently fired rockets into Israel with the aim of jeopardising the ceasefire. Were their numbers to grow greatly, Hamas’s crackdown on them might be very hard to sustain, resulting in potentially terrible consequences, not just for Gaza but for Israel.

My second question to the Minister is: what steps does the UK intend to take to implement the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council’s report? The Independent Commission of Inquiry received full co-operation from the Palestinians, but, deplorably, not from the Israeli Government, who refused to respond to its questions. Nevertheless, the report was

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impeccably even-handed, finding fault on both sides. It criticised Palestinian armed groups for indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel and the failure of the Palestinian authorities to bring those involved in violating international law to justice. It considered that many of the actions of the Israel Defense Force may have amounted to war crimes or violation of customary international humanitarian law. One of the issues that concerned it was Israel’s,

“lamentable track record in holding wrongdoers accountable, not only … to secure justice for victims but also to ensure the necessary guarantees for non-repetition”.

In the debate on the report, the UK Government voted in Geneva last week to support the UN’s accountability resolution. Will they now work at the UN in New York and in the European Union to set up investigations into possible war crimes in the interests of abolishing impunity? Surely we owe it to the victims of these atrocities to challenge the impunity that, up to now, has prevailed across the board? If we fail to do so, we must fear for the prospects of peace in Gaza and for a stable and secure political situation ever being established there.

6.12 pm

Lord Sheikh (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for securing the debate. Achieving lasting peace between Israel and Palestine must remain a significant priority for the international community. The issues in the Gaza Strip are far-reaching and affect us all, not least the Muslim and Jewish communities.

Last month, the Daesh insurgents threatened to turn the Gaza Strip into another of their Middle East fiefdoms. Daesh is trying to destabilise Hamas and create tensions between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Daesh has carried out bombings in Gaza and rocket attacks on Israel. In the light of this, the need for the international community to find a just solution to the plight of the beleaguered Palestinians becomes all the more pressing. We need to consider the implications of a spread of the brutal Daesh threat to Gaza and, perhaps, the West Bank. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether our Government have considered the security implications of increased Daesh influence in these areas.

We need a more balanced and equitable approach to these issues, and we could begin by recognising Palestine as an independent state. In October last year in the other place MPs voted by 274 to 12 on a Motion to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the State of Israel. At the moment, 136 countries have recognised the state of Palestine, including the Vatican and Sweden. I ask my noble friend the Minister what the Government’s present position is regarding recognition. Further, does she feel that we have a fair and balanced attitude when looking at Palestine and Gaza? We must all work to the establishment of a two-state solution and the creation of a viable sovereign independent state of Palestine, living peacefully alongside a secure Israel. Can we take a more active role to achieve this objective?

This debate may be about the political situation in the Gaza Strip, but of equal importance is the humanitarian situation. I care deeply about humanitarian issues and have been involved in facilitating four convoys of humanitarian aid being sent to Gaza following the

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Israeli invasion in 2009. I subsequently visited Gaza with the consent of those on my Front Bench and the Conservative Party. I saw for myself the devastation that had been done and tragically continues to this day. I have also visited Israel and the West Bank.

It has been a year since the cessation of the 50-day assault on Gaza, which left more than 2,200 mostly innocent Palestinian men, women and children and 71 Israelis dead. There was a programme yesterday on the BBC that showed how the children of Gaza have been traumatised following the invasion. Little has been done to stem the tide of poverty, destruction and deprivation that has engulfed the strip. The situation is dire: more than 100,000 people are still displaced and homeless; unemployment stands at more than 50%; and 80% of residents depend on food aid. Medical supplies are at an all-time low; 25% of people have no access to fresh running water and there are frequent power cuts. I, with others, have tried to get medical and humanitarian aid into Gaza, without success, for more than six months. We must all use our influence to ensure that the inhuman siege is brought to an end. Can the Minister confirm the Government’s commitment to seeing an end to the brutal siege of the people of Gaza?

We can no longer stand by while the rights of Palestinian people are systematically abused and their suffering continues. Nor can we hide behind the idea that Palestine simply is not ready politically or economically to support a political state. We must work proactively with the international community to achieve a two-state solution.

6.17 pm

Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab): My Lords, there are five salient facts that ought to come out of any debate about Gaza, two of which I am glad to say have already been dealt with at some length and are generally recognised in the country. One is that Gaza is clearly a most unpleasant place to live: it is extremely poor and very violent. It is poor partially because of the blockades that have been imposed by both its neighbours, Egypt and Israel, for reasons that may be very understandable. One can realise that that immediately has very negative humanitarian consequences. There is obviously a sense of great despair in the population of Gaza. We have to recognise and start from that, and ask what has caused it and what we can best do about it.

The second salient fact that has come out and which is certainly recognised all over the world is that Gaza in its present state is a recurring threat to peace in the region. Rockets are continually fired at Israel. After some years, the Israelis inevitably lose their patience—they do so much less rapidly than I would if people were bombarding Lincolnshire with rockets on a regular basis—and intervene militarily. There is nasty military action, obviously with a lot of fatalities.

Those two facts are pretty well known. There are three facts about Gaza that are not so well known and which ought to be better known. One is that it is a very nasty, savage tyranny. The noble Baroness who introduced the debate—we are enormously grateful to her for doing that—did not mention this, but Hamas imposes its power by regular use of torture and execution of political opponents: so-called collaborators with the

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Israelis and so forth. I believe that the noble Baroness knows Gaza very well and often talks about it. I never hear her mention the words “torture” or “execution”. I wish she would, because her remarks on the subject would then sound a little more dispassionate than they generally do. She used the words “open prison”. I have been in quite a number of open prisons—not as an inmate, but as a visitor. On the whole, they are pretty humane institutions. Gaza is anything but a humane institution. It is a very unpleasant tyranny. We should not forget it.

The fourth point that ought to be much better known is one I tried to bring out a few weeks ago at Questions, when I asked the Minister whether Hamas could bring to an end, any day it wanted, the blockade imposed by Israel, simply by accepting the quartet conditions. These, as the House knows, are: the giving up of violence, the recognition of the state of Israel and the acceptance of existing accords, including the Oslo accord. The answer I got was yes, the Hamas regime could, any day it wants, get rid of these blockades. It chooses not to do so. Finally, I have met representatives of Hamas and they are of course in denial. They say, “No, we can’t possibly recognise the State of Israel”. They tend to say that they cannot recognise the State of Israel even with the 1948 borders; they certainly cannot recognise what happened in 1973 or 1967. So they are in denial.

The fifth point, which certainly is not as well known as it ought to be—because it affects the pockets of every taxpayer in this country, apart from anything else—is that this mixture of unpleasantness, tyranny, threat to world peace and denial is being actively subsidised by the international community to the tune of many billions of dollars a year. The World Bank reckons that the GDP of Gaza is about $1.6 billion and that the total subventions that Gaza receives is some 60% higher than that. In other words, this is probably the most subsidised community anywhere on God’s earth. The European Union makes much the biggest contribution to these subsidies, at about €1.6 billion, and the second largest contributor is Qatar, at about $1 billion. If we are going to go on subsidising the Hamas regime as we do, we have to ask ourselves whether we should introduce an element of conditionality into our relationships with Hamas. I put it to the Minister that perhaps it is time we did and that we say to Hamas that it would not be in anybody’s interests—least of all the peoples of Gaza—to simply carry on with these subsidies indefinitely with no political change, with no recognition, and with a continual “in denial” approach towards the problems of the Middle East on the part of Hamas; that it is time for Hamas to begin to take life seriously and to make sure that it recognises reality and the needs of the next generation of Gaza, which should not suffer the terrible incubus that the previous two or three generations have under the Hamas regime.

6.22 pm

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, not only for introducing this debate today, but for the courageous consistency and firmness with which she pursues this issue.

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One of the most cynical dimensions to the whole situation at the moment is that, while we all know that if there is to be a two-state solution, there has to be reconciliation between the two parts of the Palestinian political organisation, this is impossible because of the rigid controls of border crossings. The assembly, which had been set up, at least in theory, to enable this reconciliation to begin, is unable to function. This is something to which we must all address ourselves.

Like the noble Baroness, I was at that service in Westminster Abbey today—and a very splendid and impressive occasion it was. I was reflecting on two things. First, what is becoming clearer and clearer about Srebrenica is the cynicism and prevarication in the outside world which meant that the horrific eventuality of the genocide could happen. We all solemnly undertake that this must never happen again—exactly as we said of the Holocaust. I wonder if—pray God, not on the same scale—we shall be having a service in Westminster Abbey to talk about the inaction, the prevarication and the failure to face up to the issue of Gaza by the outside world. It is high time for effective action and not just platitudes.

We lament the effect of the blockade: the suffering of the children and families, the adverse impact on health services, and the fact that a UN official in exasperation can say that at the present rate it will take 30 years to rebuild Gaza. All these things impress us, but of course the most important thing is to enable the economy of Gaza to function. When I was last in Gaza, I was talking to a senior UN official who said, “These people are immensely entrepreneurial, full of imagination and dynamism; given half a chance they could become incredibly successful economically”. But that chance is not there. The materials that they need to develop their industries are not coming into the country. Access to the markets of Israel, and the world beyond, are just not there because of the crossings—and the control at the crossings.

People say, “We’ve got to understand the reasons for the control at the crossings—the constant bombardment of Israel”. While that may be a reality, how much imagination has gone in to thinking about how we could get independent monitoring at the crossings? Have the British Government been making representations about the possibility of UN monitoring at the crossings? Is this not something we should be arguing for very strongly with our Palestinian and Israeli friends as one approach to making sure that the wrong materials are not going in? There is also this talk about having to face the reality that the bombardments and the military action have come from both sides. I am really rather tired of that argument. It is obviously true that there were all these rocket attacks; they were stupid and provocative and wrong. But the disproportionate and indiscriminate size of the retaliation dwarfs that into insignificance. In fact, even more recently, it appears that innocent Gazan people have been shot by Israeli security forces—with fishing families fired at. We have to be very careful about this “two sides” argument on the bombardments.

