My Lords, I thank the Chief Whip’s office and the usual channels for allowing time for this most important debate.
Barely a month ago, my noble friend Lord Popat—who is not in his place at present—raised a question about what is being done to reassure Jewish communities about anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom. In that debate, we heard many powerful speeches from across this House that brought to light the palpable fear felt by Jewish communities. The message from this Chamber was clear: all Jewish people in the UK today are valued, they are welcome, and they will be protected whatever it takes. This is a message I reaffirm today.
Due to restrictions on our time, much was left unsaid that afternoon, so I am grateful that more time has been found to open up this discussion, not only on anti-Semitism, but more broadly to all religious intolerance and prejudice. A deep discussion of religious intolerance and persecution in our country is needed in the light of the increase in religiously motivated hatred. I regularly speak to and receive messages from people of all faiths. They tell me of their anxiety at being subjected to hatred in a country they call home and of which they are proud, at the hate directed towards them and at the persecution directed at other groups.
I recall the words of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is a pleasure to see him in his place and we eagerly await his contribution. In the debate on shared values and public policy priorities, he said,
“we need a more beautiful and better common narrative that shapes and inspires us with a common purpose”,
He warned that we must resist,
“the turn inward that will leave us alone in the darkness, despairing and vulnerable”.—[
I could not agree more, and I begin to see this better common narrative realised in Near Neighbours projects up and down the country, led by people of all faiths and none. These projects seek to highlight the values that bind our society together to invigorate and develop their local areas—values such as freedom of expression and freedom of worship, democracy, equal opportunity and the rule of law. I want to make absolutely clear, as I have stated many times before: any abuse directed at someone because of their religion, race, sexual orientation, disability or because they are transgender, is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The Government will do whatever it takes to unite our country around these values and to confront those who would deny our fellow countrymen and women these freedoms. These values are fundamental and anyone who spreads intolerance or hatred shames themselves and places themselves outside of our society.
This message is timely as we mark National Hate Crime Awareness Week. It is a moment to highlight the challenges we still face. This morning I visited Greenwich Islamic Centre to meet a group of young black Christians and Muslims. I heard first hand their experiences and how they feel we can all do more to improve opportunities and challenge hatred, to tackle Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and to seek to build an inclusive and united Britain around these values.
It is also a moment to listen and learn from the tremendous work of people standing up against hatred across the country. Last month, I was privileged to attend the national No2H8 Crime Awards, which brought together hundreds of activists working to combat hate—many of them partners with the Government and with each other. The importance of this particular awards ceremony has grown over the years.
I was particularly inspired by the winners of their Young Upstander Awards: Siena Castellon, who campaigns against bullying of people with disabilities and particularly highlights hidden disabilities; Rory McGuire, who works to combat hatred directed at people with facial disfigurements; and Ahmad Nawaz, who campaigns against religious intolerance following his experience of being attacked by the Taliban, losing family and being himself badly injured. These stories are but a few examples of the incredible people and organisations honoured that evening. They remind us that the only way to respond to hatred and intolerance is to call it out and stop it.
That is true of government too. We are utterly committed to challenging and condemning religious intolerance and persecution in all forms. We stand half way through the four-year hate crime action plan, and this week we released our refresh of the plan, which is an important opportunity to take stock of progress made. We now have a strong legal framework in place. There are criminal penalties for offences such as incitement to racial, religious or sexual orientation hatred, and racially or religiously aggravated offences such as intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress. We have increased sentences for offences motivated by prejudice, hostility, or prejudice based on a person’s real or perceived race, religion, transgender identity, sexual orientation or disability.
Our work with the cross-government working groups to tackle anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia also continues at pace. The feedback from these groups and from round tables with members of Sikh communities has been invaluable. We have also continued to collaborate with a range of partners such as the Anne Frank Trust; Streetwise’s Stand Up! Programme; True Vision, the police hate crime reporting portal; Tell MAMA and Remembering Srebrenica.
But the renewal and refreshing of our hate crime action plan is also the right moment to look ahead to the next two years of the plan. If the last two years are anything to go by, we have the potential to achieve a lot. We have achieved much better reporting of hate crime, which is one reason—not the only one—why the incidence of reported hate crime has gone up. We have had success in encouraging the reporting of hate crime, and it is important to know that.
We have asked the Law Commission to review the coverage and approach of current hate crime legislative provision. We must be clear: when someone has perpetrated a hate crime, they will be held accountable for it. Later this year, we will launch a wide-ranging national hate crime public awareness campaign publicly to address hate crime. The refresh commits us to updating the True Vision website to make it easier to use and to ensure it remains the key central platform for all hate crime reporting. We are working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to provide hate crime training for all call handlers in order to ensure an appropriate response from the first contact, and we are creating the challenging hate crime support group—a network of organisations who share resources, skills and best practice.
Sadly, security remains a key concern. The Government have already provided over £2.4 million to increase security provisions for vulnerable places of worship, and in the refresh we have committed further resource for this purpose, to be released next year. That has been welcomed by faith communities up and down the country. It ensures that we are alive to community concerns and able to respond quickly and strongly when incidents occur. The need for this was sadly illustrated by the recent incident in Cricklewood, where Islamophobic abuse was directed at worshippers attending a lecture series for Ashura, before people were injured, some of them seriously. But the response was exemplary. We were quickly in contact with communities and condemned the incident, and the police offered their support and presence for remaining lectures. We will do whatever is needed to protect all our communities.
Our message must be that there is no place for hate in our society, and that is equally true of online hate. Last December, with others I hosted a ministerial round table which brought together social media and technology companies with community stakeholders to consider how hateful narratives are able to spread online and, crucially, what can be done to prevent it. These conversations are ongoing and will be reflected in the forthcoming White Paper on online harms. A number of different aspects of government work will be brought together to make industry take responsibility for harms, including using technology to improve user safety, supporting users to increase their own digital resilience, and outlining what direct action the Government can take to address online harms.
I am mindful that these challenges cross borders. Our work, naturally, has a number of international dimensions, notably the promotion of freedom of religion or belief around the world, including in Commonwealth countries. I pay tribute to what my noble friend Lord Ahmad is doing in this regard. We actively defend and promote this right on a number of fronts. We lobby Governments for changes in laws and practices that discriminate against individuals on the basis of their religion or belief. We raise individual cases of persecution with relevant authorities in other countries. Multilaterally, we work through the United Nations and the Commonwealth, and there are important lessons to be learned, not least from attacks on Coptic Christians.
Through this international work, there are a number of lessons we can learn. I was personally reminded of this on a recent visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I visited the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the victims of the 1995 genocide. With the Mothers of Srebrenica I laid a wreath in memory of those cruelly killed. Speaking to them afterwards renewed my conviction that we cannot tackle today’s problems without learning from the horrors of the past. In that spirit we are supporting the creation of a national memorial to the Holocaust here at home. Leading British architect Sir David Adjaye has been appointed to design the memorial and learning centre. The ambition is create a world-class memorial in an iconic location, making a bold statement about the importance Britain places on preserving the dreadful memory of the Holocaust. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, a charity set up by the Government, runs events and programming for Holocaust Memorial Day both locally and nationally, with government funding. We are committed to ensuring that these awful histories, alongside the horrors of the Rwandan genocide, from which we mark the passage of 25 years next year, the Cambodian genocide and the genocide in Darfur are never forgotten and never repeated—not to mention current challenges such as the Rohingya situation.
In 2017, over 11,000 activities took place around the country to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. It is a real tribute to our communities, and the incredible contribution that people of faith make to their local communities is something I have been honoured to witness first hand. During my recent faith tour I visited the Khizra Mosque in Manchester for a big iftar during Ramadan, where people from local communities, including those of Jewish and Christian faith, joined worshippers at the mosque to break their fast. The mosque opened its doors on the night of the appalling attack at the Manchester Arena, providing a drop-off centre for emergency services and shelter for victims in need of a safe place. Islam at its best—our country at its best. I have also been inspired by the range of faith-based social action projects developing their local neighbourhoods and creating connections across different faith groups. Jewish-led Mitzvah Day, Sikh-led Sewa Day and Muslim-led Sadaqa Day all reinforce one another, and throughout the year find a network of social activism with our faith communities at the front.
Indeed, engagement between faith communities is growing. It is one of our strongest defences against intolerance and persecution. I was also privileged to learn about the twinning arrangement between St Philip’s Church in Southwark and the Old Kent Road Mosque on this faith tour, and to see it in action. The church-mosque twinning programme is an excellent example of interfaith in action. It was clear to me from my visit that twinning has helped the relationship between the mosque and local clergy to move from initial contact, through dialogue, towards real mutual support and friendship.
In his contribution in response to my noble friend Lord Popat’s question on anti-Semitism, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham made the distinction between talking about people and talking with them. He said that this was the only way properly to challenge prejudice and intolerance. He is right. I once again call on everyone, whether they are a member of a faith community or not, to visit their local synagogue, mosque, gurdwara, church and temple. Let them know that you stand with them in good times and difficult times. When people from different backgrounds have the opportunity to mix socially and get to know one another, it breaks down the walls on which intolerance creeps and grows. Enter with an open mind and an open heart to hear about their traditions, and their hopes, and share yours with them. I encourage our places of worship to keep their doors open, reaching out to your local neighbourhoods with everything that they have to offer.
It is when we feel the most challenged, and the most afraid, that these encounters are at their most valuable. We must all challenge anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, discrimination against Sikhs, against Hindus—against any racial group—wherever it exists. I am proud of my country, a rich and diverse country which confronts religious hatred and bigotry and must always do so. We must all be of that opinion and act accordingly: government, opposition, institutions and individuals. That is the British tradition. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sure all Members present would wish to endorse the Minister’s final calls at the end of his wide-ranging speech.
We have grown used to pogroms against minorities at various stages in our history as a country: against Jews intermittently and sometimes continuously over the millennia; against the Irish in the nineteenth century; against Jews again in the 1930s; against black and Asian Britons from the late 1950s until today; and against Muslims in the first two decades of this century. But what is entirely novel today is a toxic convergence of attacks on Jewish, black and Muslim British citizens all at the same time. I am not aware of any period in our history when this has occurred before. It is deadly serious, with many of our citizens living in fear or terror simply because of their religion, race or skin colour. This is not just scandalous, it is criminal.
Let us touch on the sheer scale of the problem, turning first to attacks on Jews and synagogues. The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain reached the highest level on record last year, including a 34% increase in the number of violent assaults, according to the Community Security Trust. It stated that in 2017 there were nine incidents involving the,
“desecrations of, or anti-Semitic damage to, synagogues”,
in the UK. In the previous year, there were 11 such incidents. The most recent CST report for the period from January to June 2018 states:
“There were 43 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property recorded by CST in the first six months of 2018 … Three of the incidents in this category in the first half of 2018 involved the desecration of Jewish gravestones, eight affected synagogue buildings and 18 happened at people’s homes. All involved some element of anti-Semitic targeting, language or imagery in order to be recorded as anti-Semitic by CST”.
There have been other attacks on Jewish citizens, including on fellow parliamentarians; notably, Luciana Berger MP has been subject to abuse, intimidation and attacks of the vilest kind, not just by fascists, but, I am ashamed to say by a tiny hard-left sect comprising members of the Labour Party backed up by the far left outside. One shouted “traitor” at me when I attended the “Stand Up to Anti-Semitism” rally in Parliament Square in the summer. These people seem to imagine they are promoting Palestinian rights by such attacks; as a robust supporter of justice for the Palestinians since the early 1970s, I can tell them flatly that they are damaging, not enhancing, that vital cause—a message that my party leader might heed as well.
Ironically, the Labour Party has long allied itself with our Jewish citizens and it is the Tory Party that has over the decades given shelter to anti-Semites. Today, as brave Conservative Peers, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, have pointed out, the Tory Party remains riddled with Islamophobia, and some Tories work with UKIP figures such as Nigel Farage and Trump supporters such as Steve Bannon, who have helped create a climate of fear for Muslims.
As European Parliament Member Claude Moraes wrote in the Guardian in June after about 15,000 supporters of Tommy Robinson, the fascist former leader of the English Defence League, had marched in London:
“Make no mistake, this is an attempt to build an ‘alt-right’, pro-Trump movement in Britain. Saturday’s demo included chants of ‘Make Britain Great Again’”.
That march was organised by a former editor-in-chief of Bannon’s Breitbart, and an ex-EDL deputy leader; it was backed by Bannon, with forces to the right of the Conservative Party in Britain from UKIP as well as ex-BNP and National Front supporters and the Football Lads Alliance.
Then there are the attacks on Muslims and mosques. The latest report of the organisation Tell MAMA—Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks—recorded a total of 1,330 reports of Islamophobic attacks in the United Kingdom in 2017, representing a 30% rise when compared to the previous reporting period. In the same year, Tell MAMA recorded 54 incidents that were,
“perpetrated against mosques, Islamic schools and Islamic cultural centres. They include Islamophobic graffiti, threatening letters, the dumping of pork products outside a building, or interpersonal attacks against people attending a mosque”.
Turning to racist activity, in 2017-18, 94,098 hate crime offences were recorded by the police in England and Wales, an increase of 17% on the previous year. Of these, the great bulk—71,251, or 76%—were race hate crimes and 8,336, or 9%, were religious hate crimes. A lot of this extremism is being orchestrated by, or follows the activity of, far-right groups, such as the racist fascist English Defence League and the Football Lads Alliance, as well as, now, the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, or DFLA—a contradiction in terms, I would think—set up in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack in 2017, which has been supported by Tommy Robinson.
“rapidly radicalised over the internet by those determined to spread hatred of Muslims”.
Evidence showed that he was infatuated with Tommy Robinson and the Nazi-like Britain First organisation.
Then there is Britain’s Young Right Society, run by a Breitbart journalist who is an associate of Trump adviser Steve Bannon. HOPE not hate revealed that the group was “frequently awash with appalling racist” content, white supremacy, jokes about the Holocaust and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. It was also used to organise the members for events. Because it was formed secretly, it was exposed only when one member alerted HOPE not hate to its existence.
Let us take just a few recent examples of the effect in our communities of these groups’ extremist activities of religious persecution. A mosque and a Sikh gurdwara in Leeds were attacked in the early hours of a Tuesday morning in early June in what police treated as hate crimes. The assaults followed a march in Leeds the previous Friday in defence of jailed fascist and anti-Muslim extremist Tommy Robinson, who has a long record of far-right activity, criminality and violence. Police said the main door at Jamia Masjid Abu Huraira Mosque in Beeston, Leeds, was deliberately set on fire at around 3.30 am. Police were called to the nearby gurdwara in Beeston, at around 4.20 am, after someone had set the door on fire. Councillor Gohar Almas, a local Labour councillor was reported as saying:
“Somebody tried to set the mosque and the gurdwara alight. The mosque is bang opposite a primary school. What kind of message is this sending to the children?”
One person at the gurdwara spoke of a “sentiment of fear” among people following the attacks, especially the half dozen who live in the gurdwara, including two elderly couples. A volunteer at the gurdwara told “Leeds Live”:
“It is a big concern. I have got sadness with me. This is something which should never have happened”.
Rafaqat Ali from the mosque told local media that he was “upset and shocked”. Another mosque member added, “My kids go there and are scared now, because of this attack”.
The timing was significant—this is a point I want to emphasise—because these attacks followed Tommy Robinson’s supporters demonstrating in Leeds after he was jailed for breaching a court order. Various fascists had organised protests to defend his so-called free speech. However, as local councillor Gohar Almas said, allowing Nazis free speech is dangerous. He said that the only thing that should not be tolerated is intolerance; spreading hate speech, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and homophobia should not be tolerated. He added that the march by Tommy Robinson supporters had “absolutely” given racists more confidence. Gohar said, “We have fought this before. We are a united and resilient community—a community of communities. We are here to unite people, not divide people, and we will not let people divide us”. Let us send a message of solidarity to him and his mosque, and to other local religious institutions.
Only the other Saturday, fascist thugs blocked a bus on one of the roads next to Trafalgar Square because the driver was a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf. Video footage of the incident showed one of these thugs appearing to give the “Sieg Heil” salute toward the bus. A photo shows a topless man holding two fingers up to the bus driver through the glass. Others on this fascist mobilisation banged on the bus windows with “Free Tommy” placards or brandished ones reading “Britain Loves Trump”.
The point I wish to stress is this: violent attacks against our Muslim, Jewish and black citizens flow from far-right mobilisations and far-right activism as night follows day. There is an umbilical link between activity by racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic extremists and these sorts of vile attacks. Over the past year or so, the sheer scale of these far-right protests, and the numbers in attendance, is unprecedented.
In Manchester last year, 3,000 Tommy Robinson supporters were mobilised. On
When I helped launch the Anti-Nazi League in September 1977, it was to meet a growing threat, both on the streets and in elections, from the Nazi National Front. Working with Rock Against Racism to organise national carnivals and local gigs, but also by confronting the National Front whenever and wherever its members tried to march or rally, we eventually managed defeat it. Then, over 20 years later, the British National Party took its place, and again we had to mobilise to defeat it. However, the threat today of religious and racial persecution is far more insidious and dangerous.
Today’s threat is occurring right across Europe, against a backdrop of despair at neoliberal economic policies which generate massive job insecurity and hopelessness—the habitual fertile breeding ground for racism, fascism and anti-Semitism. From Germany to Greece, from Sweden to Switzerland, from Britain to Belgium, the far right is growing and succeeding, targeting immigrants and religious minorities—familiar scapegoats for collective government economic failure. It must not be allowed to succeed. We need a modern Keynesian alterative to rescue our communities from the austerity and misery of neoliberalism. As we saw so fatally in the 1930s, if that does not occur, persecution of religious and other minorities by racists, fascists, anti-Semites and Nazis will gain increasing traction.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and others who have made this useful and important debate possible. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hain, I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said. I agree also with the passionate and clear setting out by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, of the threats and incidents that have occurred in recent years. However, I want to focus more on religious intolerance and prejudice. If I have one concern, it is how we bring together religious tolerance, and stand against the kind of things the noble Lord, Lord Hain, spoke about, while maintaining freedom of speech.
In his book, The Home We Build Together, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, wrote:
“Society is not a house or a hotel. It should be a home”.
The rising tide of anti-Semitism, with which I am deeply familiar through work with the Chief Rabbi, and Islamophobia, which we in the Church are deeply familiar with through working with Muslim leaders across the country, are just two illustrations of the narrowing of those who feel truly at home in the UK today. This terrible, storm-ridden climate is affecting people across a whole range of religious traditions. We have just heard the noble Lord, Lord Hain, set out many of the incidents at temples and gurdwaras, the abuse of people in the street and so on.
Freedom of belief and freedom of speech are fragile plants that need to be intertwined if they are to flourish. They are both menaced by the chill that comes from constraining their expression, except when freedom of speech is promoting hatred. They easily wither, as I have found in many of our churches across the 165 countries of the Anglican communion. We stand against that, through the Commonwealth and the United Nations, but it is the call of religious leaders to bring them together and stand up for them.
Free speech may well be robust, even humorous, as I discovered recently, when a friend of Mr Blobby described me in terms that I cannot use in this House. More politely, I and those on these Benches are often described as those who believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden. That kind of bluntness is good and proper. However, for it to work, there must be a context of what the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, describes in his books as a “culture of civility”. Today’s multifaith society means that we live in a context of diverse religious practice. For some, this is welcome and enriching—I put myself among them—while others find it strange and threatening. Whatever your views on that, it is clear that debate in Britain across a range of issues risks losing the gains we have made in the post-war period: gains of civility and respect. If you watch the news, read a newspaper or go on social media—let alone stand up against right-wing, fascist and other extremist activity, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has done throughout his life—you will know that there is a notable absence of genuine dialogue and listening to different views.
I also wonder that, for all our rich Christian heritage in this country, as seen in our laws, practices and many of our values, the breadth of view which we tolerate has become less and less wide. There are many Christians with whom I disagree on the expression of their views in particular areas. There is a long history of Christians disagreeing with each other: Lambeth Palace has a prison for this. It has not been in recent use, although I am from time to time tempted. However, even where I disagree, I want to uphold the right of these people to say things that are neither fashionable nor conventional today. That has certainly been examined in the Supreme Court recently, through the Ashers case. Again, although there might be things in that case that I would question, it is a thoughtful, erudite and profound examination of the intertwining of freedom of belief and freedom of expression.
There is an attitude—I think this is the underlying issue we face—that there are no absolutes, except the statement that there are no absolutes. That is an absolute. We are told that to criticise that statement that there are no absolutes is, in fact, to be an extremist. Certainly, as a Christian who believes in the love of God found in Jesus Christ, I have what some people would call absolute views. But almost every day I meet people who do not share those views. I thank God for those encounters, and for the people themselves, who deepen and enrich my understanding.
Jesus criticised directly, bluntly and forcefully, and was criticised himself. He answered his critics, yet he loved them. It is the last bit that we are missing. Love in that context is not a warm and cuddly feeling. What it means in practice is accepting that the other has as valuable a place as me and is fully part of the national fabric. This may be what is behind the trouble that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, explained so carefully: the sense that the people who are attacked, diminished and marginalised are, in some way, not considered to be fully British. Anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, anti-Hindu, anti-Sikh or other attacks have as a presupposition that only “my sort of person” is welcome here. Those who attack them require not just integration but assimilation, so that no difference is seen, but clearly that is impossible and the prospect of it is diminishing. Most religious belief demands a loyalty beyond country or group—a loyalty to ultimate truth. It says there are absolutes, and we should rejoice at them and listen to the narrative. Competitive narratives encourage developing traditions, secular or sacred.
As a Christian, I am encouraged by the Bible to think of myself as a pilgrim and a stranger. That status calls me to the good of the place in which I live, of the nation where I am, determined to contribute to the common good and inspired by the commandment to love your neighbour as yourself. The same can be found in most of our major religious traditions in this country. That means that, for the Church of England, we will work for and on behalf of Christians, but equally, and without distinction, for those of other faiths or no faith, and especially for those who feel marginalised and under attack.
Many of the campaigns that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, listed have had strong participation by Christian leaders over the years. Religiously motivated hate crime, intolerance and prejudice have, as we know, been reported to have increased dramatically yet again. Of course there is a need for better security, and I welcome the announcement of more funding to this end from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. In the longer term, however, hate crime and extremism in religious affairs have to be resisted by religious leaders, and challenged within their own communities before their roots deepen. We cannot palm it off on others to deal with.
The Church of England seeks to act on this principle in church schools, some in areas with more than 90% intake each year from other faiths; in welcome through the Near Neighbours programme; and in interfaith gatherings at all levels, from local to national. My predecessor, Archbishop William Temple, and the then Chief Rabbi Hertz, founded the Council of Christians and Jews in 1942. It met last week; it continues and is more and more active. This support of other faiths is a part of our recent heritage in which we rejoice.
We must seek a society that is able to voice disagreement freely and to disagree well; where rich and deeply held beliefs and traditions can exist in mutual challenge and respect. Challenge may be tough, but limit it too much and freedom of expression suffers, and so, in the end, will freedom of belief. This is perhaps one of the most important and urgent challenges of our times. Competing narratives, whether religious or secular, test truth and action. Monopoly views, secular or religious, merely enable people to live in bubbles of mutual incomprehension, and even ignorance. Christian faith and values, or those of other faiths, are not threatened by diversity of faith, but by a failure of freedom of expression, provided it does not include incitement to hatred, however robustly used. It is in confidence in our civil discourse and in our free expression that we gain confidence in our faith, and in that mutual confidence among ourselves, confidence in this nation’s vocation in the world. This allows us to spread what we say and to exhibit what we proclaim, and, in so doing, to offer a framework within which all cultures and faiths can flourish for the common good.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has said, and in a way I have even longer experience than he has, we have never had it like this—in my experience never. This is fundamental, because it means that there are very powerful influences driving these people. What are these influences? I am not sure I know. I have been a professing Christian for many years, though I am nothing like as good as the standard our faith sets. I am convinced that the standards that we have been set in that faith are very high. As the most reverend Primate has mentioned, love your neighbour as yourself is a fundamental law of Christian living and of many other faiths as well.
I was brought up in a family that was absolutely devoted to the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. I therefore knew more about the intimate history of Israel than I did about any other nation apart from our own. That gave me an understanding of human nature, and of what the Israelites came through, and what damage they experienced during their history. Fixed in my mind—and, I am sure, in those of many others who had similar teaching—is a very profound love for the Jewish people.
Anti-Semitism is a very destructive principle held in the mind, and it would be a great blessing to be able to take it out of people’s minds. That is the challenge in which the churches, faith groups and those who have no faith at all but who believe that they are able to influence others should be engaged. Any form of victimisation of a person on account of his or her faith is completely wrong and ought to be pursued with as much strength as civil society and the state can manage.
This debate is about tolerance, and there are aspects of tolerance that we ought to think about. Your Lordships will have seen the briefing prepared by the Library for this debate. It contains a contribution by a gentleman called Krish Kandiah, whom I have met. He now takes a great interest in fostering children, which is a very important life work—he is a pastor as well, but fostering is an aspect of his life. In the passage quoted in the briefing he says:
“As a foster parent, I have been told by some social workers that I should keep my faith a secret. I have been asked to raise the children in my care in an ‘ideologically neutral environment’. The views of the social workers who say things like this have little understanding of my practice of faith. Their concerns stem from misperceptions as to what faith is and how it relates to my identity”.
Reducing the possibility of children being raised in families with a profound religious faith is a very subtle way of trying to reduce tolerance. I do not understand why that is part of tolerance.
An attitude that is currently generally held is that science has dealt with everything and that religion is rather old-fashioned or something that is apt to mislead. The prevailing view on the origin of the universe and so on has an effect in that direction. The fairly recent book by Professor Lennox from Oxford called God’s Undertaker is a very mathematical assessment of the basics of evolution, and I think it shows that there is more than one possibility in these matters. I am old enough to remember Fred Hoyle, Bondi and Gold bring out their various theories, which have passed on to others. Of course, Einstein had his theory of special relativity and then his theory of general relativity. His science is not exactly about the origin of the universe; it is about the way in which the universe functions, and his theories have been capable of being checked in some way, which is important. It is rather difficult to check the theories of cosmology because of the time intervals involved. It always interests me that people are willing to think about the big bang as having achieved a great change in a mighty short time, yet they think that Genesis tries to do too much in seven days.
These matters underpin the need for tolerance in our society and the need to encourage people with particular views of which we might not approve but which they wish to promulgate and really believe. It is very important that the procedure outlined for us by the Minister works, but it has to go very deep into the minds of those who are actuated by the sort of thing that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, set out for us in great detail and extremely accurately.
I strongly support what the Government are doing and I very much deplore the extent to which tolerance has been damaged by the victimisation of faith and race. In the last few years, that has become a terrible scandal in our beloved country.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for introducing this debate. It is indeed timely following the Home Office data published yesterday, which reported a steep rise in religious hate crime.
Such reports are never just about the welfare and health of one group; more fundamentally, they ask us what kind of society we wish to be. When it comes to religious tolerance, my community always knew exactly what kind of society this is and must be, and that knowledge is profoundly personal. As my name, Kestenbaum, indicates, home until the traumas of the 20th century was Germany. Leipzig and Frankfurt were our origins, and I distinctly remember listening to my grandmother’s recollections of our terrified family hiding under the bed on Kristallnacht on
As Europe was poised to exterminate its Jews, thereby committing the greatest crime in all history, my family fled for their lives and, after a circuitous route, arrived in Britain. It was here that as children we Jews learned that the blessing of this country is that it does not expect you to make a choice between loyalty to one’s faith and loyalty to the national interest, while both are pursued with dignity. We also learned one more thing: that when a society turns on its Jews—indeed, on any faith group—it is always a sign of wider ill health, as shown so graphically in yesterday’s report.
As the Minister said, paradoxically it is reports such as these that display not only the shameful aspects of our society but the best too, for in combating hate crimes Jews and Muslims have worked together in common cause, with joint endeavours around the security of synagogues and mosques, and, more positively, joint endeavours in education programmes in schools to combat religious prejudice.
Yet, despite all this, the Jewish community of Great Britain, my community, is witnessing something so improbable and shocking that it defies belief—that is, the emergence of anti-Semitism out of the shadows and from the margins into the political mainstream. For we always knew that, although anti-Semitism has been a constant lurking menace, it can be contained as long as it is never sheltered under the umbrella of political legitimacy. Although this has never been a political fault-line between parties, we have watched with horror as membership of the Labour Party has been infiltrated by those who hate Jews. Its leadership has approached concerns over anti-Semitism in its ranks first with silence, then with denial, then with indignation and, finally, with what felt like grudging, half-hearted attention—to the point at which Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Mirvis, said that the Jewish community and its concerns had been treated with “unprecedented contempt”.
With that in mind, and in light of yesterday’s report, noble Lords might reasonably ask: how does it feel to be a Jew in Britain today? My answer, unimaginably, is that we Jews in Britain, for the first time in centuries, feel anxious, uncertain and fearful. It is profoundly not what we ever expected this society to be. It is certainly not what we thought would happen to a political party—let alone the Labour Party, whose leadership has become incriminated in fostering a culture of disdain towards the Jews of Britain. We see daily the online perverted depictions of Jews—perversions which too often go ignored or unchecked. We see the resurfacing of all the old anti-Semitic tropes—the same obscenities too grotesque to mention—but this time from a place that none of us in this House, on both sides ever, thought possible; it comes from those who call themselves members of the Labour Party. This has left Jews uneasy, unsettled and fearful, not least because the social media revolution has given voice to the most extreme and the most vicious, allowing that hatred to be magnified, multiplied and, too often, unsanctioned.
It has often been suggested by some on the left that calling out blatant displays of anti-Semitism from the left is a betrayal of the Labour Party. As my noble friend Lord Hain indicated, the betrayal is quite the opposite: it is conducted by those who choose to align themselves with anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers and then feign righteous indignation when doing so. That is the betrayal, for that has enabled and emboldened the anti-Semites in the Labour Party. As my noble friend Lord Hain said, it has given them the two things that they always craved and were always denied: it has given them space and it has given them a voice. Ultimately, those who are guilty of ignoring anti-Semitism are those who are personally responsible for the virus spreading.
But there is one final outrage: a unique phenomenon, which we have never seen in this country, where it is the victim who stands accused rather than the perpetrator. It is too often said that these Jews are exaggerating, fabricating and are in hock to some extreme right-wing press. In those very accusations rest the most potent, toxic and dangerous five words in the English vocabulary: “The Jews are to blame”. Consider the unprecedented act last summer of 68 rabbis right across the community, in good faith and in sorrow, writing a letter to the Labour Party begging it to adopt the conventional definition of anti-Semitism. The online frenzy in response to that called for those rabbis’ political allegiances to be scrutinised in search of some kind of conspiracy.
Let me be absolutely clear: the majority of Jews protesting about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party are anxious about anti-Semitism. That is it—nothing more, nothing less. It is the online intimidation, along with the offline contempt, which turns that anxiety into fear. So this debate provokes the question: what type of society stands up against this new culture of prejudice and discrimination? What must we do?
In conclusion, I propose two simple steps. First, if Jews have a heightened attention to the alarm bells of prejudice then there is good reason for that, so symbols, allegiances, empathy and actions matter. When the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury goes out of his way to meet Chief Rabbi Mirvis at his home on the eve of Jewish new year to express his concerns personally and sincerely, that matters. It felt as if the Archbishop had visited every Jewish home in the country, and that mattered. Simple acts of compassion and kindness can rebuild trust and mend bridges. Until the leadership of the Labour Party equally finds a way to understand the concerns of Jews in this country and until it can sincerely empathise with those concerns, no amount of party disciplinary procedures, reviews or organisational restructures will help. Too often, Jewish fears have been met not by empathy and understanding but by the violence of the online crowd, by cries of smears and by a political leadership which, at the very least, has been an enabler.
Secondly, and finally, we—the people of all faiths and none, and those of all parties and of none—must stand against prejudice, for we are all at risk; we are at risk of our common humanity, of our religious freedoms and, above all, of the society that we know we must build together.
My Lords, in March I joined the first protest I have been on since CND in the 1960s. People gathered in Parliament Square to protest against Labour anti-Semitism. It was a polite demo, the most aggressive factor being the slogans “For the many, not the Jew” and “Enough is enough”—they sum it up. The Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish News and the Jewish Telegraph—rival papers—combined to run the same front page in July, headed “United We Stand”, to claim that a Corbyn-led Government would pose an existential threat to Jewish life in the UK.