My biggest anguish—and I have followed the whole situation closely since the Six Day War in 1967, when I was in Israel for its duration—is how on earth is Israel

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building security for its future, its children and its grandchildren? It is building up resentment. It is providing recruits for ISIL. We must persuade the Israelis that this kind of punitive action, which they seem determined to follow, is not the way to secure a future for their country. We will support and work with them in every reasonable way if we have a genuine regeneration of effective international action.

6.28 pm

Lord Ahmed (Non-Afl): My Lords, I too would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for providing us with the opportunity to discuss Gaza and the plight of Palestinian people, who currently live in the largest prison in the world.

I had the pleasure of travelling with the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, a few years ago on a boat from Cyprus to Gaza. During that trip we were harassed by the Israeli navy in the international waters like pirates. Despite this setback, we made it to Gaza and saw for ourselves how the Palestinian people had been suffering for many years.

Just this past week, Israeli Navy forces intercepted a ship carrying international activists who hoped to breach the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. The vessel, which contained humanitarian aid including medicines and solar panels, was prevented from entering. That incident is nothing new. As your Lordships’ will remember, in 2010 Israeli forces raided a Gaza-bound flotilla and violently attacked the activists on board. Some nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed as a result. Do Her Majesty’s Government believe that intercepting and attacking boats in international waters carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza is illegal under international law? Have Her Majesty’s Government advised the Israeli Government on this matter?

Today, we can see with our eyes and through facts that Israel severely damaged the stability of Palestine. As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, last year, Israeli Operation Protective Edge either severely damaged or destroyed 17 hospitals, 56 primary healthcare facilities and 45 ambulances. Sixteen healthcare workers were killed and 83 were injured, most of them ambulance drivers and volunteers. In total, as we have heard again and again, more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, at least 500 of them children. More than 10,000 were wounded. Over 160,000 homes were affected, with 2,400 housing units completely destroyed and 6,600 severely damaged. Some 17,500 families—some 100,000 individuals—are still homeless. An estimated 7,000 explosive remnants of war are buried in debris. At least 10 people have been killed and 36 injured due to ERW. According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions—ICAHD—since 1967 Israeli authorities have demolished more than 27,000 structures in the Occupied State of Palestine. Furthermore, according to the Norwegian NGO, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the number of internally displaced people among the Palestinian population is at least 263,000.

Israel’s colonial and prolonged military occupation of the Occupied State of Palestine, including its eight-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, is the root cause of recurring violence and ongoing violations of the human

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rights of Palestinians. Poverty, deprivation and lack of education are all factors increasing crime and signs of extremism. This increase in extremism paves the way for Daesh to expand its influence to Palestine. Several reports by UN bodies and independent fact-finding missions have now accused Israel of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. The lack of accountability for these crimes has led to the recurrence of such crimes and to the latest aggression against the Palestinian people living in the Gaza Strip—the deadliest offensive against the Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 1967.

There is an Israeli contempt for Palestinian life and international law. The international community has an obligation to ensure respect for civilian lives and international law. The only way to do that is to bring perpetrators of crimes to justice and to hold the occupying power accountable. Finally, would Her Majesty’s Government support any UN initiative to bring all those responsible for war crimes to justice, whether Israeli or Palestinian?

6.33 pm

Lord Turnberg (Lab): My Lords, I am afraid that I must admit to being among the usual suspects gathered for this debate. It is pretty obvious that I, on my part, tend to defend Israel but I do so with some knowledge and a great deal of sympathy for the citizens of Gaza. I meet young medical researchers from Gaza who come to the UK on travel fellowships that my wife and I support from our charity. They tell me how hard life is and about the worries they have for the future of their children. They have many reasons to worry, not least because Hamas keeps a very tight hold on everything they do and does not brook any disagreement from its citizens.

It was Hamas that cut off the nose of its people to spite its face by destroying all 3,000 huge greenhouses that Israel left behind 10 years ago. More importantly from the political perspective, it removed all trace of Fatah, the opposition party, when it came to power by expelling its members or killing them off. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, that it is Hamas that has contempt for life. These are not nice people. Mr Abbas has never been able to visit Gaza out of fear for his life. It is clear now that the PA and Hamas are incompatible and their so-called unity Government dead. That nice Mr Abbas even accused Hamas of treachery for recently hinting that it might be willing to talk about a peace deal with Israel, according to something called “Middle East media sources”. That is remarkable but apparently true.

Hamas split from the PA and is becoming increasingly isolated. It lost the support of Egypt because of its strong links with the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has now become an outright enemy, at least for the moment. Meanwhile, more extreme groups nibble away at Hamas’s political base. It is losing the support of Qatar and others in the Middle East as aid for reconstruction from there has almost dried up—despite the promises. It is even in the firing line, as we heard, from ISIL, which promised to annihilate Hamas as well as the Jews in a recent somewhat surprising outburst. Its main remaining friend is Iran, which continues to supply arms and other support.

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One of the major sources of income for Hamas was the tax it placed on goods smuggled through the tunnels from Egypt. That made many Hamas officials into millionaires. It may surprise your Lordships but yes, there are millionaires in Gaza. However, now Hamas feels the squeeze and is increasingly reliant on the tax it puts on the 15,000 tonnes of goods that Israel ships across every day. That is 500 truckloads of materials every day. There are also more than 1,000 people going across into Israel: businessmen, patients coming to hospital and so on. There is more to do, of course. However, I say to my noble friend Lord Judd that Hamas refused to allow the Palestinian Authority, let alone the UN, to monitor the crossings. Contrast all that with the recent failed attempt to bring in this Swedish ship, which was found to contain actually very little aid at all. It was a political gesture. If the political and financial position has weakened for Hamas, its relations with the PA are deteriorating and its support from the rest of the Middle East fading, does the Minister think there is any prospect that Hamas will drop its demands that Israel be destroyed? What is the Government’s assessment of reports that Hamas will contemplate discussing a peace deal with Israel? Are the Government here doing everything they can to help that?

Finally, I will say something about proportionality and the accusation that Israel’s response to the thousands of rockets fired at it was out of proportion. There is no doubt that the people of Gaza suffered terribly in the recent wars. However, it is the nature of the threat to which a response should be proportional. Where was the proportionality in the bombing by the allies in Kosovo when there were many civilian casualties on the ground with not a single US or UK casualty? What about the bombing now of Iraq, Yemen and potentially in Syria by the US and ourselves? It is hard to imagine that there are no civilian casualties there yet we have none on our side. It is the nature of the threat that determines the response and unfortunately Israel has an existential threat on its doorstep. Why did Hamas not allow its citizens into the tunnels it has in large numbers for smuggling and attack? It must bear some responsibility for its civilian deaths. While I do not view the deaths of women and children with any equanimity at all—indeed, I am very distressed by them—I just do not buy the proportionality argument. The oppressed citizens of Gaza deserve better but that can be achieved only when Hamas changes its belligerency and seizes the opportunity to talk about peace instead of war and destruction.

6.39 pm

Lord Warner (Lab): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, on securing this debate, and I congratulate her and the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, on their excellent speeches. It is timely to discuss Gaza’s misery as events in Iraq, Syria, Libya and now Tunisia push Palestinian issues in general and Gaza’s problems in particular further and further into the public and political background.

I have been to Gaza and met Hamas representatives both there and outside Gaza. There are undoubtedly some pretty unpleasant people among them, but I can think of many political parties around the world that

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have unpleasant people in them. That is not an excuse for not talking to them. It is easy to forget that Hamas won a democratic election, supervised by the UN, in 2006, so we have been involved in not having discussions with that particular democratically elected Government.

We found at the end of the day in Northern Ireland that we had to talk to the IRA. We found that the IRA itself had splintered and that some of the most unpleasant people had gone off to do other things that were even more unpleasant than anything the IRA did in its heyday. That is no excuse in the modern world for refusing to discuss with Hamas and trying to forge some capacity to help Israel engage with Hamas. Standing on the sidelines hoping for better weather to arise in Gaza, which is what we do, does not seem to me to be a very credible strategy for a modern Government in Europe.

I want to spend the rest of my time picking up some of the issues about what we are allowing to happen in Gaza to its children. Their plight is terrible—the BBC will be reminding us bravely this week of some of the trauma that they have suffered. The US seems to have retired hurt from the Middle East and Europe now has to start to make up its own mind what it wants to do in this area.

The context is pretty terrible as far as Gaza’s children are concerned. The starting point in their plight is the civilian death and destruction caused by the Israeli military in July and August last year. This was not just the first conflict, it was the third such conflict in six years, with further destruction piled on that from the previous two. Let me quote from the March 2015 draft of a UN damage and needs assessment:

“During the 51 day escalation, bombardments, air strikes and ground incursions resulted in an estimated 2,260 direct casualties”—

that is a euphemism for killings—

“including 612 children … and 230 women ... 10,625 people were injured, among them 3,827 children … and 1,773 women ... 899 people were left permanently disabled”.

None of these dire statistics tells us anything about the casualties left over from the previous two conflicts or about those children and their mothers who survived all three but have been left severely traumatised by their experience. Studies show that mental disorders are consistently higher in Gaza than in Israel. These casualties would be a challenge for any healthcare system, let alone one so impoverished as Gaza’s. The last conflict alone killed and injured over a 100 healthcare workers, with ambulance drivers disproportionately affected. A WHO assessment of 87 health facilities has revealed that 25 have been severely damaged or destroyed, and goes on to say:

“El-Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital ... was specifically targeted and totally destroyed following warnings from the GoI to evacuate its patients and staff”.

WHO estimates the economic losses to the health sector at over $380 million. There is a chronic shortage of pharmaceuticals, supplies and spare parts for medical equipment. All this is on top of the damage to water and sewage facilities, housing, electricity and the food supply. Between 95% and 97% of the water supply is unfit for human consumption.