I cannot explain intolerance of other religions so I will concentrate on what I know, and I will look to the future and how we can remedy the appalling situation we find ourselves in. Despite everything, the British Jewish community knows very well that the UK is one of the best countries ever in which to be Jewish. At the same time, we know that anti-Semitism is not confined in its effects to this community; if unchecked, it signals a threat to democratic values and opens the door to general extremism. That is why we have not yet stopped talking about it, much as we would like to. What sort of society is this when substantial numbers of Jews—one of the longest-established ethnic minorities—have discussed leaving the country if Jeremy Corbyn were to become Prime Minister? Not only here, but across Europe—especially in Hungary, Poland, Germany, France, Belgium and Sweden—anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise again. Thousands of Jews are emigrating—a massive failure for the European project.
On the far right in Europe, anti-Semitism reflects the past, deeming Jews to be inferior and enemies of the state. On the far left, Jews are associated with power, capitalism and colonialism and are, therefore, enemies of the people. Islamists have religious objections to Jews. This is all historical and religious perversion. I was glad to see the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury speaking today and note that the Church of England has adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
For the last few decades, since the communist dream was shattered, the left has been looking for a global cause on which to fixate and found it in Israel. There has been a struggle in the Labour Party ranks for the freedom to depart from the international definition of anti-Semitism in just one respect: the right to call Israel a racist endeavour. If that is the case, and if double standards are outlawed in the IHRA definition, as they should be in political discourse, why are there no marches, no exclusions and no intimidation of students in relation to, say, Pakistan, whose creation as a Muslim state involved the displacement of around 10 million people and the deaths of 1 million? Israeli Apartheid Week, which is in breach of the public sector equality duty placed on universities, continues. Would those universities tolerate, say, a “Pakistan honour killing week”? Of course they would not, because of the effect on students of Pakistani origin. What mass disapproval and protests are there in relation to, Syria, where at least 4,000 Palestinians have died, the occupation of Northern Cyprus, creating a Muslim enclave, again with accompanying deprivation and refugees, or the suppression of the Kurds? Singling out Israel as a racist endeavour in this context is a pretext for undermining the entire state, putting another 6 million people in danger of their lives and attacking the Zionist success and safe haven that is dear to the overwhelming majority of Jews here and worldwide; in other words, it is anti-Semitism.
One has to conclude that there is a party-wide culture that is anti-Semitic, albeit dressed up as anti-Zionist even when the mask slips and Jews are attacked when they go to meetings simply for being who they are. The more this goes on, the more unlikely it is that a peace settlement will be reached in the Middle East, for the attitude of the extreme left and the extreme right to Jews reinforces the view that only Israel can guard them against persecution and offer security.
I turn now to intolerance. I am most concerned about these attitudes in young people, for they are our future leaders. Many students encounter campaigning and debates about Israel and Palestine for the first time at university. The tensions—indeed, violence—surrounding pro-Israel activities on campus has given students a binary and ill-informed view of the Jews and history. Campaigning about Israel’s politics is perfectly legitimate, but free speech does not include hate speech. Universities have a statutory duty to promote harmony between different groups on campus and an academic duty to secure civilised and well-informed debate about all issues. They do not have a licence under law to allow discrimination and harassment. I have spoken about this to your Lordships previously and will not rehearse it again, save to note very recent campus incidents which have occurred despite nationwide publicity about their illegality. Swastikas, racist slogans, conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial and slanders, and the violent breaking up of meetings have appeared in universities including KCL, Exeter, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester, Birmingham, Kent, LSE, Sheffield Hallam, SOAS and York. An NUS survey has found that two-thirds of Jewish students questioned believed that they were targeted as a result of their faith. Last year’s chair of Labour Students blamed her own party’s leadership for the rising amount of anti-Semitism on campus. The president of the Union of Jewish Students recently resigned from the Labour Party.
Universities across the UK are pitting Jewish and Muslim students on campus against each other by discriminating against Israeli speakers. Sometimes it is the university administration itself that imposes excessive restrictions and bureaucracy on Israeli speakers while waving anti-Israel speakers through the process with no obstacles. In other cases it is the student union that is culpable of wrongfully promoting Palestinian society events or campaigns, contrary to its charitable status, and neglecting Israeli society’s equal right to student union resources. The inability of a university to ensure even-handedness in this area creates an unfortunate animosity between two groups of young people who need to live together.
What is to be done? I do not think a Holocaust memorial could do it. The rise of anti-Semitism has gone hand in hand with an increase in the number of Holocaust memorials and learning centres. They do not seem to have the desired effect, especially when placed somewhere where the neighbours, with some justification, are opposed to it. I also bear in mind the Macpherson report on the feelings of victims as a guide to hate. I am sorry to say that the report for the Labour Party by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has been criticised by the Commons Home Affairs Committee inquiry into anti-Semitism. Her report did not deal with the wealth of evidence submitted, nor did it go into the reasons for anti-Semitism in the Labour Party or suggest effective ways of dealing with it. The report by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, into incidents at Oxford University was not published in full and does not seem to have led to the necessary sanctions by the university.
Combating anti-Semitism must start with an acknowledgement that it exists. Educators need to learn and teach about anti-Semitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories. Holocaust education must culminate in the realisation that the virus that led to it has not been killed off, even today. Young people need to know that social media promotes hate and fake news in this area. The Government should be commended for funding Jewish communal security and Holocaust education, and it would be even better if this could be secured long-term. They have announced funding for a project that will extend the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Auschwitz visit programme to universities for the first time. Under the plan, 200 students will visit the death camp and return to lead seminars in an effort to target anti-Semitism on campus.
All universities need to adopt the international definition of anti-Semitism, not because it is a legally binding document but as a guide to what is acceptable and what is not when they have to recognise anti-Semitism as distinct from normal political criticism. The National Union of Students has adopted it but the University and College Union refuses to do so. University authorities need training in the topic of anti-Semitism. It is insufficient to deal with diversity issues and non-harassment but to omit this. Following the 2016 Universities UK Taskforce report on hate crime, there still seems to be no such training for universities and no guidance on how to deal with conflicts over the Palestine issue. The police are not prosecuting the violent disruptors of such events and the universities are refusing to disclose their disciplinary actions. The resources of student unions should not be used for political campaigns against Israel, and Israel alone, that do not promote their legal remit of education and welfare. The Charity Commission should continue to watch over this. I am very concerned that the guidance on freedom of speech in universities now being prepared by the Department for Education will not deal with this. The Union of Jewish Students does not seem to have been consulted on this most pressing of issues. Without its input and without consideration of the troubles I have referred to, the guidance will achieve next to nothing.
Schoolteachers need more training to deliver a proper Holocaust education in schools, as well as in how to tackle discussions with pupils about the Middle East conflict and prejudice. Indeed, guidance would help other professionals who may find themselves involved—the clergy, social workers, journalists and those charged with rehabilitating prisoners who have been found guilty of hate crimes. We need to see more and more successful prosecutions for hate crime and hate on social media. Just try searching for the word “Zionism” on Twitter. Last but not least, noble Lords in the Labour Party should stand up for tolerance and freedom from persecution. They have the freedom to express their views and to follow the example of Frank Field MP, who has been widely commended.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. Many years ago we both stomped around universities trying to deal with the very challenges which sadly still persist, and about which she has spoken. Faith is an informer of debate as a driver of good works, as a convenor, as an enabler and as a deliverer for policy. It was the reason I announced many years ago as a retort to Alistair Campbell that a Conservative Government would “do God”.
Much has changed since 2010. I had the privilege of being part of much of that change: from an idea that started life as an active faith project which became the Near Neighbours programme, to the Church of England using its network to convene and deliver interfaith action, to campaigning for the rights of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, to making the case for faith to have a seat at the Cabinet table, to bringing religious literacy training to the heart of government, to establishing stronger and more meaningful relations with the Holy See, to chairing the international forum on freedom of religion or belief, to launching Nisa-Nashim, a Jewish and Muslim women’s network, to establishing the Big Iftar, to reforms of and support for faith-sensitive non-invasive post mortems and to becoming the first non-Muslim country in the world to issue a sovereign sukuk—the list could go on and on. It is endless and I am proud of the records of both the coalition Government and the Conservative Government in engaging faith.
I particularly pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Ahmed of Wimbledon who, following my resignation, ensured that the work continued and is now playing a vital global role as the Prime Minister’s special adviser on religious freedom. We could not have asked for a better advocate. I also want to put on record the tremendous contribution that the Minister has made in this area. His commitment to equality and his desire to engage has not gone unnoticed in communities. Rarely a week passes without someone praising him to me in the warmest of terms. He is walking the walk, and he is walking many miles.
Today we are debating religious intolerance and bigotry. I am sure that we will hear about the nature of the problem, what has been achieved and what more needs to be done. From the speakers’ list it is clear that we will be hearing about the impact on specific communities. We have already heard about Christian communities and Jewish communities and I am sure that we will hear about Sikh communities, Hindus and others. I will focus on a community that I know well, the British Muslim community.
I want to start with a little history. If we are to succeed in making good policy on where we want to be, I am sure it is important that we talk about how we got here. In 2010, when the coalition Government formed, it shocked me that no formal structure had existed under the last Labour Government to discuss, monitor or challenge Islamophobia. We had no definition, no policy, and no statistics. My then PPS, Eric Ollerenshaw, helped to establish the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia. It was to be a vehicle through which we would hopefully instigate an inquiry that could lead to a specific policy on how to deal with the issue of islamophobia. However, that is where it ended. A row about the secretariat meant that parliamentary colleagues from both this House and the other place eventually worked towards having that secretariat shut down. No inquiry ever started and no work was ever done. I therefore decided to bypass the inquiry and speak about this issue in government.
In 2011, I made a keynote speech in which I spoke about Islamophobia having passed the dinner-table test. It was criticised by large sections of the media; I think that it hit too close to home. They probably realised that it was their dinner tables I was talking about. There was very little support for it politically. What started thereafter was first a series of arguments about why this speech was necessary. The case was made to me that there was no evidence to suggest that we had Islamophobia. There was a fight to set up a cross-government working group on anti-Muslim hatred and until a few years ago—with one or two exceptions—my colleagues refused to engage with it. What became Tell MAMA was an idea hatched at Conservative headquarters. There were rows about the funding of that organisation, which my noble friend Lord Pickles will probably remember as he was Secretary of State. When he was not convinced, he discovered the error of opposing a tenacious Yorkshire woman. I am pleased that we are still friends.
There was a refusal to acknowledge the need for the remembering Srebrenica programme. Today it is a nationwide programme with cross-parliamentary support, delivering hundreds of visits, schools training materials and commemoration events. There was a battle for the police to disaggregate and record Islamophobia as a separate crime, as we did with anti-Semitism. These are all projects which the Minister referred to in his opening speech.
Why do I raise this? It is because every programme and initiative that we celebrate today was a lonely battle for which I carry a scar. Each scar is a reminder that many parliamentary colleagues were simply not prepared to accept that there was a problem, the extent of it, the right response and the urgency with which we needed to act. I refer to the past because today, sadly, we are still having those battles. The reluctance to tackle Islamophobia, the refusal to listen to the warning siren and the inconsistency with which we fund tackling other forms of hate is deeply worrying.
The anti-Semitism row within the Labour Party has had many facets. It has festered as a sore damaging politics and politicians and it has left a British Jewish community fearful about its space in Britain. We have heard that today. What concerned me most, however, was the way in which many British Jews were not able to determine their destiny. Their concerns about what they experienced—how bigotry felt to them—were simply dismissed. The prevarication about adopting the IHRA definition was the most visible manifestation of that. A community being able to determine its own destiny and set its own standards on how it feels protected must be a given.
However, for British Muslim communities this is not a right we afford them. The policy of disengagement, which I discussed in some detail last week during the Second Reading of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, has meant that British Muslims are not able to choose who sits at the government table. Officialdom, not community, determines who is and is not an acceptable Muslim voice. The community, some 3 million-plus strong, is diverse ethnically, theologically and politically. It cannot possibly be represented by a single organisation. No community can. It is why, despite being a community of less than 300,000, the British Jewish community in its Jewish Leadership Council ensures that a wide range of organisations and issues—from the Community Security Trust to the Board of Deputies; from social to political, and domestic to international issues—forms part of the dialogue and engagement with government. I had the privilege of being part of that in government. British Muslims, however, do not have such a privilege. They have much to admire and to learn from the British Jewish community. The JLC, I felt, could be replicated: it was, in the form of the Muslim Leadership Council. It included a wide range of organisations, but the Government refused to engage with it. Often when a Government take partners, they seem to seek out individuals and organisations that, at best, are not mainstream and are neither connected to nor respected by the community they seek to influence. At worst they have a track record of attacking and briefing against British Muslims rather than speaking on the issues that concern that community. This creates unease and mistrust and is not the way to deal with hate.
The hate crime action plan is clear. Hate crime is up by 17%; race crime is up by 14%; religious crime is up by 40%. Of that religious hate crime, 52% is targeted at Muslims, 12% is targeted at Jewish communities, and 21% is unknown. The EHRC statistics are clear: 70% of Muslims have experienced religious-based discrimination. It is important to note that not all hate crimes against Muslims are recorded by religion. Many are also victims of race-based hate crime, so it is important that we make sure that the recording of these crimes is accurate. I would be grateful if the Minister detailed how many police forces are recording religious hate crime, how many disaggregate religious hate crime data and whether the Government would consider disaggregating race to get a more accurate picture.
I would like to focus a little on the positive in the hate crime action report. It has moved on from the 2016 terminology of anti-Muslim hatred and now uses the term Islamophobia, on which the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims has been taking evidence for the past six to eight months. We found overwhelming support for it in the evidence and consultations that have taken place. It is the widest and deepest form of consultation that has taken place since the Runnymede Trust report of 20 years ago. The report, which has been done with the communities and by the communities, will be out soon. We hope the Government will adopt the working definition that it proposes and that it will be applied across government and statutory agencies such as the police, criminal justice agencies, CPS, education and health. We cannot tackle what we cannot name or number.
I urge the Government to use this moment, as they describe in their hate crime plan, to end their policy of disengagement and make this a truly inclusive and meaningful process. The issue is crucial because when government does not engage, it sets a precedent for all other agencies such as the CPS, the police, and the police and crime commissioners. This is disengaging Muslims at all levels and from all available avenues to have their victim experiences addressed by the relevant agencies. The latest hate crime figures should be a wake-up call. The unfortunate victims, as ordinary Muslims up and down the country are, should not pay the price for the Government’s disengagement policy.
Racism, bigotry and intolerance can come in two forms. I grew up when it was overt: being chased by racists after school and being called the P-word were part and parcel of my growing up. But then I was a social mobility success story—I probably no longer hang out in those places where such terminology is likely to be used. But what has concerned me more and more is covert racism, covert discrimination, “respectable” racism—at the dinner table, in the media rooms and among the think tanks and commentators—the dehumanising of a community, the decontexualising of religious texts and lack of collective accountability for the actions of the few.
I said that Islamophobia had passed the dinner-table test. Today, I say that it is Britain’s bigotry blind spot. The statistics prove that. It is not a Muslim problem; it is our problem. It is why I hope noble Lords will speak to this issue. It is not a challenge that should be left for the likes of me to fight. My interventions on challenging the persecution of Christian minorities in places such as Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan have been my most powerful because I spoke for the other on an issue of principle. Today, I ask my colleagues to do the same. We must fight bigotry collectively in this country and in our political parties.
I hope that my colleagues on these Benches will tackle Islamophobia within our ranks as vociferously as we, quite rightly, tackle anti-Semitism in the ranks of the Labour Party. It is an issue that I was reluctant to go public with, but three years on from those initial concerns and complaints—which came long before the appalling anti-Semitism row on the left of politics—it is still not being dealt with. It saddens me that, once again, I fight a lonely battle.
When I was growing up, there were two conversations that my parents would have. My dad would dream of having a home in the north of Punjab—in the way that many people might dream of having a house in the south of Spain. He felt that he would “go back home” one day to that beautiful house. My mum on the other hand, being a cynical woman, said, “We don’t need to have a dream of this great house. We need to have the necessity of this house, because the day we have to leave and go back home, we will need a home”. I used to argue with both of them, saying to Dad that this was probably the most stupid investment that he would ever make because nobody would ever live in that house and it would therefore be better for him to invest here, a place which for my family has been home for 60 years—my grandfather came in 1958. I was even more vociferous with my mum, because I thought that her ramblings about having to leave were ludicrous and that the direction of travel in the UK was such that we would never be made to feel so uncomfortable that we had to up sticks. Today, in my late 40s, in 2018, it shocks me that I dream my dad’s dream and worry my mum’s worry. This debate gives me some hope.
I am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, not just because of her moving speech but because her outspokenness brings out things which we easily neglect or ignore. Her words were very necessary.
Religious freedom is a fundamental principle of any civilised modern society, but we have not always enjoyed it. As I go round rural Northumberland, I find that the congregations that used to be Presbyterians—they are now United Reformed—can almost all trace their origins to the Toleration Act 1689 and the events which preceded it. The fight for religious toleration has gone on through the centuries—it has been central to the purposes and reasons for the existence of liberalism as a political force. Throughout our history, we have been involved in fighting for the rights of non-conformists to attend Oxford, Cambridge and other institutions from which they were excluded. In the 20th century, we were still fighting in Wales for the rights of chapel members to be buried in their village churchyard. The fight was not just for fellow Christians. There can hardly have been a politician with firmer Christian religious views than Gladstone. He fought year after year for the right of the atheist, Charles Bradlaugh, to take his seat in the House of Commons on the basis of an affirmation when he could not accept taking a religious oath.
We think of ourselves today as a free people. Those of us who grew up in the immediate aftermath of World War 2 perhaps naively assumed that, once humankind had seen the horror of the death camps, which were the result of racial and religious intolerance, religious intolerance would be in retreat. After the Holocaust, surely people would see where intolerance would lead. If we assumed that, we were wrong. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and vigilant we must now be because intolerance, as several speakers have pointed out, lurks not only on our streets but even in public life, in the form of anti-Semitism, attacks on Muslims, attacks on other religious minorities and challenges to the basic rights of Christians in what, at least historically, is a Christian country.
We have reports of a 26% rise in the number of attacks on Muslims. We know that many British Muslims feel increasingly threatened by the way in which they are falsely associated with extremism and terrorism. We see the careless use of language by people who should know how dangerous it is to create a climate of ridicule or disrespect around a minority community—I am thinking, of course, of Boris Johnson’s offensive comments about Muslim women.
At the same time, anti-Semitism is making many in the Jewish community feel more insecure than has been the case for very many years. The Community Security Trust records around 100 anti-Semitic incidents every month—that has gone on since 2016. I do not think that I could add to the moving exposition given by the noble Lord, Lord Kestenbaum, of what it feels like to find the political causes that you have espoused become prey to anti-Semitism; he put that very clearly. I simply comment that the suggestion that British Jews do not understand English irony was quite preposterous. Such language contributes to the atmosphere about which I am so concerned. Sikhs, Hindus and other religious minorities have experienced intolerance and hate crime as well.
Christians in our society have also found themselves victims of abuse and hate crimes, and under threat in their employment, in their children’s education or in their business life, particularly if they hold to rigorous principles which they see as the teaching of the Bible, some of which will not be shared by all other Christians. This is not new. In the 18th century, Quakers refused to swear oaths and to remove their hats in the presence of persons of authority, because they thought that only God deserved such a degree of deference. The First World War saw many conscientious objectors, who were deliberately humiliated by being given white feathers, yet many of them served with courage and distinction in ambulance units—those stories have begun to come out in the hundred years since the war, as we have found recorded testimonies and written material about their experience.
Some of the problems that Christians have faced arise from a clash of rights between people of fundamentally different views. As a society, we have to resolve such clashes in sensible and understanding ways. Some of it arises from overzealous and bureaucratic interpretation of things like equality legislation. The most reverend Primate referred to the Belfast bakery case. In that instance, I welcome the clarity of the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling, which draws a clear distinction between discrimination against an individual based on their opinions or sexuality, which is unlawful, and the protection of the right of an individual to refuse to express a message with which they disagreed—in this case on religious grounds. The court referred to the idea of compelled speech as not being consistent with the belief in free speech.
I want to emphasise three general points. First, I see a real danger to free speech and religious tolerance in the misguided attempts to create so-called safe spaces in student unions and university premises. We have provisions to do with hate speech. The “safe space” doctrine threatens religious discussion and the expression of religious views and destroys the beneficial educational experience of hearing and debating diverse views, which is what life at a university is supposed to embrace.
Secondly, we need to be clear that Christianity— and the existence of an established church in England and a national church in Scotland in the form of the Church of Scotland—poses no threat to religious diversity and tolerance. Very few, if any, of those seeking to enhance the protection of other denominations and faiths would see any benefit in driving Christianity completely out of public life in this country or excluding it from our education system. I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, made a similar point in his remarks earlier.
Thirdly, I welcome the Government’s development of their strategy to combat hate crime, but I enter a warning about using additions to prison sentences as a means of dealing with it, which the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who is a very helpful and conscientious Minister in this field, referred to in his opening remarks. Anyone who thinks that prisons cure hatred is sadly mistaken. Almost everything about the prison system, especially in its present overcrowded and understaffed state, actually fosters hatred and prejudice. The presence of religious, racial or gender-related hatred in an offender is a sign that innovative and life-changing work is needed to have any hope of challenging those ingrained attitudes. When they can, prison officers, health staff and chaplains try to address this sort of problem, but they have so little time, and so little continuity with individual prisoners, that the task is really beyond the system’s present capacity. That capacity is, of course, reduced by longer sentences. Extra time enclosed in a hotbed of hatred will not drive out prejudice.
Across the world, we see terrible persecution of religious minorities. We should do everything we can to challenge it through our foreign, trade and aid policies, and I welcome the involvement of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, in this work. We must also fight the many forms of intolerance we now see here at home.
My Lords, there is a certain irony in debating religious intolerance and prejudice in the UK on a day when the Prime Minister is ensconced in Brussels, thrashing out this country’s future relationship with Europe. A large period of our continent’s history has been blighted by wars based on religious conflict, including in Ireland, which is proving such a Gordian knot to untangle in the Brexit negotiations. It serves to remind us that, for all the positive virtues that emanate from various faith traditions—particularly in the fields of education, healthcare and the alleviation of poverty—there is a darker legacy which cannot be ignored. That is why collaboration between European countries is something we should positively welcome and which must continue, regardless of Brexit.
This evening, I will add a Hindu voice to this debate and, in doing so, I welcome the opportunity to speak alongside noble friends across all Benches, many of whom I would call kindred spirits in their outlook and ethos on this topic. There are around 1 million Hindus living in Britain today. The distinguishing feature of Hinduism is that it is not a religion in the traditional sense. We are not a faith with a codified belief system or a defined set of scriptures that proselytise an unchallengeable truth. We are seekers, not believers, on a quest for truth and meaning taking us wherever the evidence and experience leads. In finding truth, there are many and varied paths. That is why Hinduism is the ultimate big tent. It is as much a civilisation, with its origins in the Indus Valley, as a religion. Its contours, therefore, encompass philosophy, spirituality and a whole way of life, including practices such as yoga and meditation. As a consequence, being open to new ideas, respect for difference and embracing global influences are inbuilt in Hindu thought, stretching all the way back to the Rigveda, the oldest of the Vedic scriptures, which dates back to around 1500 BC. It includes a Sanskrit phrase, which I am fond of quoting:
“Aano bhadra krtavo yantu vishwatah”.
Translated, this means, “Let noble thoughts come to me from all directions”. Another often-quoted phrase is, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. This means, “The whole world is one family”, and it is etched in the entrance hall of the Indian Parliament. A similar sentiment was expressed 125 years ago, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, by Swami Vivekananda, representing Hindus in India. He was widely acclaimed as the star speaker of this conference for advocating not just religious tolerance but universal acceptance.
In Britain, Hindus provide a role model for how a community can integrate successfully and embrace British values, while retaining its cultural heritage and identity. As we speak, thousands of Hindus up and down the country are packed into school and community halls, participating in a colourful, nine-day festival called Navaratri. At the same time, they will be thinking of others less fortunate, and have organised initiatives such as the Navaratri food bank, providing meals to those of all faiths and none throughout the country. This is a live illustration of what the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, describes as The Dignity of Difference in his powerful book, which argues that we must do more than search for common human values; we must learn to make a space for difference. With that important background, I want to make the following four observations relevant for our present times.
I will comment first on anti-Semitism, as many noble Lords have. As somebody who lives in north London and has grown up side by side and in harmony with the Jewish community, who respects and admires its achievements and shares many of the same intrinsic values, it is deeply distressing to witness its anguish at current events—so powerfully articulated by my noble friend Lord Kestenbaum. It is fair to say that British Indians often look to Jewish organisations such as the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council or the Community Security Trust as role models for unity of purpose and effective participation in national life. If the British Jewish community is going through such an ordeal, we all need to take heed. It is even more distressing that individuals who have spoken out on this issue, such as my noble friend Lord Popat, who led an excellent debate in this House on
Secondly, Islamophobia is as unacceptable as anti-Semitism or any other form of religious intolerance. Although others are more knowledgeable about Islamophobia and have more first-hand experience of it than me—especially my noble friend Lady Warsi, who spoke so eloquently—I will share one observation from the Hindu experience of integration in the spirit of speaking for, and helping, the other. It is evident from the work of the Casey review that the Muslim community requires greater support in various aspects of integration, and that sections of the British Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities have struggled on this front and too often lead a segregated existence. It must be the case that elements of Islamophobia have their roots in ignorance about Islam, which better integration could address. The experience of British Hindus demonstrates that it is possible to integrate and still preserve your traditions, values and identity. A diverse society does not mean a divided society. It is therefore welcome to see the Government’s Green Paper on integrated communities offer remedies such as a new community-based English language programme and an integration innovation fund to bring people together in shared activities and community spaces. We must work in collaboration with Muslim communities to break down barriers and thus reduce the frequency with which they are subjected to unacceptable prejudice.
My third point is an issue of significant concern to large sections of the Hindu community: so-called caste legislation. This refers to the attempt to make caste a separately defined aspect of race discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The concern from Hindus is not about standing up to discrimination—discrimination is totally unacceptable in any form—but about creating caste consciousness where it does not exist and unleashing unintended consequences, when the overwhelming majority of British Hindus have no truck with any historic notions of caste. This is especially true for the current generation, which is blissfully ignorant of it even as an issue. Proceeding with dormant legislation would be totally disproportionate to the evidence of such cases and would serve to stigmatise Hindus. The Government’s consultation on the subject was published in July, with more than 16,000 responses. Based on the evidence, the Government have concluded that established case law provides sufficient, appropriate and proportionate legal protection against caste discrimination. The Government therefore intend to legislate to repeal the duty for a specific reference to caste to be included in the Equality Act.
I urge the Labour, Liberal and other Benches, including the Lords spiritual, to consider this matter very carefully and to meet Hindu leaders directly to understand their concerns. We do not know when and in what format the proposed legislation will be brought to Parliament but it would send a powerful signal to the Hindu community if all sides of your Lordships’ House were able to support the Government’s position. Caste legislation is to Hindus what the anti-Semitism definition is to Jews. It has totemic significance. I make a plea, particularly to the Labour Front Bench, not to repeat the same mistakes which were made in handling anti-Semitism when dealing with this sensitive matter for the Hindu community.
Fourthly and finally, I will make a broader point about the growing prevalence of hatred in both public life and private behaviour in Britain. Only yesterday we saw the release of the latest Home Office data on recorded hate incidents for the year to March 2018, covering all types of hostility or prejudice towards someone based on personal characteristics. As noble Lords have already said, it showed a rise of 17% to more than 94,000 incidents, with hate crime having doubled over the past five years. Within this figure, religious hate crime represents 9% of incidents but it has been growing at the fastest rate, rising by 40% in the past year and more than fivefold over five years. This trend reflects a souring of our national discourse, with the growing propensity towards abusive behaviour given new oxygen by social media. The Prime Minister spoke assertively on this issue in her conference speech earlier this month, highlighting,
“the bitterness and bile which is poisoning our politics”,
and calling out the fact that the first black woman ever to be elected to the House of Commons receives more racist and misogynist messages today than when she first stood more than 30 years ago.
Mahatma Gandhi said that,
“it is impossible to end hatred with hatred”.
We need to find a circuit-breaker to end the growing climate of hate and rediscover the British reputation for politeness and civility. It must be possible to express dissent with respect. There needs to be an acceptance of diversity of opinion, whether in politics or religion. It therefore feels appropriate to conclude with the inspiring words of Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893, which I referred to earlier. He said that the parliament of religions had proved to the world that,
“holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written in spite of resistance: ‘Help and not fight’, ‘Assimilation and not Destruction’, ‘Harmony and Peace and not Dissension’”.
Those sentiments remain as relevant today as they were 125 years ago and could indeed have been written for today’s debate. Like Swami Vivekananda, we must all remain hopeful for a better world, free of hate and prejudice, and one which accepts, respects and perhaps even celebrates difference.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. I hold a number of voluntary posts in Holocaust remembrance. It is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Gadhia. We recently visited a number of projects in Israel to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. In reference to what the most reverend Primate said about bringing communities together, contributing and making up an identity, I certainly feel that Hindus are an immensely important part of the British identity, not least because of my favourite religious festival of all, Diwali, which I am looking forward to with great enthusiasm.
The rise in the hate crime figures that my noble friend just mentioned is truly frightening: more than 94,000 incidents, the bulk being of either race crime or religious hatred. They are both shocking and shaming, not just to the Government but to the two Houses of Parliament and British society as a whole. I am proud to be a friend of the Home Secretary, who recently spoke movingly about the racial prejudice that his family had suffered, which they faced very bravely. I hope my friend Saj will forgive me but I am even prouder of my noble friend Lady Warsi. I congratulate her on not just a fine speech but the even greater achievement of being recently elected Yorkshire Woman of the Year. She chided me a little bit—which rankles even now—about Tell MAMA. It has to be said that the original application was all over the place and a complete mess. What my noble friend did not say is that she got it into some kind of proper order. She put together something that has lasted a number of years. I was pleased to support her in that and in ensuring that this country remembers Srebrenica and we have a proper ceremony each year.
I hope my noble friend will forgive me if I tell a story about her. I persuaded her—against her better judgment, I think, and at relatively short notice—to be an after-dinner speaker at a conference of Conservative councillors, which is not the easiest of audiences. They tend to be middle-aged men, a bit bored and wanting some kind of entertainment. Anyone who knows my noble friend knows that she is a very entertaining person. She started to talk about her early experience of politics, of canvassing in Dewsbury and of people shouting the P-word at her. I looked round the room at this hard-bitten bunch of councillors and I could see tears forming because they had made a connection with Sayeeda. They liked her and they felt the pain, perhaps for the first time, of what it is like to be persecuted. They admired her bravery enormously.
Thinking of those statistics, imagine the pain of a friend, all their friends and family, and the 94,000 people who feel the hurt that persecution causes, and consider the corrosive effect it has on society. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, who is no longer in his place, talked about it being an intolerant time. I have been involved in politics for 50 years, and in fighting racists and anti-Semites for just as long. I have never before experienced more intolerance in politics and society. There is a coarseness in politics.
The noble Lord, Lord Hain, outlined the growth in the far right—I do not seek to diminish it—but I cannot help but feel that is only half the picture. We had an hour-long debate, when people spoke for two and a half minutes, including my noble friend Lord Popat. I thought it a fine occasion, with some fine speeches, but nothing came close to the speech by the former Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks. I will read a short piece from a speech that sums up everything.
“Anti-Semitism, or any hate, becomes dangerous when three things happen. First, when it moves from the fringes of politics to a mainstream party and its leadership. Secondly, when the party sees that its popularity with the general public is not harmed thereby. Thirdly, when those who stand up and protest are vilified and abused for doing so. All three factors exist in Britain now”.—[Official Report, 13/9/18; col 2413.]
I think we are beholden, as politicians—as leaders of society—to speak clearly and robustly against anti-Semitism and any form of prejudice, but to do so in moderate and liberal language. Whether we are politicians or distinguished columnists, we have a duty to ensure that in defending liberal values, we do not speak in illiberal terms.