This is the context in which Gaza’s children are growing up: high unemployment, no prospect of jobs, traumatised, poor, with 80% of the population dependent

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on donor aid. Would we really be surprised if some of them turn to ISIL and Islamic Jihad, and would we really be surprised if those numbers increased? We are bringing on ourselves and helping Israel to bring on itself a move to extremism. This will do even more damage in Gaza and do damage to Israel itself.

6.45 pm

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): My Lords, in September, 22 years will have passed since the famous Arafat-Rabin handshake in Washington—the Oslo agreement that promised so much but has delivered so little. The tragedy of Palestine, and Gaza in particular, continues unabated. Nobody can forget the dreadful scenes that we saw on our televisions last summer. It is of course essential that we recognise that there is fault on both sides. If Hamas wants to see an end to the constant blockades and incursions, it needs to refrain from lobbing indiscriminate rockets into Israel and to recognise the right of Israel to exist. It also needs to stop hiding weapons in schools.

The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, in our last Palestine debate in January powerfully read out excerpts from Hamas’s Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement, which frighteningly set out some of the organisation’s rules and principles, including the encouragement to jihad. But Israel, as a respected friend of the UK, needs to be told in no uncertain terms that it needs to respect international law, to stop killing innocent civilians, and to stop building on land that is not its own. There are extremists on both sides, and they need to understand that the whole region is in a great deal more precarious a state than it has been in for decades. Now would be a good time for both sides to compromise.

It is essential that we do not forget the devastation that has been brought on the Gaza Strip: massive youth unemployment, shelled houses, limited imports and exports due to the blockades. Many noble Lords have detailed last summer’s appalling death toll—mostly civilians and many children. As the noble Lords, Lord Sheikh and Lord Ahmed, emphasised, over 100,000 people in Gaza are thought to have had their homes destroyed, and not a single one of these has been reconstructed in the last year. But it is also unacceptable that 69 Israelis were killed including four civilians. Israeli people need to feel safe in their homes and when they travel, and we must see an end to indiscriminate bombings on buses and murders in synagogues.

It must be emphasised that the UN Human Rights Council has concluded that there was evidence of atrocities and suspected war crimes on both sides in the conflict last summer. However, the disproportionate number of casualties on the Palestinian side compared to the Israeli side speaks for itself. People around the world saw that as unjustifiable.

King Abdullah of Jordan stressed that ISIS’s ability to recruit foreign fighters was aided by last summer’s conflict between Israel and Palestine. He said that many of those who joined the group were spurred on by the perceived persecution of the Palestinians. With IS gaining strength in the region, including last week in Sinai, Hamas needs to understand that now would be a good time to reach out and go for peace. At the start of this month a new video was released by ISIS

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militants who have directly threatened to overthrow Hamas in Gaza, because the group is not extreme enough. Even the former head of Mossad says that direct dialogue by Israel with its sworn enemy could lead to a form of mutual coexistence. Are the Government aware of any quiet negotiations taking place between Israel and Hamas at the moment?

In order to break the deadlock, Israel needs to halt its illegal and continued settlement expansion and land confiscation in the West Bank. The number of Israeli settlers in the Palestinian West Bank grew by approximately 85% after the Oslo accords were signed. Labour is firmly of the view that we need a two-state solution, but we need to ensure that Palestine can be a viable state. Constant and illegal land grabs make this more difficult by the week. The new Israeli Government have announced new plans to build further settlements. Beyond condemnation, what action are the UK Government taking to end the settlement expansion that they agree is illegal? Does the Minister really believe there can be a peace agreement when the Israeli Government continue to act in this way, when Netanyahu suggested during his election that he did not want to see a two-state solution, and when the US priority for this region has changed?

Palestine and Gaza cannot be dealt with in isolation from other events and battles going on in the region. While the continuing advance of IS is of profound concern, we cannot ignore the festering sore that has lasted for so many decades in Palestine. We need to work towards a lifting of the blockade, an honouring of the pledges for reconstruction, and an understanding from both the Israelis and the Palestinians that they have a great deal more to lose than to gain from the continued absence of peace.

6.50 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for tabling today’s wide-ranging debate. It was important for us to hear from her the graphic description of the appalling humanitarian conditions within Gaza. It was also very helpful to hear the insights of the Front-Bench spokespeople—both the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats—in putting everything into context, as they did.

It is clear that the current situation in Gaza is unacceptable. It is true that the ceasefire agreement reached in August 2014 is still largely holding, but there has not been progress towards a durable solution that addresses the underlying causes of the conflict. Hamas remains in charge in Gaza—and the noble Lords, Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Turnberg, reminded us that under Hamas life is far from easy. This is not a straightforward matter of who is good and who is bad. We have assessed that Hamas is seeking to rebuild militant infrastructure, including the tunnel network, in Gaza, and we are deeply concerned at reports of militant groups rearming.

Noble Lords referred to the issue of Daesh/ISIL perhaps being in Gaza. We are indeed concerned about the recent rise in the number of small Salafist groups in Gaza that have self-identified with ISIL/Daesh, and we are monitoring the situation closely. Meanwhile,

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the Palestinian Authority has not taken the steps needed to make progress on reconciliation and to restore control in Gaza. Of course, while Israel has indeed lifted some movement and access restrictions, including doubling the water supply to Gaza and permitting more exports of produce from Gaza, as noble Lords have pointed out, Israeli restrictions are still extensive. We work consistently to persuade the Israelis that they should ease those restrictions further; we should not underestimate the changes that have taken place, particularly with regard to access to water. But so much more needs to be done, and there needs to be certainty rather than having moment-to-moment access to the necessaries of life.

Egypt, wary of extremists in the Sinai, has been reluctant to reopen the Rafah crossing, opening it only sporadically. Again, clearly it is important that we continue working with Egypt to be able to have that crossing opened more regularly.

Without significant change, at best, it could take many years to rebuild Gaza. At worst, we risk a return to conflict and, if the underlying causes are not addressed, Gaza risks becoming an incubator for extremism around the region. So, as noble Lords have said, there is an urgent need to address the terrible situation in Gaza once and for all. Bold political steps are necessary—first, to bring about a durable end to the cycle of violence and, secondly, to address the underlying causes. I can say directly that, with regard to the recognition of Palestine, our position remains that it is important that to achieve any resolution we will recognise the state of Palestine, where Palestinians currently live, only if and when Hamas get to the position whereby it can recognise the right of Israel to exist, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, mentioned. The moment when we are able to decide to recognise the state of Palestine is the one that best brings about hope of peace. We will make that step only when we judge that it best brings about peace, and it would be a matter of recognising the state on 1967 borders. That also means that we continue to work with regard to discussing with Israel very strongly about the illegal extension of settlements in the Occupied Territories. Israel knows our view on that very well.

I was also asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, whether we would consider an arms embargo on Israel. The UK continues to be of the belief that imposing a blanket arms embargo on Israel would not promote progress on the Middle East peace process at the moment. All countries, including Israel, have a legitimate right to self-defence; our Government operate some of the most robust export controls in the world. We approve equipment only when we are satisfied that it would be consistent with the EU and consolidated arms export criteria. We are most cautious.

I was asked about the talks between Hamas and Israel—the hudna talks—that are rumoured to be taking place. What I can say, very carefully, is that we are aware of the rumours of those talks; the immediate priority for us remains that all parties should prioritise making progress on reaching a durable agreement that addresses the underlying causes of conflict.

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Our policy on Hamas remains clear: it must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements. Hamas must make credible movement towards these conditions, which still remain the benchmark against which its intentions should be judged. We call on those in the region who have an influence over Hamas to encourage Hamas to take those steps. It is important that all parties take credible steps to end this cycle of violence. Many noble Lords have referred to how long this violence has endured. Working with others, such as the United States, we want to make progress with the Middle East process talks. Clearly, it is a matter that the talks have not progressed over the last year as we hoped they might; we continue to press that those talks should resume and resume soon.

Many noble Lords referred to accountability in some detail, and it is right that that should be raised at this point because of the United Nations report, the commission of inquiry report that was before the Human Rights Council so recently, in this last month. I attended the Human Rights Council and was there shortly before the report was issued, and of course I have followed each and every word of the debate that ensued on that matter. Our negotiators in Geneva were very careful and firm in the views that they took as a result of guidance from Ministers, and I am very grateful to them for their work.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, said, the UK along with our EU partners voted in favour of the resolution on the UN commission of inquiry report on the 2014 conflict in Gaza just last week. We would have preferred to see a text that gave more weight to Israel’s legitimate right of self-defence and the threat that she faces from militant groups operating inside Gaza, including Hamas. However, despite those concerns, we supported the text of the resolution. The noble Baroness will know from her experience that every word counts in those resolutions.

The UK is deeply concerned by the terrible human cost to both sides of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as underlined by the findings of the report. We strongly condemn the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip. Such actions are serious violations of international humanitarian law. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and others that it is for all states and non-state parties to have a careful mind about what constitutes international law and international humanitarian law, including those who seek to deliver aid from whichever avenue they seek to do it. It is for all of us to obey the law. We do not pick and choose. We have throughout urged both sides to the conflict to act in a manner that is proportionate and to take all measures to prevent the loss of human and civilian life and to comply with the law.

We note that the UN commission of inquiry report highlights,

“substantial information pointing to serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by Israel and by Palestinian armed groups. In some cases these violations may amount to war crimes”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and others asked what happens next, after this stage. The allegations in the COI report must be fully investigated by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the authorities in Gaza.

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We therefore welcome the fact that Israel is conducting its own internal investigations into specific incidents. Where there is evidence of wrongdoing those responsible must be held accountable. I will pursue that too. I have had my own conversations with those involved in investigations in Israel and I shall continue to hold them to account. It is first for both parties to demonstrate robust and credible internal investigations to this end, in line with international standards. I believe that we and the United Nations will continue to monitor that carefully.