Britain has a number of vibrant communities that are a fundamental part of the British identity. Sometimes we have a romantic view of John Bull, or of a Dickensian existence, but it was never so. Even in Tudor times this country had people from different backgrounds, races and countries. They are all a fundamental part of the British identity: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindu, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and others—people of faith and no faith—are a vital part of what makes this nation tick. Without them we would be a lesser place. If we want to understand what the effect would be, we need only look at central and eastern Europe. Even 70-odd years after the war, the removal of their Jewish communities has ripped the heart out of those countries, and even now they have not recovered from that devastation. We all, therefore, have a vested interest in fighting intolerance.
I join the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, in thanking the most reverend Primate for adopting the IHRA definition. I am a lead delegate on the IHRA delegation. It will make a change gradually over the years, not because it is legally binding—it is not—but because it has been adopted by police forces and education authorities, it is well established in training and used in questions of proof. Over time it will make a difference, and that is why the number of countries adopting it is growing.
There is, right now, a growing number of countries across the world which are starting to build new monuments and institutions relating to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Why is this happening? The historian Simon Schama said that the true assessment of the French revolution did not occur until the 1850s, when anyone who had experienced it had passed away. We have some experience of that here, in the centenary of the First World War, of which a great reassessment has been taking place.
In my maiden speech in this House I talked about the influence of my grandfather Smith, who served in the Royal Navy, and my grandfather Pickles, who served on the Somme. Nobody doubts that those two gentlemen served their time in the War: there is no industry saying that the First World War did not happen, or the Somme did not happen, but there is a whole industry of Holocaust denial, and we remember that the final stage of a genocide is denial.
About a year ago I visited Treblinka, one of the terrible death camps, which was only in existence for about a year and killed almost a million people. Nobody was separated for work; everyone was killed. I took a photograph of the monument, which is quite a moving one, and posted it on Twitter, as we politicians tend to do. Within minutes I received a reply that said, “No-one died at Treblinka, it was a transit camp. There was no death there, and any deaths related to influenza”. You wonder whether someone like that really believes it. This morning I met representatives of the United States Holocaust Museum. It has the distinction of being the second most popular site on the web relating to the Holocaust. The most popular is the Holocaust denial site, which leads by a considerable margin.
A number of organisations, including the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Anne Frank Trust, are doing so much to educate and explain. There has, however, been a growth in casual anti-Semitism. The CST recently found that while hard anti-Semitism was down in single figures, casual anti-Semitism was around 30%.
I will now mention the new monument. I raise it here because it relates to anti-Semitism. Most people object to it because they do not want it in that particular place: they are worried about the trees, the grass, the mess—all kinds of things. That is perfectly legitimate. As part of the modern planning process for something like that you have exhibitions and people in to explain what has happened. I will give a sample of what people said: “Just put it near the War Museum, they have space for it. Or better still, somewhere south of the river, where it is more suitable for the people who live around there. Or in north London, where the Jews live”. One said: “Why do I need to be reminded of the bloody Holocaust? I just want to walk my dog in the park; I don’t want to be reminded of the bloody effing Holocaust”. And another said: “You should get all these people who are against Jews and we will see all the bloody Muslims come and protest”. I suppose that is an equal opportunity bigot.
During the exhibition, we heard people say, “Why should we be building a memorial for Jewish people next to the British Parliament”? They then went on to list British subjects, saying that Jewish people were foreigners. One man said that he liked the design and thought we had worked very hard on it, but that it was in the wrong place. He went on to ask, “Why a memorial for them? Why not the Sikhs or the Hindus? Is it because they have so much power and influence in Parliament?”.
These things were said by people at the exhibition to government officials without any worry. I may have read out just a selection, but that was 25% of the people who commented at the exhibition, which is roughly similar to the CST figure of 30%.
We are building this memorial. It was announced by the Prime Minister in January 2016, and endorsed by his predecessor. The site was selected—just outside this building. An international competition was held, which attracted some 92 entries. We got down to the last 10 or so, which were displayed in this building, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and in Manchester. All kinds of people made suggestions, and 11,000 people contributed. Then a distinguished panel looked at the various designs. We have come up with a design that will be a monument and a learning centre, which will deal with the Holocaust through British eyes. It will tackle some very difficult questions with regard to our involvement—things that we should be proud of, and some things that we should perhaps be slightly less proud of.
At a time when parts of Europe are seeking to rewrite history, it is important for us to set a clear example that we will look at our history with an unblinking eye. The real reason it will go there is because it will stand right next to Parliament and remind people, as they leave the monument and look towards Victoria Tower, that this place is a bastion against tyranny. As we look out at the memorial, it will remind both Houses of Parliament that the legislature has a power to protect or to oppress. We will remember that a compliant legislature introduced the Nuremberg laws. It is my sincere hope that we will build a monument of which we will all be proud; we will build a learning centre that will be a beacon to the world.
My Lords, I shall tell you a story. Three years ago in Kerala in South India, the heart of a Hindu man was transported across Kerala for a Christian patient in dire need of a new one. Funds were raised by a Muslim businessman to pay for the operation which was performed by the state’s top heart surgeon: a Christian. Kerala is known as “God’s own country”. Over the centuries, people have come from different cultures and communities and travelled to live in Kerala—Jewish and Christian migrants, Arab merchants, European traders and colonisers. The city of Cochin—Kochi, as it is now called—has the oldest active synagogue and the oldest European church, both from the 16th century. Kerala is a symbol of religious co-existence—not just tolerance, but co-existence in a world that is struggling with virulent intolerance and violence, which is what this debate is all about. The state has a mix of three of the world’s largest religions—30% Muslim; 20% Christian and 50% Hindu.
The essence of all this is when it comes to religion we are all too quick to focus on what divides us rather than what brings us together. The former Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee, said that a society as diverse as India can be governed only as a democratic, federal and pluralistic polity.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for leading this debate and everything that he does for the communities in our country, which I have seen first hand. He wrote an article in the House magazine, headlined:
“We will not allow hatred and intolerance to go unchecked”.
He summed it up by saying:
“Britain is a proudly tolerant nation—a nation where everyone has the right to live according to their beliefs. Indeed, this is a quality Britain champions and recognises as one of its great strengths. We believe that our differences make us stronger—that together we can learn from one another and grow as individuals and as a society”.
Yet if we look at the statistics in the data provided to us, they show that Christians have declined from 72% to 59%; Muslims have increased from 3% to 5% and the number of Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists rose slightly, while the Jewish population remained broadly the same. There were 80,393 offences recorded by the police in which one or more hate crimes was a motivating factor. The majority were race hate crimes—78%—but 7% were religious hate crimes. There has been a surge in reports of hate crimes directed at people in England and Wales because of their religious beliefs. They rose by 40% from 5,949 to 8,336 this year, according to Home Office data. To back up what the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said, most religious hate crimes—sadly, 52% of all offences—were aimed at Muslims.
I am so happy that the Government have appointed the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, as a special envoy to promote religious freedom. As the Prime Minister said:
“Tolerance for those of different faiths is fundamental to our values, and is an issue I know is already of great importance to Lord Ahmad, who is constantly looking for fresh ways to promote religious liberty in his role as Minister for Human Rights at the Foreign Office”.
I commend the work that he does.
Minorities in this country make up 14% of the population. We have to keep this in context. Sadly, we have heard, and I shall not repeat it, about the religious prejudice that exists at the moment within political parties. These statistics were again provided to us. In the Labour Party in particular there have been statistics after statistics of anti-Semitism, and I shall cite just some of them. The Conservative Party and the Labour Party were prejudiced against six groups: Christians, British Jews, British Muslims, British Hindus, Sikhs and atheists. In the case of the Conservative Party, definite or probable prejudice was said to range from 13% against Christians to 27% against Muslims but for the Labour Party it was 11% against atheists to 36% against Jews.
I am just quoting the figures I have been given—36% and 34%. These are really worrying statistics.
An omnibus survey was carried out demonstrating the relatively low significance attached to religion by a cross-section of the population. Given 12 options to define personal identity, just 7% chose religion. Asked how important religion was to them, 72% said that it was not important at all. This is worrying. Another survey included the statement that religions are inherently violent and 32% agreed. On the question that the teachings of religion are essentially peaceful, 61% agreed. On the statement:
“It is religious extremists, not religions themselves that are violent”,
81% agreed. That is the important statistic. Here is another example:
“Most of the wars in world history have been caused by religions”,
70% agreed. Here is another worrying one:
“On balance, religions are much more peaceful today than violent”.
With that, 44% agree and 44% disagree.
On anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, another poll revealed that 34% of the entire electorate—even 16% of the Labour Party—believe that it is a serious problem within the party. The noble Lord, Lord Kestenbaum, spoke about that. Another very scary fact is that 1 million people in our country have experienced faith discrimination.
There is one other fact that nobody else has mentioned, or probably will mention. One of the best lectures I attended at Harvard Business School was given by Professor Mahzarin Banaji, who is a fellow Parsi—and, ironically, hails from Hyderabad in India, where I too am from. She creates awareness of unconscious bias in self-professed egalitarians. She studies human thinking and feeling as it unfolds in social contexts, and her focus is on mental systems that operate in implicit or unconscious modes. How much unconscious bias exists, most often unintended, within social groups? We should all be aware of this. Professor Banaji has written a book, with Tony Greenwald, entitled Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who I have had the privilege of meeting, said:
“India’s treasure is that all major religious traditions co-exist in harmony”.
The Nobel laureate talked about
“education for wisdom and compassion”,
“There are different spiritual traditions whose philosophies are also different, but all of them carry the same message of love. All religions teach us the practice of tolerance and have the same potential of bringing inner peace”.
He stressed the need to get rid of conflict in the name of religion, and called upon people to
“acknowledge each other as brothers and sisters and develop a sense of oneness with others ... a concern for other human beings without being self-centred or short sighted. We need a sense of global responsibility”.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.
Yet look at what is happening; look at the sadness of what ISIS—so-called Islamic State—is doing. Its behaviour in the Middle East has been absolutely appalling. Article 18 has been completely disrespected around the world. Religious intolerance is the virus that causes the persecution, and if not treated it will lead to more and more of the atrocities that we have seen.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu—a fellow fellow of my college at Cambridge, Sydney Sussex—said about Nelson Mandela that he was a magnanimous individual. In a situation of ongoing conflict and violence, we should try to achieve conflict resolution. That is what the archbishop and Mandela did so brilliantly. The principles of reconciliation should be based on truth, justice and forgiveness.
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, when he led a debate two years ago, said:
“At their heart they bring true integration based on the God-given dignity of all human beings whatever their ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability or economic worth. A vision of this kind will promote cohesion around the common good, it will encourage courage and creativity, it will lead us to train young people in new skills, it will give us the strength to open new markets, to share our wealth and wisdom fairly and not only to our advantage, and to welcome the alien and the stranger. It will challenge us to be consistent and to have an eye to our relationship with future generations, notwithstanding the events that intervene”.—[Official Report, 2/12/2016; col. 418.]
From a Zoroastrian perspective, my community—one of the smallest communities in the world—has full freedom to practise our ancient religion over here in the UK. We have never been persecuted. Yet to see the persecution of the Zoroastrians in Iran is very sad. One thing that worried me greatly when I came to this country in the early 1980s from India, is that I was told that this country had a glass ceiling for foreigners, and that if I ever wanted to work after I finished my studies I would never get to the top because I was a foreigner. That was so true, I am afraid to say, years ago. Today it has changed, and this country has evolved into a country of aspiration, where anyone can get anywhere, regardless of race, religion or background. I led a debate here a few years ago on the contribution of minority and ethnic religious communities to the culture and economy of Britain. In that debate, which some Members here tonight spoke in, it was said that we would not be where we are today—the fifth largest economy in the world—without the contribution of those minority communities.
In India there are only 59,000 Zoroastrian Parsis out of a population of 1.25 billion; here there are less than 6,000 of us out of a population of 65 million. Yet wherever you go, people know who a Parsi is. Mahatma Gandhi said: “In numbers they are beneath contempt, in contribution, beyond compare”. Ambitiously, I say that by achievement per capita we have done so well, going back to Cyrus the Great. Forget Magna Carta: that is modern. In 539 BC, Cyrus the Great, with his cylinder in the British Museum, issued the first bill of human rights, in which he allowed people in his kingdom to practise whatever religion they wished and allowed the Jewish community to go back to their homeland.
In the context of the European Union, Brexit, as the noble Lord, Lord Gadhia said, is dividing this country. Immigration was the highlight of that—yet where would we be without those 3 million immigrants from the European Union who came to this country and contributed to it? The most reverend Primate spoke about assimilation and integration. My father, the late General Bilimoria, said, “Wherever you live in the world, integrate as best you can, but never forget your roots”. It is important that people can integrate but also be proud of their roots. That is the difference between secularism and pluralism: we are proud of our own religions but we celebrate, not just tolerate, all other religions—and we do so with integrity.
The most reverend Primate’s predecessor, Rowan Williams—Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, and now master of Magdalene College, Cambridge—spoke about integrity. That word comes from the Latin words “integritas” and “integer”, and you cannot practise integrity unless you are whole and complete as an individual, as an entity, or as a community. You cannot be fragmented in front of the light; you can only practise integrity if you are whole.
Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said, we have had a chilling reminder that many people around the world live in fear purely because of their beliefs. We must never let ourselves fall victim to such intolerance and divisiveness. That is where my favourite poem by Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate, starts:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high …
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls”,
“Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake”.
Although the fundamentalists in each religion affirm that their religion is exclusive, and look on other religions as enemies, according to their scriptural and theological traditions all religions have a notion of a god who is inclusive. This morning I was talking to my elder son Kai, who has just graduated in theology from Cambridge. I said, “I’m speaking in this debate, Kai. Have you got any advice for me?” He said, “Yes dad: where religion is concerned, we are more similar than we are different”. He talked about the difference between secularism and pluralism, and about celebration rather than tolerance. Then he reminded me of his grandfather—my father—and said that when he was in the army there would be cavalry regiments with a Sikh squadron, a Hindu squadron and a Muslim squadron, not just living together but fighting together as comrades in arms. Finally, he said, “Dad, there’s a Chinese proverb: there are many paths to the top of the mountain, but once you’re there, the view is the same”. Brexit is dividing this country and threatening the existence of our precious union. My wife is South African, and there is a wonderful South African saying: if you want to go fast, go alone, and if you want to go far, go together. We have to go together as a country, and then we will go far.
My Lords, any objective observer in the Public Gallery, looking down and listening to this debate, will sense that our tight little Chamber has worked itself up into a fine old consensus. It is not a consensus I dissent from at all, I agree with it all, but I will disappoint your Lordships by not going round the same arguments that I think we all agree on. Indeed, I will go off-piste a bit to say that sometimes I think that it is okay, with restraint, to be disobliging and attack religions—I think in particular of my own, Roman Catholic religion in this country—and to be a bit intolerant sometimes. I think a bit of intolerance is sometimes richly deserved, even by the cassocked ones.
I also think we must be very wary of thinking that the situation here is terrible, that there are terrible problems facing the Jews and terrible problems facing the Muslims—which I abhor. My noble friend under the skin, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, knows my feelings and my strong support for the Jews, and I have close Muslim friends who know of my support, so I shall not to reiterate it. However, knowing of someone in the Indian subcontinent who has been waiting a long time for trial for blasphemy on the grounds that they drank water from a particular well, they would think they were in a heaven of tolerance in the United Kingdom by comparison to what they face. We also have to be careful not to endlessly extend the margins of victimhood in this era of identity politics. I do not mean party politics, but everyone forming into little groups—me too here, me too there. There is a danger that we may well, by seeking to be tolerant, become intolerant. That is something I would abhor and I warn against.
I think it is terrible that certain groups in this country do not feel safe and want to leave this country. That said, we have to be robust and not push the frontiers of victimhood too far. My noble friend Lady Warsi talked about casual dinner party conversations: I am now very fearful of the dinner party police perhaps recording what I say and what I think, as I am very cautious in the financial services world, where I work, and, indeed, in the political world, where I talk to that most dangerous group of people, the political journalists, from time to time. I very much agree with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s words in her Easter message last year, when she spoke about the importance of the shared values of compassion, community and a sense of mutual obligation.
It is not easy to condemn nor lecture, for example, a Pakistani, or a Minister in Pakistan, for their lack of tolerance to words about non-Muslims, so it will certainly be a challenge for my noble friend Lord Ahmad. I too, like other noble Lords, welcome his appointment on
Whatever the answer, it is clear to me that Christians of all branches in the United Kingdom need to keep on their sense-of-humour armour about the attacks that Christianity sometimes gets, particularly from jokers and stand-up comics. The mass media rather stopped that sort of comic remark about Jews or Muslims, and certainly about Hindus—I have never heard a good joke against or for a Hindu in that respect. We have to recognise that a lot of unfortunate remarks are still made about the Christian church at large, but my response to that is, “Hey-ho. I am going to shrug this off and not worry about it: I am not going to be a victim”. Not being a victim is extremely important. I am slightly worried about the sense of spreading victimhood in some of the speeches I listened to this afternoon.
What we cannot do is shrug off increasing intolerance towards us. Here, the us I am talking about is the Roman Catholic Church, not any other Christian church in this country. I am entirely talking about intolerance, although I think that a certain amount of intolerance at the moment in our direction is deserved. Let me illustrate this with the story of a few weeks ago when someone I greatly admire, Monsignor Rod Strange, one-time head of the seminary for mature would-be priests in Rome, the Beda College, and now a distinguished professor of theology at Saint Mary’s, Twickenham, told of a fellow clergy coming out to start his day, walking through the door of his presbytery with a bounce in his feet and his clerical collar on to be met by a direct spit hit by a woman, exploding with, “Here comes another paedo priest”. That is the damage that has been done, sometimes, by the Roman Catholic faith to itself. This sort of lamentable but understandable intolerance is made manifest in the sometimes slow response by the hierarchy of my Church to decades of institutional abuse of little boys in Roman Catholic schools.
One of the great things about the Roman Catholic Church, embedded in the Vatican, is that it is an ancient outfit, embodying splendid durability and long-term vision, not responding to every tweet or critical remark with some instant reaction to what the 24-hour media says. This is generally a good thing, but there is no excuse for the sometimes tardy grasping by the hierarchy that there is a problem. Just weeks ago, it was announced with a slight roll of Vatican drums that there to be a great, global inquiry into child abuse globally. It was an urgent matter, so urgent that it will come in the first quarter of 2019, so we have a long time to wait for this.
In the UK Church, we have been listening to the outpouring of well-meant, holy apologies, sometimes expressed in somewhat clericalist language, for what has happened to children in this country at the hands of Roman Catholic priests. There have been lots of calls for prayer and fasting—all good stuff—but, of stable-clearing action and prevention plans there has not been very much. No wonder that we Roman Catholics in this country have lost a bit of respect. This may be one of the reasons why so very few young men now go into our seminaries. That twitch on the thread of a possible vocation from the Almighty is counterbalanced by the self-searching of whether this is—or perhaps is not anymore—a respectable profession or calling to go into. It must explain why, where we live in the West Country, there are less than a handful of likely-to-be-ordained priests during the next five years. It is why where people go to Mass, they are closing down. Times are changing.
Yet, in many abbeys, there are good, holy, ordained monks. Not every monk—such as the unfortunate priest who was spat on by the lady—is remotely a paedophile. These abbeys were the epicentres of some terrible. admitted abuse, so much so that monks are kept away from the schools that they once set up, which are now entirely in the hands of laity. It might be a good public and practical act of penance to decide to mothball their own buildings; to realise that the intolerance being shown towards the Catholic faith is reasonable, and to go out into the parishes, many of which no longer have the priests they used to—some are in their 80s—to keep Mass going of a Sunday.
The Roman Catholic Church in the UK cannot preach tolerance for others, or about itself, when some see it as inactive in demonstrating practical intolerance of what they have unknowingly presided over. No more can we politically preach about what goes on in the Muslim bits of Pakistan, when some of their brethren are having such a rough time today in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I start by thanking the Minister—not just for launching this debate, but for what was a very important speech. I want to read and study his contribution again. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Patten. I know this is what Ministers normally get to do at the end of debates, but I want to thank everybody I have heard so far. I have not heard a speech from which I have not learned a good deal. One of the conventions of the House is that we only refer to people on our own side as our noble friends. However, I think this is an occasion when the friendship and empathy across the House is a great deal more significant than which side we are sitting on. So, if I do not use the convention, it will be because I see people across the House in exactly that spirit. I am looking forward to what my noble friend Lord Griffiths says at the end, though I have not heard him yet. He is a very distinguished leader of his own Church, in which he has played such a significant part. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Popat, is not in his place at the moment. He has also been a formidable champion of many of these issues and I want to record my thanks to him.
Ten, maybe even five, years ago I could not have imagined that we would be having this debate, nor felt that it was necessary. The headlines that we saw yesterday about the dire increases in hate crime might not come as a surprise because we have probably all charted them. They do come as a surprise, however, because somehow, we have arrived at a point in this country where these things are manifest and serious. I am not going to repeat all the statistics because your Lordships have read them and heard them in other speeches. They are devastating. It is true from these statistics that some communities in particular have found themselves in the crosshairs of this—the Muslim community, and the Jewish community of which I am part. It moves me and has made me want to speak today because I reflect on my own family’s history, as my noble friend Lord Kestenbaum did a short while ago on his. He talked about the escape of his family from Germany. More or less none of the members of my family who were in mainland Europe escaped, with fatal consequences for pretty much all of them. One part of my family escaped from Portugal in 1492—the Portuguese have managed to track them back all that distance, which must mean that their Home Office is a good deal more efficient than ours. The reality is that our family survived because that branch escaped all that time ago.
Part of what I say, reflecting on what has been said by my noble friend Lord Hain and others, is bound to sound a little angry. I do not mean to indulge in anger or victimhood, but I want to understand what we are trying to deal with.
The issues that we have begun to explore today have led the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick—somebody I greatly admire and trust—to indicate the level of work and attention that her force will give to them. I welcome that enormously. Equally, however, I do not wholly buy into the certain amount of complacency shown by the Government when they say this is simply down to increased effectiveness in keeping records. There are very real problems which go beyond police recording; indeed, the Minister made the same point himself, and I am glad that he did. Everybody knows that a great many victims feel that they have to shrug these things off and somehow carry on without reporting anything to anybody. They either see that there is little prospect of action or believe that it has become such a normal part of their lives that they do not report it. If anything, I suspect that the crimes we have been discussing which go unreported, as with crimes against lesbians, gay people, bisexual people and transgender communities, would have boosted the figures significantly had they been reported. It is not a spike in the statistics; when you look at them, there is an unrelenting, upward curve.
I will quickly mention two examples from my own experience. A lady who worked for me was punched in the face on a London bus two days after the Brexit result, when she was with her five year-old daughter. She was not visibly from any minority community; as it happens, she was from Latvia. However, she spoke with a strange accent, which caused huge fury to somebody. She would not report it. She said that what she would do was to take herself and her daughter back to where they came from. It may be that many of the people who took part in that referendum wanted exactly that outcome, but the reality was that she decided not to report it but to go. The other example is of my own intern in your Lordships’ House, who just a few weeks ago was set upon by three thugs in the East End of London. She is visibly and, I would guess to most people, obviously a young Muslim woman. She has been badly injured; thank God, she is moving around again, albeit on crutches. She was attacked for those reasons, and she is just one of many examples. It is all very close to home, which is the point I wanted to make.
We are seeing not just something in the general population; we need to reflect on ourselves as well. Political elites do not always do as much they could, or the right things in the circumstances. We see many advocates of a decent, tolerant set of relationships, and that is very much what I see and experience in this House—I described all noble Lords speaking in this debate as friends in a sense, and I meant it. But I fear that others should hang their heads in shame. Boris Johnson has become a man whose public bigotry is a significant issue. It is unbelievable to me that he should talk of Muslim women as he does, but in fact he has talked of many minority communities in much the same way. The leader of my own party, it is sad for me to say—having been involved in the party, and its general secretary—has a long history of rhetoric but is wholly bereft of action. Inaction has allowed anti-Semitism to fester in the Labour Party, and the serried ranks of bigots, who are waiting for action to be taken, see that it somehow never matures. In these cases leadership rarely says the right things, and it appears that in my party it does not do the right things. Above all, for me it is what you do rather than what you say that tells people who you are and what your values are. A Labour MP who can walk around a difficult and tough constituency in the north-west without any kind of police escort or protection cannot walk through the Labour Party conference without police protection. That is a fundamental, visible example of a significant problem. Many of us have experienced similar things—not that we needed police protection, but similar kinds of abuse.
I say to my noble friend Lady Deech that in my experience it is not always about Israel and Palestine—in fact, that is unusual. The thing which apparently I do, and which people know about me without ever asking my view, is that I use whatever authority I have to prop up my friends the Rothschilds and George Soros to make sure that the secret network which makes so much money for that part of the community is intact. One could have heard it in the 1930s of course, and we are hearing it again now.
It is a sad truth that we are becoming an ugly and intolerant country. This is a tragedy for the United Kingdom, given its history and ability to absorb peoples. As many others have said, civility and respect are not quite dead in this country but I fear they are they are heading for a rather shallow grave.
The internet, which is the default mass publishing house for trolls, racists, homophobes, liars, fakers, charlatans and racial supremacists, has deepened the ugliness and intolerance. Freedom of expression is, of course, tremendously important, but I urge noble Lords to reflect on when the expression of something goes beyond freedom of expression into something that is, by repetition, more significant. If we look at any individual statement by Bannon, it is unlikely that we would see it, in itself, as the cause of anything. Yet, aggregated, such statements were sufficient to help the President of the United States say of a group of Ku Klux Klan members that they were not “bad people”. If we can begin to define where things move from being expressions of opinion into being dangerous, we should do it.
The problems have been there below the surface for a long time; we need to face them. Black communities in the United Kingdom have faced them and we need to do so too, in a very candid way. In the case of Jewish people, Conor Cruise O’Brien rightly described anti-Semitism as a very light sleeper. Sadly, many of us who have experienced problems in the recent past will know just how lightly it is asleep.
The speech given by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, at the Second Reading of the anti-terrorism Bill was, I thought, exceptional; I applaud it, and I applaud what she said today. It is absolutely clear that, unless you can engage with communities who can engage with other people, the likelihood of finding solutions is very small. I assure her, as I am sure others in the House will, that many will support the positions she has taken and argue for them.
I do not think people’s fears are fanciful. My late father used to keep a packed suitcase—a bit like the parents of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi—because he thought things would probably go wrong in this country. I always thought that was crazy but I am now beginning to see things which appear to be going very wrong. Any number of my friends and relatives are beginning to plan their departures to various places— Canada seems the most popular destination because they feel it is likely to be tolerant. What an extraordinary thing—I could not have imagined that this would happen in my lifetime.
Some of it is unquestionably down to the politics of identity. The sorts of social alliances that were so cohesive for us over so long a period have broken down in many ways. People still respect those institutions—most of us try to ensure that they remain healthy—but the truth is that people can identify themselves in smaller and smaller groups, which identify themselves partly through not being part of another identity. They are in many cases hell-bent on describing how their group has been set upon by the most considerable disadvantage. For those reasons, they regard themselves as needing a remedial case to be argued, which places them above others.
What might we do? First, I agree completely with those who say there is no place for hate crime. I do not like the idea of criminalising people, and I do not think it often works, but it is essential that people understand that the Government of this country will pursue crimes and seek to convict criminals, and that the regime which criminals then experience is enough to make them reconsider what they do. I do not see any point in thinking otherwise. I think of how the late Lord Scarman dealt with some of the issues that arose out of the original Notting Hill riots. It was an absolutely clinical intervention and it had a dramatic effect.
Secondly, the leaders of political parties must act expeditiously against members of their parties who promote hatred. This should apply absolutely to Islamophobia as much as it does to anti-Semitism or any other form of discrimination. They are in many ways distinctive, but they have much in common.
Thirdly, I will not repeat the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, but I completely agree that fundamental economic change is important to raise aspirations and people’s feeling that they are part of this society.
Fourthly, and for the sake of our future, it is important to look at and address the school curriculum, the way teachers work and the sort of things that happen to kids in classrooms. There are good arguments for classroom discussions that enable all pupils to take part, with everyone being properly heard and their opinions respected. We need to focus on evidence and a means of dealing with fake facts. We need to draw on the external and community resources around schools, and we have to moderate opinions and strong emotions to try to retain cohesion. We have an amazing teaching force in this country in many ways, and it is perfectly capable of doing this. I am well aware that I am making no greater an appeal than to make sure that all the things in the Runnymede report of 1994, and reprinted in 1997, are finally done. Of course a lot has been done in schools—it would be stupid for me to suggest otherwise. However, I suspect that we have not done as much as we could.
For those reasons, I make one final point to your Lordships—to my friends, right across the House. The existential issues may take us a generation to deal with. As the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said, that applies to universities too, but it applies also to the next generation. If we do not get it right, our future as a cohesive people will be in the gravest jeopardy.
My Lords, like others, I welcome this important debate on religious intolerance and prejudice in the United Kingdom. The protection of the right of freedom of religion or belief for all must be a central challenge for us in this House. Despite the protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief being afforded greater priority in the UK than in many other parts of the world, this does not mean that individuals wishing to enjoy this right do not face challenges here. Moreover, there is reason to believe that this is becoming more, not less, of a problem.
Other noble Lords have observed that yesterday the Home Office published new figures for hate crime in England and Wales. I recognise that others have said something about these figure, but I want to repeat it. In 2017, 8,336 religious hate crime offences were recorded in England and Wales. That constitutes an increase of about 40% in comparison with the previous year. In 2017-18, where the perceived religion of the victim was recorded, 52% of offences were directed at Muslims, 12% at Jews, 5% at Christians, 5% at other, 4% at individuals with no religion, 2% at Sikhs and 1% at Hindus. Very strangely—I cannot get my head around it—21% were directed at those with an unknown religion. I suspect the Minister might be able to help me with this figure when he responds, but I confess to being somewhat baffled by it. Despite being classified as religious hate crimes, the relevant faith of those involved in 21% of cases is unknown. I find that strange and difficult to understand, and look to the Minister for help. How can one be clear that an incident should be classified as a religious hate crime if it is not possible to identify a religion?
I understand that, over recent years, police forces have been required to disaggregate hate crime data by faith. This should allow for a better understanding of the trends of hate crime perpetrated against different religious groups and ensure a more targeted approach in addressing such crimes. However, an article published in the Spectator in March 2017 casts considerable doubt on whether that is actually happening. The article reports on freedom of information requests by Hardeep Singh. The results reveal some striking problems in the recording of hate crime incidents. While in 2016 there were 1,227 recorded Islamophobic incidents, in 57 of these recorded cases the victim had never been contacted. In 86 cases the religion of the victim was unknown. Information on another 85 cases was recorded as blank. The article further indicated that the cases of 19 Hindus, 11 atheists, 39 Christians, four Sikhs, two Greek Orthodox, two Jews and two Roman Catholics were recorded as Islamophobic, rather than as hate crime targeting the relevant religions.
The report suggests that 912 of the 1,227 victims of a crime classified exclusively as anti-Muslim were Muslim. The fact that 912 religiously motivated hate crimes were directed at Muslims is very concerning, and must be condemned without reservation. I do not wish to detract from that in any way; it is a fact and cannot be denied. However, erroneously recording over 300 crimes as Islamophobic neglects the problem of other religious groups being targeted for their religion. This is an issue which urgently needs to be addressed. Ultimately, if police forces are required to disaggregate hate crime data by faith in their documents, they should be provided with extra training to enable them to do this adequately. Mindful of these circumstances and considerations, I ask the Minister: are the Government aware of the discrepancies in the recording of hate crime by faith, as highlighted by the Spectator? What investigations have been conducted by the Government, and what practical steps have been recommended, or already implemented, to address this issue?
I now turn to an issue that has not gained sufficient attention, despite constituting a significant challenge: namely, the issue of religiously motivated hate crime perpetrated against Christians through attacks on their places of worship. Attacks on Christian places of worship appear to be on the increase. I will provide some examples, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. On
In coming to terms with the significance of these attacks, it is important to consider not only their effect on places of worship—that is, the damage to the building and religious items—but the adverse effects on people who attend places of worship. A significant number of attacks on Christian places of worship might have a detrimental and chilling effect on people going to such places. If these criminal activities are not adequately investigated and prosecuted, it is likely that this impunity will encourage further attacks. It is crucial that the Government and the police take seriously attacks on places of worship, irrespective of where they are, and that they deal with such cases effectively and with the same diligence as they do any other crime. Furthermore, it is imperative to scrutinise the steps that are taken to ensure that future criminal activity is prevented and that safety and security in places of worship is guaranteed.