Many noble Lords mentioned the matter of international aid. The United Kingdom has been one of the largest donors to Gaza since last summer, providing more than £17 million in emergency assistance. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, that none of our aid goes to Hamas. It goes via the United Nations relief agency and the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism. This has helped to provide vital supplies of food, clean water, shelter and medical assistance to those most in need. The UK pledged an additional £20 million at the October 2014 Gaza reconstruction conference in Cairo to help kick-start the recovery and get the Gazan people back on their feet. We have now delivered 80% of that pledge, with more to come shortly. Others need to deliver on their pledges too. All aid should be delivered in accordance with international humanitarian law.

As we have heard in detail today, the challenges in Gaza are clear. We must act urgently to help its people get back on their feet and begin the hard work of reconstruction, which indeed will take a very long time. For its part, the United Kingdom will continue to push for progress towards peace, and lead the way in supporting Palestinian state-building and measures to address Israel’s valid security concerns, working with the parties every step of the way. The security of the Palestinian people, of Israel and the region demands no less.

Ethnic Minorities

Question for Short Debate

7.03 pm

Asked by Baroness Berridge

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the contribution of Britain’s ethnic minorities to faith communities and public institutions in the United Kingdom.

Baroness Berridge (Con): My Lords, it is a privilege to lead this debate today, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who are speaking this evening. I declare my interest as outlined in the register.

In a speech on Magna Carta that I gave recently, I was asked what I would put into the first paragraph of a modern-day Magna Carta. My answer was an outline of who we are today as Britons. Whatever your view on Europe or immigration might be, Britain has changed and will continue to do so.

I will outline briefly some numbers and the contribution to our institutions. Of the UK’s 63 million population, 13% to 14% are black and minority ethnic, which is similar to the combined number of residents in Scotland and Wales. Our main cities, London, Manchester and

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Birmingham, do not just battle it out to be at the top of the premiership table, but as over half of the BME population live in these three cities each is competing to be the first majority non-white city. However, as a supporter of Leicester football club I think they may yet be pipped to the post for that honour.

Looking first through an ethnicity lens, Indians, who amount to 1.4 million citizens, are the most religiously diverse community, spread across Muslims, at 14%; Hindus, at 45%; Sikhs, at 22%; and Christians, who are overwhelmingly Catholic. Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities in the UK are almost entirely Muslim. Black Caribbeans are largely Christian, often from newer denominations, and black Africans are largely Christian but with a significant minority of Muslims, at 20%.

Those of Muslim faith are particularly diverse: 7.8% are actually white, 67.6% are Asian, 10% are black and 10% are other. The recent arrival of the Gurkhas has meant a boost to the 59.7% of Asians who represent the Buddhist faith, and 33.8% of Buddhists are actually white. If you are from the black and minority ethnic community, you are more likely to identify with a religion than the white population, to be religiously observant and to see religion as an important part of your life. In the British Caribbean community, 95% identify as Christian and 57% are in church at least once a week. Overall, between a third and a half of our main ethnic groups attend a religious service once a week. Those same groups believe overwhelmingly—70% of them—that religion plays an important part in their lives, compared with just 14% of the white population.

In my community, Christians are 92.7% white and 3.9% are black. Religious- identity figures of 59% in the census for Christians mask the fact that religious observance for Christians is huge among the black and minority ethnic population, often outside the traditional denominations, although the Catholic Church is the most diverse place of worship in the UK, which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, will reference. A Nigerian denomination, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, started 296 new churches in the UK in the five years to 2013, the largest of any single denomination. In just over 20 years this has grown to 475 parishes.

In 2013, the University of Roehampton did research and found over 240 new black and minority ethnic churches in the Borough of Southwark. Half of those were in one postcode alone, SE15. The borough has the highest concentration of black Africans in London, who are the fastest growing of the black and minority ethnic communities: 70% are Christian and 27% attend church weekly. As 91.5% do not identify as Anglican, these figures should not be surprising. Twenty per cent of British Caribbeans identify as Anglicans. The remainder are in denominations such as the New Testament Church of God, currently led by Bishop Bolt.

Perhaps these figures explain why 15% of the English population lives in Greater London, but 24% of church-going people in England on a Sunday are in London. Non-conformists are not exempt from this either. Trinity Baptist Church in South Norwood is the largest Baptist church in Europe, with 2,400 members and led by a British Ghanaian. Can the Minister outline how the Government and her department in Whitehall engage

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with the leadership of this diaspora-led church, which forms a large percentage of the 48% of church-going people each week in England who are outside the Anglican and Catholic denominations?

Although I have said in many Foreign Office debates that western Europe is known for its religious exceptionalism—as the rest of the world got more religious, we did not in the late 20th century—this does not hold for our black and minority ethnic community. This is where our future lies. Between 2001 and 2011, 80% of the UK’s population growth was in the black and minority community. Twenty-five per cent of all under-10s are not white. In London, non-whites already outnumber whites in every age group up to the age of 20. Only 9% of the under-25s in Newham say that they have no religion, as opposed to 39% of their white counterparts.

The debate here might seem obvious as regards the ethnicity of British Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, but without black Pentecostals, Filipino, Polish and Brazilian Catholics, and the Chinese in Anglican churches such as All Souls in Langham Place, the figures for the UK church in the UK would be unimaginable. Livingstone and others must be marvelling at the African denominations planting churches back here in the UK and at their contribution.

I do not want to focus on these people’s great social capital, as there have been many comprehensive debates on this in your Lordships’ House, but on other contributions. I know of many within the black community who when out of work do not claim benefits, even to the extent of paying each other’s mortgages. Often the family, not the state, is the first port of call. I have also heard of this within the Chinese and Muslim communities. There is a very high view of family and marriage. But there is the strange anomaly of the lack of mosques that are registered for the purposes of UK marriage law. Therefore, many Muslim marriages are not legally valid, which often exposes women to vulnerability. The Law Commission is currently investigating, but this is an urgent matter that needs the Government’s attention.

The main contribution of British BME citizens can be summed up in the story of a friend of mine. She has been a teacher for more than 20 years, but for the first time in her career she went to a school with a large number of Muslim students. At parents’ evenings, she found that their concerns were just like everybody else’s. “Are my children behaving in class? Are they making good grades? Are they going to get into the right university?”. These communities are hard-working and industrious and often entrepreneurial. In fact, they are just British. The Government state:

“We will use … the strong personal links between our diaspora communities and other countries, to achieve the best for Britain”.

If a significant number of hard-working British citizens are in transnational—religious—groups that are growing in global influence, especially in some of our emerging markets, such as India, China and Nigeria, how can this be harnessed for economic growth? As 84% of the world’s population has a faith, a growing number of our citizens will be connected to business leaders and decision-makers overseas. I shall give a brief example. The Prime Minister addressed an event of black Christians from the Redeemed Christian

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Church of God at the invitation of their leader pastor Agu Irukwu. There were more 40,000 people there. The equivalent event in Nigeria attracts 1 million people, so it should come as no surprise that the newly elected vice-president of Nigeria’s previous job was as a Redeemed Christian Church of God pastor.

Have any our local enterprise partnerships or enterprise zones been encouraged to use their funds and expertise to understand how diaspora communities, their religious leaders and their businesses could be a driver for economic growth? We need to harness our diaspora as a vehicle for growth to benefit everyone.

In our own institution, on the best data from our Library, 50 out of 760 Members of this House are BME, which is 6.6%. In the light of what I have said, I hope someone will appoint from within the black-led church leadership to this House. In the Commons, it is similar at 6%, and the electorate is now about 10% BME, so there is no room for complacency. Since David Cameron became PM, the Conservatives have risen from two to 17 non-white MPs. In the same period the rise in Labour has been eight.

I was not aware when I submitted this Question for debate that there had been a survey of House staff and media coverage and that there is no black person in the senior pay grade in the staff of the House of Lords. The Lord Speaker is apparently to monitor this, but the same dynamic is true of the Commons. Most BME staff are in the lower pay grades. With the great success of the education department of the House, even more school children visit Parliament, and I think that disclosure, without identifying the staff member, MP or Peer, of the ethnic profile of MPs’ and Peers’ staff would be a gesture of support to the House authorities. Children more often than not see those people rather than us or House staff when they do a tour. We may look rather foolish if parliamentary staff change over the next few years, and if parliamentarians have the same issue we will attract similar publicity to Google, Facebook and Twitter, which were in the news last week for being able to put all their black and minority ethnic staff on one jumbo jet.

Sometimes it is the institutions that you least expect that change first, as evidenced by the recent appointment of Ken Olisa, the first British-born non-executive of a FTSE 100 company who is now the lord-lieutenant of London. The key leadership role is a vital statement, so hats off to the palace. This should be the Parliament of the end of the first blacks in this role, where DCLG shows the rest of Whitehall how to relate to diaspora communities and where these personal diaspora links are unlocked, bringing economic benefit for all. I am proud to be British and to be born at this time, when the British population is so ethnically diverse.

7.13 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids (Lab): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for raising this debate in her own inimitable way. Black people’s experience is that there is a deficit in this country that holds back our children and chains our citizens to a life of a possibly untapped goldmine of potential. I am speaking not of a budget deficit but of a disparity of BME appointments to the highest echelons of this society in our public institutions.

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I will first say a few words about the church. During World War II, thousands of black soldiers volunteered from all across the globe to support the British. It was the custom for American troops, made up of black and white soldiers, to attend a religious service on Sunday. In this country, the soldiers marched to church on the first Sunday of their residence here. What happened? They attended a service and went back to their base. On arriving on the second Sunday, the priest met them outside and said that black soldiers were not welcome at the service as they frightened the very delicate white congregation. They were soldiers in uniform and did nothing except be present. The soldiers had to wait outside until the service was over before they could go back to their base. They were turned away from the house of the Lord.

Another occurrence took place during my time in this House. It was the custom that a Church of England priest attached to the abbey would serve Parliament. When a black woman priest was chosen by Mr Speaker, Parliament and the abbey split. A white priest was chosen for the abbey and the black priest, thanks to Mr Speaker, kept her role as the priest here. I shall not bore the House with the excuses that were made when we challenged that.

Similar occurrences have happened through time on UK soil. Now they occur in more subtle ways. People from the Caribbean did not wait outside churches; they founded their own churches and, despite subtle attempts to stop them, they flourished. Our public institutions would do well to consider the type of institutional racism that goes on. There is never a lack of a congregation in black-run churches. The black community, when allowed, has always contributed greatly to the faith institutions of our country, but just as being equal in the eyes of the Lord did not stop black soldiers being turned away from a church on a cold winter’s day all those years ago, being equal in the eyes of the law does not allow black churches to do this. They now have different ways, but they still do not appreciate their black worshippers. Mostly, they are locked out of the highest ranks in our public institutions in the modern era. In law, great steps have been made in the long march towards true equality, many of which Members of this House witnessed and even contributed to, but even now within the walls and mindsets of public institutions progress has been stifled by complacency and a lack of attention to equality. The Prime Minister said that we must let hard-working people get on. There are no more hard-working people than the black community. Most of them will boast that they have never had a day off work. I am sure I do not need to tell the House of the black community’s great—when it is allowed—contribution to the country when the country needed it most.

If we are not represented as leaders and role models, the epidemic of underrepresentation in every sector of our society is depriving the whole nation of the talent of black and other ethnic groups contributing in a real and meaningful way.

7.20 pm

Baroness Barker (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for this opportunity to talk about a project that I think signals a way forward for

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our whole society. When the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic comes to be written, faith organisations will appear both in the credit column and the debit one. Across the world it is a great shame that some faith organisations have prevented people from seeking treatment and prevention. Equally, across the world there are millions of people who would not be cared for were it not for faith-based organisations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, said quite rightly that 13% of the United Kingdom population is from black, Asian and minority-ethnic communities but those same populations make up 47% of people diagnosed with HIV in the United Kingdom. Black, Asian and minority-ethnic faith-based organisations have a unique opportunity to get to those communities and work with them. However, there are a number of different barriers, not least the stigma and some of the teachings of some of those churches about the modes of transmission, such as sexual behaviour and intravenous drug use.

The NAZ black and minority-ethnic HIV/AIDS project has a wonderful programme, a very small one, called Testing Faith. This has worked with community leaders to find out what some of the main barriers are: denial that HIV infects communities of faith, lack of knowledge about the epidemiology, lack of knowledge about HIV and sexual health prevention interventions, and lack of knowledge about the benefits of HIV treatment. NAZ has put together a small two-day training programme for faith leaders to build their capacity to work with their communities. It has three objectives: first, to enable the leaders to draw up sexual health plans for their communities; secondly, to enable them to deliver point-of-care HIV testing and counselling within their communities for the people for whom it is right; and thirdly, to allow the leaders to refer people to GUM clinics.

The programme worked with a significant number of leaders from Christian faith groups and leaders from the Muslim community. The majority of people who went through the complete training were from the Christian communities, but there were some from the Muslim communities too and they deserve enormous credit for that. NAZ found that those community leaders needed help in understanding some of the basic information about the way things work and about how to raise the issue within their communities in ways that were appropriate. They managed to do that and as a result throughout 2014 there were 770 testing sessions. These are particularly important among black and minority-ethnic communities which, by comparison, present late and at a much more advanced state of the illness and consequently have far worse health outcomes. The work was concentrated around London, where the majority of these faith communities are, and in their particular boroughs, but they also managed to get out into other parts of the country. I am not quite sure of the exact outcome of the 770 tests because a number of individuals went to clinics and therefore their testing was anonymous.

It has been a very interesting project. It has had a profound effect on people from those communities who are HIV positive. It has also had a profound effect on some of the faith leaders themselves. It is a very

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good programme, saving the National Health Service money. One might expect that it gets funding from the NHS. It does not. It works with faith communities, so one might expect that it gets funding from faith communities. It does not. It is kept going by the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

This is one of those areas in which our mainstream institutions fail to understand the very real battles that people from minority communities, particularly minority communities of faith, have to contend with. They are, in health terms, communities that are much more vulnerable to risk than the rest of us. It would be excellent if, as a result of this debate, some appreciation and not least some funding could go towards the NAZ project and this particularly effective programme.

7.25 pm

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for securing this debate, as it enables us rightly to recognise the vast contribution made by Britain’s ethnic minorities both in public service and in faith communities. It was good to hear the noble Baroness speak of south London. In view of the time constraints I wish to make a brief observation and a broader comment.

In my own diocese of Southwark, comprising most of the south London boroughs, there has been considerable numerical growth in our ethnic-minority population over many years. In the diocese of Southwark this means up to 25% of worshipping Anglicans are from such communities and I rejoice in the diversity this brings to our churches, a growing number of which are now black-majority. This is something of which we are rightly proud and it is good to see a growing confidence in people from our minority-ethnic communities, which contributes much to church growth. I also note that many of our inner urban churches also provide hospitality to Pentecostal black-led churches. However, there is much to do to further encourage those in ethnic-minority communities to take a place in leadership and governance roles. Indeed, I have recently instigated a review of the diocese’s work in this area, which is leading to a fresh vision of ensuring that those in our churches find their way into leadership and ordained roles. At a national level the Church of England’s Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns is working hard to encourage and foster black and Asian minority-ethnic vocations, as well as developing senior leadership in the church.

What consistently strikes me and humbles me about the contribution of our ethnic-minority communities in the life of the church is that the faithfulness exhibited in worship follows through into the way lives are lived and service offered elsewhere. Indeed, many such worshippers also find their way into working in the public sector and our public institutions—often in healthcare of one form or another, or local government. This is a vocational response and a living out of faith. Certainly in south London, our minority-ethnic communities are increasingly the backbone of our NHS and public services. We need to pay attention to this–to recognise fully this contribution and the sobering reality of where we all would be without it. The ongoing

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public discourse about immigration—which is rarely conducted in a fitting manner—must pay attention to this fact. Indeed we should think long and hard before we endorse immigration policies that will only put the c1ohesion of our public services at risk.

Our ethnic-minority communities have a valued and valuable place in our religious and public life. Both churches and public institutions continue to have much to learn but importantly, given the journey we have been on in recent years, something to teach about building communities that celebrate their diversity and are at ease with themselves. Such communities are something we should all strive for.

7.29 pm

Lord Suri (Con): My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak on the contribution of ethnic minorities to public life and faith communities in the UK, about which I might be said to have a little experience. However, before I proceed further, it is worth taking note of the detailed research showing the spread of BME communities that was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Berridge.

This country has a long history of ethnic minority immigration. From the influx of Russian Jews in 1914 to the acceptance of Ugandan Asian immigrants expelled by Idi Amin, this country has accepted ethnic minorities from all over the world, especially those, like me, from the Commonwealth nations. Such ethnic minorities have contributed hugely to Britain’s public institutions. Of course, the foremost public institution in the land—or perhaps the second most important—is the other place. It is heartening to see a 65% increase in the representation of black and minority ethnic Members in the other place. It is a valuable step, which puts it far closer to achieving parity with society as a whole.

I have been deeply involved with public institutions. Since coming to this country in 1974, I have felt that a greater diversity of people in public institutions was needed to put them in step with modern society. By serving as a justice of the peace in Ealing and Acton magistrates’ courts and, before that, participating in the neighbourhood watch scheme, I feel I have played my part in contributions to public life.

It is deeply important that we encourage more ethnic minorities into public institutions. The British Asian Conservative Link, which I helped to found in 1997, has had great success in encouraging more British Asians to enter politics and engage with the political system here. To be effective in upholding citizens’ interests, public institutions must resemble the population that they represent.

Other than the obvious point of making sure our institutions represent the people they serve, there is a further benefit to having more ethnic minorities in our public institutions. A wider range of viewpoints and opinions reduces the risk of groupthink in policymaking and the risk of a herd mentality that allows poorly planned decisions to be rushed through without proper scrutiny. Bearing this in mind, it is no surprise that one of this country’s most economically important trades, the financial services market, is also one of the most ethnically diverse, with more than 30% of workers being black or minority ethnic. Minorities often specialise in particular fields, such as medicine. The NHS is an

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incredible organisation. The work it does is world-class, and extremely impressive up close. Twenty-six per cent of its staff are from ethnic minorities, which is more than a quarter and a full 12 points clear of the overall percentage of minorities. These people do a stellar job in keeping us safe, and it is right to pay tribute to them here.

The other point of discussion we have before us is the contribution of ethnic minorities to faith communities. Ethnic minorities have brought a rich diversity to the religious make-up of the UK, bringing new traditions and religions. I am a Sikh, and I am proud to have contributed to the building of the first gurdwara—Sikh temple—in Ealing. It offers a number of community services, including religious worship, learning and social activities. There are at least 300 gurdwaras in Britain. They are charitable establishments, run by minimal or no government funding, funded rather by donations from the community. The other religions brought to this country by ethnic minorities include Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, among others. Participation by ethnic minorities in these religions and others increases the cohesiveness of society, as it binds citizens together by what could be called common sympathies.

This country has one of the most diverse and tolerant societies in the world. That is a force for good and this resolve is strengthened by the contribution of ethnic minorities to public institutions and faith communities here.

7.35 pm

Baroness Flather (CB): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for introducing this debate. It has many aspects; I do not know if I can cover all of them, but I will try my best to cover those that are on my mind.

I was very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, mentioned the fact that blacks were not welcomed in churches in this country when they first came. I am so old that I remember that year, and many other things that happened in this country; for example, how people had signs that said, “No blacks, Irish or dogs”, or whatever. It is amazing that we have wiped that out of our minds now, and in a way that is a good thing. We have moved forward. All my time before I came to your Lordships’ House was spent in race relations, and I saw the changes coming and saw new generations that were able to see themselves more as British than earlier ones had.

Having said that, we need to look at certain issues. One is that we must treat all people the same. We say that we do, but we do not. If they are white, we treat them one way, good or bad. If they are not white, we do not treat them the same way, good or bad. That is one of the things about grooming. There are so many scandals about the grooming of young girls up and down the country. We have turned a blind eye to that, because we think, “We don’t want anybody to criticise us or say that we’re racist”. Why should we not be racist about issues that deserve to be rooted out? We must not accept anything from anybody which is not acceptable under any circumstances.