I understand that the Home Office has been supporting places of worship and improving their security to counter the threat of hate crimes at their premises. This is a very positive initiative. I also understand that, as mentioned in Action Against Hate, the UK Government’s Plan for Tackling Hate Crime—‘Two Years On’, the Home Office’s places of worship scheme in 2019-20 will provide further funding for this initiative. Can the Minister say how many places of worship have benefited from this initiative so far and what the disaggregation is on the basis of faith? Furthermore, it would be beneficial to know how many places of worship were denied such funding under the scheme and for what reasons. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response to the points I have put to him this evening.
My Lords, I am the 15th speaker and I rise to speak three hours into the debate. As someone said, everything that can be said on this subject has been said but not everyone has said it. However, that does not mean that I shall repeat what has been said in what has obviously been a very good debate.
The peculiar thing about our current problem is not that this country was always tolerant—that is a delusion which I will speak about in a moment—but that intolerance is taking a particularly vicious form in relation to religion. I have lived here for 53 years. In 1964, the year before I arrived, Patrick Gordon Walker lost an election at Smethwick due to his opponent’s slogan, “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour”. We have had a lot of intolerance and prejudice, but the achievement in the first 45 years after I arrived—this was not due to me; I am just giving the dates—was this country, which was not a multiracial culture, becoming a multiracial culture.
That took a lot of hard work and nobody should believe that this country was always tolerant. For most white people, it was—there is no doubt about that—but even within white people there is a lot of prejudice, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said. Roman Catholics suffered a lot of prejudice. Jews feel safe now but that has not been the case for all that long because they too did not feel very comfortable in this country. Therefore, let us not pretend that all was hunky-dory and suddenly Jeremy Corbyn came along and everything turned bad. We have to understand how we became a tolerant, open and multiracial culture and how much hard work it took on the part of the Government, the community, the judicial system and the voluntary organisations.
Housing was difficult when I arrived. People would say, “You may go anywhere but you will not be able to rent”, but I could because I had a middle-class job and a middle-class income. The discrimination was being suffered by people who were poor; there was an element of class as well as race. One must never forget that an element of class is very important in the forms that intolerance and discrimination take. What we had was a class problem where the people who were coming in were poorer—they knew English but their English could not be understood by local people—and there was a variety of discrimination.
I have personally suffered no discrimination, but I did hold a seminar at the London School of Economics when the right honourable Enoch Powell made his “rivers of blood” speech. That was the only time I had the National Front threaten me and break into my apartment and scrawl things on it, but that did not bother me. That is part of being a person who wants to struggle to make a society better, but the feeling that the non-white community was alien—that they were not properly here, that they should go back and that there should be a scheme to send them back—was there for a long time. The only time I thought I might leave was in 1978 when Mrs Thatcher, in a television interview, said that this small island was getting rather crowded. That is a dog whistle and I said to my white, English wife and my children that we may just have to leave and go to Australia because it may become very difficult for us to live here. Luckily, that did not come true. We had race riots in the 1980s in Brixton and Toxteth; people may not remember, but I remember.
One of the positive things is that we can overcome intolerance but it takes a lot of effort on the part of everybody—it is not just the Government’s job. It is also the job of social organisations and of volunteers. More than anything else, I plead—as a social scientist and as a man who made his living by teaching—for a serious investigation into the nature of intolerance in this society, which we do not have. There may be lots of studies for all I know, but why did our intolerance change suddenly from racist to anti-religious at the beginning of the 21st century? Was it because of 9/11, or was it something else?
It is remarkable that what we had in the 1960s—the League of Empire Loyalists—was a right-wing nationalist movement. Nationalism then was purely a right-wing phenomenon; the left wing could not be nationalist at all—it was internationalist, or whatever it was. The nationalist view or the right-wing view was, “This is a country of white people and all non-white people should go”. That right wing was partialised—not entirely eliminated as my noble friend Lord Hain reminded us recently—but now we have a situation in which, on the right and on the left, there is a peculiar kind of intolerance.
Of course, the social media exaggerate all of this. What people used to say in private meetings or in the pub is now broadcast all over the world because they can use Twitter. Everyone knows, and of course they can remain anonymous in their abuse, which gives it more power. We need to find out what the social and political roots of intolerance are and why it has moved on from racial prejudice to religious prejudice. This phenomenon is unusual and I agree with speakers who have said that for the first time, many Jewish families are asking whether they feel they can go on living in this country. I have mentioned my own example because I felt like that in 1978, although I had been here for only a short time. We have to take those feelings seriously and make quite sure that we understand the causes of this new phenomenon, not just the statistics. Are the roots in nationalism or some peculiar kind of internationalism? I am sure that a lot of the anti-Semitism on the left is to do with the Palestinian muddle. That is where it comes from and we have to examine the reasons for it. This is not just a problem for the left or for the right. They are different, but they may be addressing the same kind of issue and we have to understand why it happens.
I want to make one anti-religious comment because I am not religious. One of the strangest facts is that the Abrahamic faiths have hated each other for longer than anyone can remember. The roots of anti-Semitism are in the Christian tradition. Everyone now talks about the Judaeo-Christian faith, but we know that they did not do so until after 1945. Today there is a battle between Judaism and Islam. I remember that after the 9/11 crisis Tony Blair said that we are all children of Abraham. I said, “Include me out. I am not a child of Abraham, thank you very much”. There is a tradition of religious hatred within the Abrahamic trinity and we also need to find out why that has been the case for a long time.
Lastly, just to be awkward, my friend the noble Lord, Lord Gadhia, said some nice and generous things about Hinduism with which I do not necessarily agree. Let me say this, although it is a non-related fact, because he raised it. It is about discrimination. It is not about caste, it is about untouchability. It is about the fact that the Hindu religion may be a great religion—I am sure it is—but Hindu society has lived with excommunicating a part of itself for 2,000 years. There is still a problem today and that problem has come here, and that is what some of us are fighting about. We are not trying to abolish caste, we are trying to abolish discrimination within a caste.
Discrimination can happen within a religion and it can happen across religions. Let none of us be proud of our own religion—instead, let us admit that we are all capable of a lot of hatred. We have only to find out why.
My Lords, we are all fortunate to live in a country that is relatively far less prone to religious intolerance and injustice than many of our peers. In Europe we compare favourably to our neighbours and we have cultivated a strong global position as a pluralistic and multicultural nation. When I first came to this country as an immigrant, I knew that I was coming to the country which had passed race relations Acts and celebrated the Notting Hill carnival. I worked hard when I first arrived to set up forums and spaces for interfaith understanding and reconciliation, and this country has increasingly accommodated the needs of minority groups. Today, I am proud that more of our public buildings have prayer rooms, and that we enjoy the right to express our beliefs. We should rightly champion all of these achievements, but there is a rot in our society. Two awful prejudices have started to creep back into mainstream discourse, and they must be stamped out before they get worse.
I will start with Islamophobia. Hatred of Muslims is nothing new, but under the new leadership of UKIP, there appears to be a renewed attempt to push it into the mainstream. Tommy Robinson has repeatedly called for actual violence against Muslims, but when he is invited on to news programmes he is not challenged hard enough on his past statements. Giving racists a platform on respectable channels legitimises their points of view and helps them spread their hatred through the internet. The places where racists organise now are mainly online, and I have seen barely any effort from large social media companies to address their obligations to society to shut these spaces down.
These companies kid themselves if they think the pressure is just from politicians. Ordinary people are growing increasingly frustrated with what they see as foot-dragging and shirking of responsibilities. If social media companies committed to working with the DCMS to police spaces where hatred is rampant, it might go some way to addressing those concerns.
Across the hard left, anti-Semitism also seems to be making a comeback. Labour’s summer of denying the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism gave succour to extremists who would use the actions of the Israeli state to attack and demonise British Jews who have no part in the conflict in the Middle East. Sadly, the leader of the Opposition in the other place has a long history of these statements. Repeatedly, he has blamed Israel for events that are not directly attributable to it, and has long associated with those who have made anti-Semitic comments. His comment that some British Zionists did not understand English irony despite,
“having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives”,
was worrying and ought to be condemned by all right-thinking people. There is nothing wrong with criticism of Israel’s actions, and a robust debate is part of a healthy civic society; but the tone and actions of the Labour leadership have created a climate of fear for British Jews. Many Members, both here and in the other place, have made this point. I despair that the Labour leadership are not listening, or that they might not even care, but they should. Anti-Semitism is the first of many evils in society, and Jews are the canary in the coalmine for waves of incoming prejudice. We dismiss concerns at our peril.
I urge Ministers to make it clear that all types of crime—hate crimes and others—against Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other faiths must be stopped. Human beings are the image of our maker. They should be respected and not hated. As the most reverend Primate said, love thy neighbour.
Sant Kabir was born in India near the holy river Ganga. As a newly-born baby, he was left at a pond. Nobody knew who his parents were. He was picked up by a Muslim weaver. As he grew up with him, he became a saintly person, because the holy river Ganga is in the holy city of Varanasi. His sayings are included in the holy books of Siri Guru Granth Sahib, so we can see what the difference means—Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian.
A Muslim, a Hindu or a Sikh—they are all the same; there is no difference. Kabir believed in one God and other people the same. As I have said, his sayings are included in Guru Granth Sahib. We should practise that method: that we are all children of God; there is nobody bad and nobody good. They are all the same.
My Lords, I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for initiating this important debate. I shall take my cue from the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and be a little controversial.
I read the Government’s half-time review of their hate crime strategy and find it disappointing in that it completely fails to address the underlying causes of hate crime—for much of this evening, we have done the same—and, while repeatedly addressing the concerns of the Abrahamic faiths, virtually ignores the equally real suffering of other faiths. The review details some 20 initiatives to protect against anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate crimes. A reference to occasional round-table meetings is no substitute for action. Why the disparity? To echo Shakespeare: if we are cut, do we not bleed?
There are no comparative statistics on hate crimes suffered by different religions to justify partiality. Figures presented to justify additional resources for the Jewish and Islamic faiths come from those communities. Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer of the Met has made it clear that a significant proportion of hate crime recorded as Islamophobic is against other communities. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, referred to a freedom of information request made by my colleague, Hardeep Singh, which showed that there is no clear definition of whom hate crime is committed against.
Many of the hate crimes described as Islamophobic are directed against Sikhs out of ignorance or mistaken identity. In the States, a Sikh was the first person murdered in reprisal after 9/11, and six worshippers in a gurdwara there were shot by a white supremacist in another mistaken-identity killing.
The day after 9/11, I was going to a meeting with the then CRE at Victoria. As I came out of the station, two workmen digging the road looked at me in a hostile way. Fortunately, their lack of religious literacy saved the day. The elder turned to the younger and said: “He’s not a Muslim; he’s a Hindu.” I did not argue the point.
Few Sikhs have not been called “bin Laden” at some time or other, and some have been violently attacked. We heard about the gurdwara in Leeds being defaced and partly burned and, only a couple of months ago, a gurdwara in Edinburgh that I had recently visited was firebombed.
I do not in any way begrudge the protection that Jews and Muslims receive against hate crime. The Jewish community has suffered grievously from anti-Semitism, and Muslims are suffering hate crime today. I have always had a warm working relationship with both communities. All I ask is that the Government are a little more even-handed to non-Abrahamic faiths in both policies and resourcing.
Let me now turn to the important causes of hate crime. Prejudice, in the sense of fear of—or irrational, negative attitudes to—those not like us, is not something found only in others; it is common to all of us. The existence of heathens in distant lands gave us a perverse sense of unity and superiority based on a shared, irrational dislike of those not like us. We find this again and again in literature. John of Gaunt’s speech in “Richard II”, with its reference to,
“This precious stone set in the silver sea”,
against the envy of lesser breeds, is simply an example of how we viewed foreigners. Some on the leave side of the Brexit debate will probably say Shakespeare did not go far enough.
Today, the one-time distant foreigner, with a different culture and religion, can be our next-door neighbour, and it is imperative that we set aside our own prejudices and see people as they really are, equal members of one human family.
It is equally important that we look openly and honestly at prejudice embedded in religion. What generally passes for religion is, in fact, a complex mix of superstition, rituals, culture, group history and uplifting ethical teachings. While ethical teachings are easy to state, they are extremely difficult to live by, so we tend to focus on other things. Often we have a perverse, unifying but naive, belief—we find it again and again in different religions—that the creator of all that exists has favourites and takes sides, regardless of merit. As Guru Nanak reminded us:
“The one God of us all is not the least bit interested in our different religious labels but in what we do to serve our fellow beings.”
This bigotry of belief is widespread and is often found in religious texts. As a Sikh, I feel that the ultimate blasphemy is to say that texts condoning the killing or ill-treatment of the innocent are the word of God. Such beliefs lead to horrendous crimes and savagery—not only between faiths, but even within the same faith—and to increasingly familiar terrorist outrages in the name of religion. It is important to understand that religious extremists and far-right extremists need each other to thrive.
Today, despite all the lip service paid to interfaith understanding, there is virtually no dialogue between faiths to explore and understand their different religious teachings, with each remaining smug in its beliefs. I have been a member of the government-funded Inter Faith Network of the UK since it was founded in 1987 and am a member of other bodies committed to religious dialogue. Meetings rarely go beyond pious statements and academic discussions on safe peripheral concerns, with members going back to their congregations to stress the exclusivity and superiority of their teachings. Looking at an internet learning site about Islam, I was startled to see a colleague saying that he felt sorry for people of other faiths because they were “all going to hell”. I once attended a meeting of the Three Faiths Forum where Christians, Jews and Muslims were talking in a superior way about the three monotheistic faiths. According to the opening line of the Sikh scriptures, there is one God of all humanity. We need to learn a little more about each other to combat religious prejudice.
It is not all up to the Government. People of religion have a common responsibility to look afresh at negative cultural practices such as discrimination against women and others that attach themselves to religion. Religion will become more relevant if we separate dated culture from abiding ethical teachings. Secular society, which sometimes shows an aloof superiority to warring religions, should also encourage more open dialogue.
With the best of intentions, we skirt around questionable beliefs and practices by using coded camouflage words to address symptoms, rather than looking to the underlying causes of violence and hatred. Words such as “Islamist”—insulting to Muslims—“radicalised”, “extremist” or “fundamentalist” are loaded euphemisms or vague innuendos, devoid of real meaning. The absurdity of such language is illustrated by the true story of a visit to my home by two Scotland Yard officers following my criticism of the Indian Government’s involvement in mob violence against Sikhs. The men from the Yard asked if I was an extremist or a moderate. I replied that I was extremely moderate. They then asked if I was a fundamentalist. I replied, “Well, I believe in the fundamentals of Sikh teaching, such as the equality of all human beings, gender equality and concern for the less fortunate. Yes, I suppose I am a fundamentalist”.
If religions presume to tell us how we should live, move and have our being, they must be open to discussion and challenge. The same openness is absolutely essential in combating prejudice and working for a safer and more tolerant world.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, has given us several thoughts for the day in that rather splendid speech, the subtext of which was that hostility is bred from and fed by ignorance. That is something we should all bear in mind. In his very interesting speech, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, talked about our becoming an “ugly and intolerant” society. He went on to indicate that ugliness and intolerance are fed and propagated by social media. We have to bear that in mind.
It is difficult when you are the last speaker in a debate to say anything new, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, but I want to try to put this in a historical perspective. When I go across to the great cathedral in whose shadow we live in Lincoln, I go in—perhaps appropriately for a politician—through the Judgement Porch, and the first thing I see are the remains of the shrine of Hugh of Lincoln, who was canonised in 1220. We will be commemorating that in a couple of years’ time. His shrine, which was a centre of pilgrimage second only, for part of the Middle Ages, to that of Thomas of Canterbury, was despoiled—smashed up—and his body taken. He had two shrines, one for his body and one for his head. This was during a period of repression, when Henry VIII, having despoiled and dissolved the monasteries, was taking the treasures from our cathedrals and did not like the idea of shrines, making an exception only for the shrine of Edward the Confessor across the road, because it was pointed out to him that Edward was a king as well as a saint.