I know I am probably talking about Muslims, but we now have this business of sharia marriages. The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, mentioned the position

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of women. It is appalling that the man can get a divorce by just asking for it, while a woman may have to wait years, and may still not get it. She can get a British divorce, but not a sharia divorce. Noble Lords may ask, “Why does that matter?”, and I asked that of those women. They replied, “It means that we can’t go to Pakistan”. If they go there, the husband can come and take the children away, no matter what age they are. In any case, the husband can take the children from a sharia marriage when they are seven. All marriages should be automatically registered in this country. It is not fair to the women that some British women—they are British women when they come here—are treated in a different and unacceptable way from others.

I will bring one other thing to the attention of noble Lords. There are a lot of first-cousin marriages in certain communities, particularly among Pakistanis who come from the Pakistani Kashmir area. We know so much about DNA now, but there is so much disability among the children, which is absolutely appalling. You go to any such family and there will be four or five children, at least one or two of whom will have some disability. That is absolutely unacceptable, and if we cannot do anything about it, is it fair to the children? Never mind the parents—it is not fair to the children that they should be allowed to become disabled because of a social practice. It is a social practice which does not belong in today’s age, when we know so much about DNA. There should at least be some rule which says that you must have a DNA examination before your marriage can be registered. The church allows first-cousin marriages, and it would be wonderful if it decided that they will not take place unless the couple’s DNA history is produced.

There are issues which we need to look at. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Suri, about the Sikhs. What they do is wonderful. You can go to any Sikh temple at any time and you will be fed. That is a wonderful thing. It is very inclusive: men and women both go. Women do not go to the mosque; only men go to the mosque. If you go to the Hare Krishna temple in Watford, you see lines of people at lunchtime. Not only do they take food for themselves; they bring banks to take food for the whole family. So, very good things are being done in name of religion, but certain things are unacceptable and against the ethos of this country. We should not be lily-livered and say, “No, no, no, they are not white, so we will not say anything”. We must say something. We have to stop the business of halal meat. Anyone who saw the sheep being killed on television would never eat halal meat. It is just not, and should not be, acceptable. We have worked so hard to improve the position of women, and to do what we can for animals. Why should we allow anybody who comes to this country voluntarily to do that? It is not right.

Lord Sheikh (Con): Before the noble Baroness sits down, where does she get the information that women are not allowed in mosques?

Baroness Flather: I am happy to have a debate with the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh. Women do not pray in mosques.

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7.41 pm

Lord Popat (Con): My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Berridge on securing this important and timely debate.

Britain is a beacon of light for millions of people around the globe. People come here—and many more want to—because our country upholds values that appeal to people of every race, creed and faith. Britain is a free and fair country. We have the rule of law, stability and democracy. We are a tolerant nation where religious freedom is valued and discrimination outlawed. We are a nation of opportunities: if you are willing to work hard and take opportunities, nobody will stand in your way.

My favourite speech to make when I am invited to events is centred around that list: what Britain means to us, how it has given those of us fortunate to move here so many opportunities. It is perhaps a reminder that the reverse of this Question for Short Debate—what contribution the United Kingdom has made to Britain’s ethnic minorities—is something we should also remember. Indeed, as someone who arrived here as a refugee and who feels that he owes this country more than can ever be repaid, I feel that it is particularly important that we acknowledge that there is another side of this debate.

At a time when immigration, identity and faith are never far from our minds, it is vital that we state clearly that this is not a one-way street: that the values of this country have allowed Britain’s ethnic minorities and many faith communities to prosper. Those who abuse our values and tolerance, such as the individuals who have travelled to Syria in support of murderous terrorists, should lose their rights in this nation. British citizenship is a privilege that comes with responsibilities, ones that the overwhelming majority of minorities in this country take very seriously. I ask the Minister to encourage the Home Secretary to go further than the powers afforded to her office through the Immigration Act 2014 and ensure that those individuals have their citizenship revoked. It is incumbent on all of us who love this nation to express its rich history and encourage the continued upholding of its values. That way, our national identity will continue to thrive.

My faith is an integral part of who I am. I am particularly proud that, at my urging, the Hindu Forum adopted the slogan, “Proud to be British and proud to be Hindu”, a few years ago. I felt that that was a strong statement of our modern identity: our faith is important, but is secondary to the place we call home.

My faith and my patriotism are mutually beneficial. The only time I have ever experienced a conflict was during consideration in your Lordships’ House last year of an amendment adding caste discrimination to a list of discriminatory factors under the Equality Act 2010. This was a hugely unpopular move in the British Hindu community. Caste is an outdated notion that has been left behind by the vast majority of our community. It was a rare moment in this House when division was favoured over unity.

I have also been privileged to have been involved in a number of interfaith organisations. This work has allowed me to appreciate the commonalities our faiths have. The increasing role that so many faith communities

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play in caring for the elderly, the sick and the disadvantaged is as inspirational as it is essential. The most pleasing element of that interfaith work has been the realisation that we all share a passion for British values. When researching this debate, I was drawn, as I so often am, to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks. During his brilliant speech in September 2011, he suggested that,

“all Britain’s faith communities should be invited to make a voluntary covenant with Britain articulating our responsibilities to others and to the nation as a whole, so that we can be true to our faith while being a blessing to others regardless of theirs”.—[

Official Report

, 8/9/2011; col. 476.]

The idea has stayed with me since I first heard it. It is simple and yet profoundly important. I very much encourage our faith communities and the Government to work together on such a covenant: it would be a tremendous statement about modern Britain.

The greatest contribution that Britain’s ethnic minorities and faith communities have made and can make is embracing the values that have helped this nation to prosper for centuries. We all have to play a role in upholding the values that made the country so appealing to us in the first place.

7.47 pm

Lord Touhig (Lab): My Lords, this is a timely debate, because it provides us with the opportunity to put on record the immense contribution that ethnic minorities make to faith communities and to our society more widely. In a climate where public attitudes towards migration and even asylum are often distorted by misinformation or negative stereotypes, it is more important than ever that we acknowledge the extent to which ethnic minorities enrich this country.

I shall focus my comments on the Catholic community, which is one of the most ethnically diverse faith groups. Given that more than one quarter of Britain’s 5 million Catholics are from minority ethnic backgrounds, it is hardly surprising that they play such a prominent role in the church’s education and social action work. Many noble Lords will be aware that the Catholic Church is responsible for 10% of schools throughout England and Wales, educating more than 800,000 pupils at any one time. Those schools play a particularly significant role in serving the most deprived areas, while consistently outperforming national standards in both Ofsted inspections and examination results. Perhaps less well known is that almost one in five teachers in Catholic schools is from an ethnic minority background, a higher than average proportion across the education sector as a whole.

Catholic schools also have a long and positive record of supporting the integration of new migrant populations into local communities. Similarly, ethnic minorities play a prominent role in the country’s many Catholic charities. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are helped by food banks, shelters, children’s centres, advice centres or youth projects linked to the church. Often, the staff and volunteers belong to minority communities and in many cases are first-generation migrants or refugees. The Cardinal Hume Centre, not far from this House, which I know well having worked in the charity shop and in the programme

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teaching people to read, provides support to homeless young people and families in poverty. It is a fantastic demonstration of the difference ethnic minority volunteers and staff can make to the lives of those in need. For example, over half the volunteers in the centre’s assessment team are from ethnic minorities. Their understanding of the cultural and social needs of different client groups greatly enhances their work providing advice or support to 100 new people every month. The wider range of languages in which services can now be offered has proved especially valuable. A Spanish volunteer is now able to support clients from the Latin American community, and a newly recruited Arabic-speaking volunteer is currently helping the centre’s work with increased numbers of clients from countries like Syria.

It is worth giving a specific mention to the church’s work tackling the abhorrent practice of modern slavery. Through the Bakhita initiative—named after a Christian saint who was herself trafficked—the church is delivering education and training. It is raising public awareness, providing supported accommodation for victims, and assisting those who wish to return home voluntarily. An international alliance has been established under the leadership of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and Cardinal Vincent Nichols to co-ordinate efforts between the church and law enforcement agencies on prevention, pastoral care and reintegration. All of this work is considerably enhanced by the involvement of minority communities and ethnic chaplaincies, which are often at the forefront of identifying, supporting and rehabilitating victims.

The church’s annual migrant Mass takes place across the river at St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark on the feast of St. Joseph the worker, 1 May. It marks the significant contribution of migrant and minority workers in our businesses and public services. It is fitting that the church’s own work providing high quality education and caring for the most vulnerable in our society is also made possible by the contribution of ethnic minority communities. I hope that the Minister will have the opportunity to acknowledge this when she responds.

7.51 pm

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I recently spoke in your Lordships’ House on issues currently facing British Muslim communities following Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech. I briefly touched on the positive contributions made by Muslims in the United Kingdom. I shall expand on this. I am chairman of four companies. I am also the president of the Conservative Muslim Forum and have been involved extensively in both community and charitable work. My thoughts reflect my own experiences and findings.

My glorious religion has been hijacked by a tiny minority who are totally distorting the image of Islam and understanding of Islam. Unfortunately, as a result the entire Muslim community is in some circles tarred with the same brush. There are over 3 million Muslims in the United Kingdom and they have contributed significantly in all walks of life. We are currently commemorating the centenary of the First World War. Over 400,000 Muslims fought in the war. The first Victoria Cross awarded to a non-white person went to a Muslim named Khudadad Khan. I invited

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his grandson to an event that I hosted recently. Muslims also took part in the Second World War. This includes members of my own family. Muslims have therefore been actively involved in loyally serving the King and the Empire.

I am the joint treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces and very close to the Armed Forces Muslim Association. Muslims are represented in all three services of our Armed Forces. They have held and continue to hold senior positions, and include one rear-admiral, two group captains and a lieutenant-colonel.

I am co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamic Finance and Diversity in Financial Markets and a patron of the Islamic Finance Council UK. The United Kingdom has the biggest centre for Islamic finance outside the Muslim world. The UK’s Sharia-compliant assets exceed £20 billion. The Islamic finance industry therefore generates considerable revenue for the country and provides employment. It also gives us a high standing in the enormous and growing market for Islamic finance across the world.

I am co-president of the British Curry Catering Industry All-Party Parliamentary Group and a vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bangladesh. There are over 12,000 British Bangladeshi restaurants and takeaway places in the United Kingdom. This curry industry, owned mainly by Muslims, employs over 100,000 people and has an annual turnover of nearly £5 billion.

There have been great Muslim dynasties, notably the Umayyad and the Abbasid. Muslims at that time led the world in various fields, including mathematics, science, astronomy and medical knowledge. These attributes are in the DNA of Muslims. There are now a significant number of Muslim doctors who work in the United Kingdom and make a valuable contribution to the health and well-being of the country. Also, many Muslims are successful bankers and accountants. My own brother qualified as a chartered accountant and was very successful in his field. Muslims have also done well on the sports field. There are a number who have excelled, including Mo Farah in athletics, Moeen Ali in cricket and Amir Khan in boxing. We also have successful Muslim media figures, such as Mishal Husain, Asad Ahmad and Mehdi Hasan.

When I became a Member of your Lordships’ House, I took the title of Baron Sheikh, of Cornhill in the City of London, because of my strong connections with the City. I have met many Muslim entrepreneurs who have created thriving businesses. They have generated income for the country, provided employment and furthered our trade. There is also wider Muslim representation in both your Lordships’ House and in the other place. There has recently been a fresh intake following the general election.

Some 33% of Muslims are aged 15 years or under. This youthful population is a strategic asset at a time of an ageing population and will be economically active in the future labour market. Encouragingly, 73% of Muslims here state that their only national identity is British. I hope and believe that the Muslim community will continue to play a significant part in our country’s future.

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The speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, was in some parts unfair and irrelevant, and will not help community cohesion in this country.

7.57 pm

Baroness Hollins (CB): My Lords, there is hardly a major religious community in the UK that does not embrace some kind of ethnic or racial diversity in its heart, and there are no ethnic minorities that have not given us one or all of doctors or academics, entrepreneurs or councillors, lawyers or soldiers, diplomats, nurses or volunteers. I want here to celebrate their contribution to health and social care, to comment on the diversity and contribution of the Catholic community and to bring to the House’s attention a new awards scheme for young people in faith communities with which I am associated.

The NHS is in many ways the most British of institutions, but it is also one of the most diverse and global institutions rooted in British soil. In 2004, Mary Seacole was voted the greatest black Briton for her work in caring for soldiers during the Crimean War. Less recognised were the Irish Sisters who joined Florence Nightingale’s team as nurses, so enabling another pioneer of British healthcare to take her first groundbreaking steps. The noble Lord, Lord Suri, referred to the high proportion of NHS staff from ethnic minorities. I would add that in one recent survey 11% of all NHS staff were recorded as being nationals of a country other than Britain. The British Medical Association, of which I am a past president, believes that without that distinctive contribution, especially from Commonwealth countries, the health service would struggle. So in its origins and in its present reality, our healthcare system is one part of our national life into which minority communities have been truly welcomed and in which they have thrived and contributed out of all proportion to their number in our wider society.

The British Catholic community has had to explore and manage the interface between ethnicity and religious belonging in communities across the country, perhaps more than most. Grounded in mass Irish immigration, the community’s numbers rose in the 19th and 20th centuries. The history of our great cities and social reform movements cannot be written without recognising its huge contribution to social welfare and city leadership.

These new Irish arrivals often built schools before churches and founded charities to relieve need, irrespective of their recipients’ religious background. Many of today’s charities, described by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, are fruits of that tradition. There is hardly a department of state that is not working in some way, every day, with an institution or charity of the Catholic community. Today, that community is even more diverse, including the Filipino nurses gathered at Mass while resting from their service in the NHS, and the busy Polish congregations which act as mini labour exchanges for those seeking work.

In many parts of the UK, it is a mainstream experience to find local Catholic churches whose origins and ethnicities include those of over 80 nationalities. In

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Southampton, the church launched a groundbreaking welcome project for migrants, co-funded by the local authority and widely respected as an adviser to other agencies across the central south, and there are many other examples.

Last week, in Leicester Square, I had the honour of hosting the first ever national Celebrating Young People awards, which recognise the contribution of young people associated with our Catholic communities, from all faiths and none. I was delighted that Cardinal Nichols was able to join us to recognise and reward the overall winner with the Pope Francis award. The awards, created by the charity Million Minutes, had invited nominations and applications from across the country of young people who have contributed to building up their local communities. From hundreds of applications, the category winners were as diverse as our nation. They included a young woman in remission from leukaemia from Leicester who had become a campaigner for bone marrow donors, a psychiatric nurse from south Wales volunteering with young people at risk, and a pioneer of anti-homophobic bullying education. I was especially pleased that among the winners were those of south Asian and African heritage and those from a variety of religious traditions other than Christianity. Welcoming the young people to tea here in the House before the ceremony, one could only admire the young Muslim students who were fasting for Ramadan on the hottest day in decades. Their work to build common community bonds, one in a Catholic school, the other at Exeter University, was even more admirable.

In the coming year, these awards will be launched on a bigger scale thanks to a strategic partnership between St Mary’s University in Twickenham and Million Minutes made possible by the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s innovation fund. I am sure that the organisers would welcome interest and support from the Minister and her officials at the DCLG. Our hope is that together we can develop a shared civic life in which all—especially the most vulnerable among us—may flourish. Young people, such as those recognised by the Celebrating Young People awards, must be at the core of that task.

8.02 pm

Baroness Eaton (Con): My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Berridge has secured this debate today on such an interesting and important topic. As many of us will have observed on the doorsteps while we were involved in the recent general election, the issue of immigration creates many reactions, not always positive. I feel that my life has been greatly enhanced by coming from a major metropolitan district that can truly be described as cosmopolitan. Bradford has welcomed immigrants from all over the world since the time of the Huguenots. The city experienced significant levels of immigration throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. As a very small schoolgirl, I remember looking with admiration at many of the older girls in my school with names that sounded very exotic. Many were from behind the Iron Curtain in what we called the captive nations including Latvia and Lithuania. My father explained to me the dreadful life and trouble that they had all gone through to come to this country—something that has always remained with me.

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This debate is about contributions made by immigrants to both faith communities and public institutions. The Jewish community in Bradford has been an excellent example of an immigrant community that did precisely that. Jews started coming to Bradford in the 1830s to help build what was first a borough and then a city into the wool capital of the world. In 1850, more than £40 million-worth of textiles, which is an enormous amount in today’s value, was exported by the Jewish merchants.

Among the early settlers, was Jacob Behrens, born in 1806, who came to Bradford in 1838. He was knighted in 1882 and said:

“Who would have thought it possible that now just fifty years after I stepped ashore on English soil at Hull, a foreigner and a Jew, I should be deemed worthy of the offer of a knighthood by the Queen’s government?”.

His firm, the Sir Jacob Behrens Group, still exists today. Jacob Behrens was the founder of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce along with Jacob Unna, born in 1800 in Hamburg, who came to Bradford in 1846, having previously lived in Manchester and Leeds. Unna was greatly involved in the life of Bradford, becoming a magistrate and deputy lieutenant of West Yorkshire. Among his descendants was the actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft.

Bradford became a borough in 1847. As early as 1863, Charles Joseph Semon, a German Jew born in Danzig and a textile merchant, became the first Jewish mayor of Bradford. He was followed by three Jewish mayors—Jacob Moser in 1910, David Black in 1958 and Olive Messer in 1984. Bradford Chamber of Commerce, Bradford College, Bradford Royal Infirmary and Bradford Central Library are just a few of the services that we use today that enjoyed the financial support and promotional ploys of Mr Moser and other Jewish philanthropists like him.

In the period when there were problems in Russia, lots of Jews came to Bradford between 1880 and 1910. One particular family, the Stroud family, built a large textile manufacturing company with a Christian friend, Wynne Riley. He and Oswald Stroud had met as serving soldiers together in the First World War. During the Second World War, many of the young soldiers from Bradford came from the Jewish community.

The subject of immigration, as I said, is often sensitive and people sometimes feel threatened by those with lifestyles and languages unknown to them. If we are to live together in more harmonious communities, we need to work at it. Here I declare an interest as chairman of the charity Near Neighbours. Near Neighbours is all about bringing people together who are near neighbours in communities that are religiously and ethnically diverse, so that they get to know each other better, build relationships of trust and collaborate on initiatives that improve the local community. Near Neighbours has two key objectives—social interaction to develop positive relationships in multifaith areas, and social action to encourage people of different faiths and of no faith to come together for initiatives that improve their local neighbourhoods.

Many neighbourhoods in the United Kingdom have a number of different faith and ethnic communities living close to each other. Some of these communities rarely interact with one another and instead live parallel

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but separate lives. Such separation can lead to misunderstanding and a lack of trust or respect for each other. These are often areas of deprivation with people living there sharing common concerns for a better community, but despite this shared concern they do not come together to talk or act as much as they should. Near Neighbours brings people together, breaking down misunderstanding and developing trust to help change communities for the better. I am pleased to say that many immigrants from different faith groups through Near Neighbours now join together. Bradford continues to welcome immigrants from all over the world. Through the work of Near Neighbours, recently the Muslim community has supported the upkeep of the last synagogue in Bradford. That is surely a demonstration from both immigrant communities that they make a valued contribution to both faith communities and public institutions.

8.09 pm

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for tabling this Question for debate today. It gives the House the opportunity to debate the important and growing contribution made by Britain’s ethnic minorities to faith communities and public institutions in the United Kingdom.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, said, approximately 8 million people, or 14% of the UK population, belong to an ethnic minority. Most of these communities live in urban areas but I was surprised to learn that half of them live in three cities in the UK, namely Greater London, Greater Birmingham and Greater Manchester. The noble Baroness is right: Leicester is already a majority ethnic minority city. It is also true that, for the BME community as a whole, faith plays an important part in the lives of a considerably greater proportion than it does for the white population of this country. Faith groups and local authorities show one of the very fruitful ways that faith communities and public institutions work together. The contributions made by faith groups to their local communities are varied—from working as street pastors to running food banks, providing debt advice or credit unions and caring for elderly and young people.

Ensuring good community relations or helping to improve community relations is one of the many ways in which ethnic minorities working with and in faith groups have been able to improve situations locally. Although there has always been room for improvement in the interaction between faith communities and local authorities, there appears to be no evidence that faith groups that look to provide caring services seek to do so only wholly within or exclusively for their own community. To improve the situation further, work needs to be undertaken jointly to get over these concerns and to build greater understanding and trust so that there is confidence on the ground. In particular, where it is proposed that services be provided by faith groups, maybe they should work together and be encouraged so that different organisations work together to tackle problems that they all share as a community.

Considerably more work needs to be done to get ethnic minorities elected to public authorities or Parliament and appointed to public bodies through the appointments

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process, although recently politicians have been elected and appointments made from ethnic minorities in far greater numbers. That is welcome.

We must never forget the contribution, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, of the service men and women from the Commonwealth. They came and fought and died for this country over many years in numerous conflicts. I hope that, while we are commemorating the First World War over the next few years, we ensure that the sacrifice of people from the Commonwealth is properly recognised in those commemorations.

It is always a pleasure to speak in a debate with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. I agree with his contribution today, particularly on getting members of ethnic minorities into leadership roles in the church. As the right reverend Prelate said, one area of public service that has had a much greater proportion of people from ethnic minorities working in it is the National Health Service. The NHS staff census showed that 41% of hospital and community doctors are from ethnic minorities, along with 20% of all qualified nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff. The NHS is a wonderful institution and we have reason to be thankful for the care it provides for us all. We would all want not to be without it. However, without the contribution from the ethnic minority population, it would be unable to cope with the pressures every day in hospitals and other NHS institutions. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, made very important points regarding HIV and sexual health plans. Those are things that need to be addressed.

My noble friend Lord Touhig spoke about the contribution of Catholic education. As someone who was a beneficiary of that system, attending St Joseph’s Camberwell and St Thomas the Apostle secondary school in Peckham, I very much agree with his comments. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, about the contribution of the Irish community and the Catholic community to this country.

In conclusion, I hope I can say to the right reverend Prelate that maybe a future debate will include all the Southwarks in the current House, representing every Bench. I again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for tabling the Question for today. She should be very encouraged by the response. I think we could have gone on for at least another hour if we had had more time.

8.13 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con): My Lords, I add to the comments from other noble Lords thanking my noble friend Lady Berridge for securing this debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I think we could have gone on for at least another hour and brought so many things into it.

It is a particularly poignant day to discuss this issue because we remembered today in Westminster Abbey the anniversary of the atrocities in Srebrenica in Bosnia. This atrocity, against predominantly Muslim Bosnians, is a reminder that hate should not be tolerated in any

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of its ugly guises. That event was all the more shocking for the speed at which it gathered pace and the horrors that unfolded because of it. The UK is leading the way in commemorating this atrocity with a series of events across the country including the service today. I am very pleased that today the Prime Minister also announced a further £1.2 million of funding for the Remembering Srebrenica charity.

Britain is multiethnic and it is multifaith. According to the 2011 census, some 12% of the population of the UK identify as belonging to an ethnic minority. Members of the UK’s ethnic minority communities, including the many different communities of African, Caribbean and Asian descent, have made an enormous contribution to the UK’s social, economic and cultural life, including to our public institutions. They have also made an enormous contribution to our faith communities, and the Government recognise this.

Faith is a powerful force motivating millions of people to do good in their local communities. Faith communities play a valuable role in British society. They provide hope and encouragement to their adherents, they strengthen local communities and they contribute to the well-being of their neighbours. At this point I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend Lady Eaton does in the Near Neighbours project. I visited a Near Neighbours project and was very impressed by the positive contribution it makes, not only across faiths but across ages and different communities and the benefit that it brings to those communities.

Many faith groups are the heartbeat of communities up and down the country, providing comfort to those who feel isolated, responding in times of trouble to relieve hardship and building communities of trust so that people respect each other. At this point I applaud the generosity and social-minded spirit of our Dharmic faith communities. The temples and the Gurdwaras across the country regularly throw open their doors to offer meals to those in need. I also welcome the commitment among many Christian groups to social action. This includes the black majority churches that do excellent work providing welfare services for the elderly and for ex-offenders. I am sure that the whole House looks forward to welcoming the first female Lords Spiritual in the autumn. I also commend the work of the Church of England’s Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns on the subject of diversity in church leadership and I warmly welcome the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark this evening.

A few noble Lords talked on the subject of Muslim marriage and a Muslim marriage working group, co-ordinated by the Ministry of Justice, has been looking at how best to promote awareness of religious-only marriages and the benefit of having a marriage that is legally contracted. The Government are looking at ways of communicating this benefit to those Muslim women who might be unaware of their rights under English civil and family law. Both my noble friend Lady Berridge, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, talked about the lack of mosques registered for marriage and the mention of a Law Commission marriage project. There are 263 mosques and other buildings where Muslim faith is practised which are registered for the solemnisation

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of marriages. The Law Commission is currently under- taking a preliminary scoping study to prepare the way for potential future reform of the law concerning marriage ceremonies and the commission is due to report by December.

The noble Baroness, Lady Flather also mentioned churches allowing first-cousin marriages and the resultant problems that can arise. I will just put it on the record that it is, in fact, against British law and against canon law to marry your first cousin.

Baroness Flather: I thought that it was the church which said you could marry first cousins and therefore it is in the law. These are first-cousin marriages on a large scale.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I can confirm that first-cousin marriages are against the law in this country and the church does not condone them—not any church that I know of, anyway.

Several noble Lords talked about public body appointments. BME police officers currently make up 5.2% of police officers nationally and 11% in the Metropolitan Police area. The police have worked hard to improve equality and diversity since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. More women and members of ethnic minorities have joined the service. But we are clear that there is more for forces to do. Our reforms will allow for faster progress on equality and diversity. Police and crime commissioners and the College of Policing will play a key role in ensuring improvements in police forces. New entry routes to policing, such as Direct Entry, Fast Track and Police Now are proving attractive and are increasing the diversity of the police workforce.

A couple of noble Lords talked about the National Health Service, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and the contribution that faith communities have made to it. NHS England and the NHS Equality and Diversity Council have overseen work to support employees from black and ethnic minority backgrounds in having equal access to career opportunities and receiving fair treatment in the workplace. The move follows recent reports that have highlighted disparities in the number of BME people in senior leadership positions across the NHS, as well as lower levels of well-being among the BME population.

A couple of noble Lords mentioned the contribution to the Armed Forces by the BME community. My noble friend Lord Sheikh and another noble Lord who I shall be reminded of shortly talked about how the first Victoria Cross to be awarded to a non-white was to a Muslim. We recognised VC recipients from across the Commonwealth back in March but I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work that they did in fighting for this country.

Turning to individual points that noble Lords have made, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, talked about the slightly contradictory role of faith—we come across this all the time—on one hand, helping; on the other hand, perhaps not helping so much. She talked about the NAZ project: how the faith communities have worked hand in glove with the HIV positive community and the very positive contribution they have made there.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, talked about how we have come such a long way. She talked about the sign that one would see on B&Bs many years ago—not in my lifetime, but in my parents’ lifetime—“No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”. If that was still in place today, neither she nor I could get into a bed and breakfast and we probably would not be in your Lordships’ House. That might be a good thing in my case but it certainly shows how much society has changed.

My noble friend Lord Popat talked about the freedom, the tolerance and the opportunities that this country has given him. It is always a joy to listen to him and hear just how proud he is to live in this country as a British citizen. He talked about the contribution of Britain’s ethnic minorities to business, and I could not agree more.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Flather, talked about strengthening faith institutions, including the response to child grooming claims. My department is considering applications for a strengthening faith institutions funding programme. The funding will be used to develop training materials and provide practical support to new and emerging faith institutions. This support will include safeguarding, best practice and signposting to important social and health services.

I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend Lord Sheikh does in promoting not only cohesion in this country but a number of other aspects of integration in society. He talked—very sensibly, I think—about the actions of the few not tainting the many among our faith communities. I think that is so true. He also paid tribute to the contributions of Muslims in both business and sport—Amir Khan and Mo Farah, among others—and the representation that we have now in both Houses of what is, in the Muslim community, a very young population. He is absolutely right about that. I wish him and other noble Lords a peaceful Ramadan and encourage everyone to visit their local mosque and share in the breaking of the fast as part of the Big Iftar. It is a very enjoyable event.

The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, talked about the education standards that Catholic schools provide and the great community role that they inarguably play. It is good to know where the Catholics are in this House—including the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I wondered how many Catholics were in this House when I arrived and it is good to identify them as time goes on. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, talked about the Cardinal Hume centre, which I would like to visit with him one day if I may.

My noble friend Lord Popat talked about the faith covenant. I note that idea. The Government welcome the contribution of Britain’s faith communities united in our shared appreciation for British values.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, asked about government support for the Million Minutes charity. I welcome the work that she referred to and would be very happy to meet with her.

Finally, my noble friend Lady Eaton talked about the contribution of the Jewish community, not just in the country but particularly in the metropolitan areas of the north. I very much enjoyed listening to her talking about the arrival of the Jewish people in the

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19th century, the Jewish merchants, Jacob Behrens and his knighthood, and their contribution to philanthropy —the sums she mentioned were incredible in those days. She also mentioned the soldiers in the First World War; she is the Member of your Lordships’ House to whom I was referring earlier.

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My Lords, I have gone over time which is not good. I thank again all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. In terms of the ethnic diversity of this country, it is not where we are from, it is where we are going.

House adjourned at 8.27 pm.