I go into that cathedral and look at that shrine. As I walk down to St Hugh’s Choir I see more evidence of intolerance: all the brasses commemorating great figures were ripped up, not during the Reformation but 100 years later at the time of the English Civil War. Then I see the most moving thing of all—one entirely relevant to today’s debate: the shrine of Little St Hugh. Until the last century the story was told of how Hugh, a little gentile boy, wandered into the Jewish quarter of Lincoln. We had—and I am proud that we had—a Jewish community in Lincoln of enormous importance in the Middle Ages, of whom St Hugh was a great protector. St Hugh was dead by this time. The little boy did not re-emerge, and the story was told that he had been set upon and murdered by the Jewish community. Many of them perished because of that. This was an early example of anti-Semitism, and within a few decades the Jews had been expelled from England by Edward I. They did not return until the time of Oliver Cromwell, who did not bring them back because of great tolerance on his part—he was not the most tolerant of men—but because he thought that they could contribute to society and the economy, as they undoubtedly did.
That early example of anti-Semitism should bring us all up sharp. Only about 30 years ago the Chief Rabbi, I think—it was certainly a very senior rabbi—came to Lincoln and, in a very moving ceremony, a plaque was put up that ended with the word “Shalom”, indicating that this was a deed of which we should all be ashamed. You cannot apologise for what other people did centuries ago, but you can deeply regret it and feel ashamed of it. I always think of that when I go into the cathedral, and I think also of the hatred and bitterness of those times, which, sadly, is being replicated in our own time.
However, we must be very careful when deploring these things not to get the whole issue out of perspective. The most reverend Primate touched on this when he talked about the importance of freedom of speech. One of the things that has made our country great over the centuries has been true freedom of speech. We cannot legislate against human feelings. Although it is right to punish hatred, we have to be careful how we define it. Something you deplore, which you yourself might hate, can be entirely legal. I was brought up always to think of the words of Voltaire:
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
We have to be very careful when discussing these things not to get them out of perspective. Hatred is always to be deplored. To hate a man or woman for his or her religious belief is about as low as you can get. But we have to be careful. We have to recognise that a repudiation of a belief, even if it is a Christian belief that I, as a Christian, might deplore and deeply regret, is not in itself a gesture of hatred. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop touched on that.
If I were to give your Lordships an example of what I am talking about, I would say, “Go across to the Abbey, where Stephen Hawking was commemorated. Pick up your paper of this morning, if you have not yet read it, and see that in his last work, he emphatically stated: there is no God; there is no afterlife”. Yet, a truly tolerant society properly recognises that man’s genius and his contribution to the degree that he is memorialised in the Abbey along with so many of those who have made our country what it is. We must be very careful indeed in deploring hatred. In seeking to protect those who wish to practise their beliefs, we have to be careful that we do not slip over the edge and trash our own reputation for freedom of speech.
I was one of those who was very glad last week when I read that judgment of the Supreme Court, which has been referred to in this debate. The cake bakers of Belfast were exonerated, not because they had refused to serve anybody—they had not refused to do that—but because they refused to put a slogan in which they could not believe on a cake. That was a very important landmark judgment, and I hope it will play a part in making us more understanding of each other. I was very glad to see an article in a paper that is not necessarily my favourite, the Daily Mail, the next day, by a journalist who himself is gay, saying how much he supported the judgment and that he would think of commissioning a cake from those people to mark his own civil partnership. That is beginning to get the balance right, and we must get it right.
I want to touch on one other thing. I have very great admiration for my noble friend Lord Pickles, and I have as much legitimate hatred as he has for the Holocaust. As the founder chairman of the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry, I think my creditworthiness in being fundamentally opposed to anti-Semitism is okay. I was also one of those who spoke out in the other place, when neither Front Bench would do so, against the atrocities in Bosnia, and Srebrenica in particular.
It is right that we should commemorate and remember these things, but we must also have regard to where it is best to do so. I have to say to my noble friend Lord Pickles that although I yield to no one in wanting to see a Holocaust memorial, I think that the site chosen is not necessarily the best. Seven Members of your Lordships’ House, all or most of whom were Jewish, sent a letter to the Times on this subject, and I hope my noble friend will be prepared to reflect further on that.
We have had a good debate and I see that, at 12 minutes, my speech has been one of the shortest. As I sat through every single speech I began to think that there was something to be said for a 10-minute time limit. That I have exceeded, but now I look forward to the final speeches, by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and my noble friend Lord Bourne, of what has been a remarkable few hours.
My Lords, I can only concur with those words of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I thank the Minister for honouring the pledge that significant time would be made available for the debate—and, indeed, for his opening remarks, which set out the stall admirably and pointed to a number of government initiatives that we must all welcome, although we shall also want to keep an eye on them to make sure that they are doing what they are supposed to.
I admit that I stand here in some difficulty. It was refreshing to hear a different point of view from the Conservative Benches, which mitigated my sense of inadequacy as the Labour spokesman in view of the nature of the debate, especially as it concerns anti-Semitism. I have been devastated, to be honest, by the speeches of my noble friends Lord Kestenbaum and Lord Triesman. I pay them tribute for having been so frank with us, although that does not help me with my sense of devastation. We have reached a truly parlous state when esteemed Members of this House feel it necessary to speak in that way.
I have loved the Labour Party all my life: I have been a member of it for longer than I have been a Christian, for example. It was the Labour Party of the post-Second World War years that gave me all my life chances, and I have stood by the Labour Party through thick and thin—through the 1980s and all the rest. When I was a boy my Member of Parliament was Jim Griffiths, deputy leader of the Labour Party, who brought in four of the six Acts of Parliament—on national assistance, family allowances, injuries at work and national insurance—that put the welfare state on to our statute book, but who has been forgotten by everybody. So I have it in my blood, and I do not find it easy to give voice to my feelings in the light of the comments that we have heard. I am glad we have heard them; I am glad the debate has offered us the opportunity to share opinions in this way—but comfortable I am not.
I am very grateful that we began with my noble friend Lord Hain, in view of what I have just said, who reminded us that we must set this debate within his view that the toxic attacks on Jewish, Muslim and black people—I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Singh, that we must be careful to be more inclusive when we mention those who are on the receiving end of prejudice and discrimination—represent a broad canvas. We have tended, inevitably, to focus on anti-Semitism and there is a properness about that, but we must remember that it is a very pernicious kind of racism, set, at the moment, in a context where racism in various mutations is doing damage across the field.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, reminded my noble friend Lord Hain of his seniority in these matters, and of the longer period during which he could say that he too had never seen a situation quite like this one. The noble and learned Lord went on to ask how we could identify the powerful forces that are at work beneath the epiphenomena. That is really where I would like to concentrate. Indeed, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Singh, who came nearest to where all my thoughts were as I prepared for this debate. It is true that those conferences and symposia, those seminars that you go to, full of blandishments and fine words unrelated to causes, are about ephemeral and marginal issues. I am so pleased to hear that said. I would not have had the courage to say it, but I am delighted to have the courage to echo it. We must find a way to get to the core of the things we need to discuss together, the things beneath all the things that happen on the surface.
It was a privilege for me, 20 years ago, to find some seed-corn money to set up a study centre in Cambridge, at that time between Christians and Jews. It has subsequently blossomed and has been patronised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. It is now called the Woolf Institute and it is for the three Abrahamic faiths. I feel proud to have been identified with the very beginnings of that. It does simply astonishing work but I must resist the temptation to just go on and expatiate about that, because there is one strand of its work that caught my attention. Woolf Institute specialists are brought in to advise the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Metropolitan Police, through anti-Semitism awareness courses. I feel I can draw some comfort from the fact that somebody is working systematically with these major agencies of our state—and other bodies to, I should say—to help people identify what lies under the surface, how to recognise it and how to understand why it is there.
I remember in the 1970s attending an anti-racism course. My wife and I had been living as the only two white people in a community of 250,000 black people. I had been living in those circumstances and felt that I was going to attend an anti-racism course so that people could tell me who the racists were, but I ended up coming away recognising the racism that was in me. That was a significant thing, and I would say the same thing about these anti-Semitism awareness courses. How can it be otherwise: a country such as ours, which has had a long imperial past, subjugating so many parts of the world to our rule and keeping the “race problem” at bay because it was all overseas, and yet germinating the seeds of attitudes towards those whom we governed? How could it be that embedded deep in our psyches is anything other than something that can flourish as a racial question of one kind or another? How can it be that I, as a Christian, can be part of a faith that, during the 2,000 years of its history, has significantly and continuously persecuted, stigmatised, marginalised or ghettoised the Jews? How could it be that I should be surprised to find within myself something that could become hateful and odious? The indigenous population has to understand that it may be germinating the problem, rather than focusing on minority groups as if, in some way, they are the problem. This is a generous way of looking at what is a very significant issue in our general social situation at the moment.
There is a vision of how religions might come together. It might include Sikhs and Hindus—although you will tell me afterwards whether it would or not. This vision is one I read and, although it is late, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I read it. For me, it touches a possibility that, if religions were capable of the self-criticism needed, this could yield a fruitful outcome.
“The radical transcendence of God in the Hebrew Bible means nothing more nor less than that there is a difference between God and religion… Religion is the translation of God into a particular language and thus into the life of a group, a nation, a community of faith. In the course of history, God has spoken to mankind in many languages: through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims. Only such a God is truly transcendental—greater not only than the natural universe but also than the spiritual universe articulated in any single faith, any specific languages of human sensibility. How could a sacred text convey such an idea? It would declare that God is God of all humanity, but no single faith is or should be the faith of all humanity. Only such a narrative would lead us to see the presence of God in people of other faiths. Only such a worldview could reconcile the particularity of cultures with the universality of the human condition”.
I see in that a vista which will not be pleasing to those for whom their particular religion is their all in all. However, these are not my words; they are the words of one whose name has been quoted again and again in this debate—the noble Lord, Lord Sacks. He wrote them in a book called The Dignity of Difference. It might behove us to think about them very carefully.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, mentioned dinner-table talk. The indigenous population is racist around the table all the time. I do not care about being or not being policed; it is just odious that, when we are on our own, we say things that we would be ashamed to say anywhere else. We have to admit it. Dinner-table talk is a bit the same as locker-room talk for another part of the Atlantic family.
We have a long way to go. The obstacles are great because, in the end, we are fighting against human nature, but the goals are worth while. Living together is an infinitely richer thing to dream about than going on fighting our corner in the way that we do.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, for what he has just said. He will be a very difficult act to follow because of the transparent honesty and great insight of his contribution. This has universally been a very good debate. I shall try to do justice to the contributions that have been made. I first heard what a formidable preacher the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, was from my church. Now I know how formidable he is as a statesman. His was a very moving contribution.
I will try to deal with the various contributions that have been made under different headings. I will say once again, perhaps echoing the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, that this has been a good debate where the House came together, giving a clear message. I do not think that a great deal separates individuals who have made contributions in an important debate. Questions and issues have been raised, which I will try to deal with.
I will try to set the scene of this debate—rather curiously, at the end. Although it is quite true that there are some dreadful statistics on race crime, religious crime and hate crime in general, as we have seen this week, it is important to put it in context, that we are seeing a much better level of reporting. We can see that from the crime survey. These dreadful statistics was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, my noble friends Lord Pickles and Lord Gadhia, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. The statistics are dreadful, but without minimising the massive challenges that exist, we are having success in upping the rate of reporting, such that the rate of reporting of hate crime appears to be higher than the average reporting of other crime. That is not to minimise the problem but to try to give some context to what we are talking about. It is still a deeply serious position, but I do not want people to think that it has suddenly taken off and escalated massively in the way that some reports in the media might suggest. That is not quite true, and it took me a while to grasp that, looking at all the documents. I can now see that although there have been increases, they are not as alarming as perhaps appears to be the case. What is undoubtedly true, as many noble Lords highlighted, is that most reported cases have certainly been aimed at Muslims—the vast majority—while others in the next category were aimed at the Jewish community, and at others such as the Sikh and Hindu communities, as well as at the Christian community. Religious hatred therefore involves all our communities, but clearly it is mostly in relation to Muslims, and then anti-Semitic hate crime.
I pay proper regard to my noble friend Lady Warsi and express my gratitude to her for the awesome work she has done and continues to do in this field, which is, quite rightly, massively valued in the community. She asked about the breakdown of the statistics in relation to religion; this happened for the first time this year, and I have been very keen that it should. The intention is to carry on with that, because it gives us a greater insight into what is happening.
The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, asked about the breakdown of the statistics, and in particular about the category of no religion. Part of this is that different forces seem to have been reporting in different ways, and I am trying to get to the bottom of that. The point was made, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Singh, that it is partly because other religious groups are attacked because some people may think, for example, that they are Muslim or Jewish when they are not. It is therefore a more complex picture then perhaps appears to be the case at first sight. However, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, with a more detailed background on what is happening and will copy the letter to other noble Lords. I will do the same on the other, very germane point the noble Lord asked about the vulnerable places of worship scheme and the particular breakdown of the different places of religion. That is a good question, and although I have the figures, rather than go through them all and take time now—I could also talk about unsuccessful applications—I will cover that in a letter.
Many noble Lords focused on anti-Semitism. I was particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Pickles, who highlighted what the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, said in the previous debate. This becomes a real problem and moves from the fringes to the centre of a political party when the party concerned does not have a lack of support as a consequence, and when there is vilification of those who seek to protest. Where it happens there is a perfect storm, and we are entering that territory.
Whatever other conclusions we take from the picture today, we are in a very serious position. This was highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay and by the noble Lords, Lord Triesman and Lord Kestenbaum, in two very courageous speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, also referred to this issue and spoke of Luciana Berger—I join him in saying she has done outstanding work; she was quite rightly recognised at the No2H8 Crime Awards, and my noble friend Lord Suri also referred to this.
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, said we have not always been a tolerant country and there is some truth in that. He cited the situation with Enoch Powell but he did not go on to mention something germane, which is the swift action that was taken by the leader of the Conservative Party—I was still at school but, from memory, we were in opposition—to dismiss him. It was an act of great political courage at a time when this issue might not have been regarded in quite the same way that it is now. That is perhaps a difference. All political leaders—particularly leaders of political parties, including my own—need to provide strong leadership and have to be very careful in the language they use.
The point has been made about the particular issue that confronts the Labour Party and I do not want to dwell on it. While I have not historically loved the Labour Party, I have always had the greatest of respect for a succession of leaders, many of whom have done great things for this country and would not have seen a situation like the one we have now. It is unthinkable that Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Tony Blair or any leader, frankly, until the present one would have tolerated what has been happening. That is not to say there are not issues that confront the Conservative Party, but they do not go to the core of the leadership. It is unthinkable that anyone could make these sorts of accusations against the Prime Minister. While I accept there are membership issues and issues around the language some people use, I think there is a particular issue confronting the Labour Party and it has an effect on our nation.
I am happy to be given this opportunity to say that, until quite recently, Boris Johnson was at the heart of the Conservative Party and embodied many of the negativities that we are talking about.
One might say, “To a degree, Lord Copper”. I will not defend his use of language but I think the noble Lord would agree that the structural issue in the leadership of the Labour Party is different from that. I accept that there are issues that need addressing. They are being investigated in the party and I hope an appropriate conclusion will be reached.
If I may move on, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, spoke about Holocaust denial, which is important, and important too in the context of genocide denial. My noble friend Lord Cormack spoke about the need for balance. I agree with that and about the importance of freedom of speech, and with much of what the most reverend Primate said about it, except that freedom of speech cannot exist in a vacuum. Nobody has the right to go into a crowded theatre and cry “Fire!” during a performance. That would be freedom of speech but there are laws to protect against it and I am sure that neither Voltaire nor Stephen Hawking would disagree with that. This has to be in the context that many people who fear greatly for the future of this country and their position in it are protected against some of the things happening in our country at the moment.
I too applaud the Church of England for adopting the definition of anti-Semitism, as many other institutions have done—our Government were the first in the world to do so. On Islamophobia, I applaud once again the work done by my noble friend Lady Warsi—Yorkshirewoman of the year, as announced by our Yorkshireman, my noble friend Lord Pickles. I seem to have had a rather Yorkshire day today, with a question on Yorkshire too. The noble Baroness is formidable and I am pleased about the work that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia has been doing on the definition. As I think she knows, I have refreshed the membership of what is currently the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group—a bit of a mouthful. It has a strong membership, well led by Akeela Ahmed. It will be looking at the definition of Islamophobia and, as it is revamped with new life injected into it, a proper budget and proper work schedule, it will be looking at different aspects of Islamophobia and how we can help in that regard.
That should not, however, be at the expense of neglecting other communities. We meet representatives of the Sikh community regularly, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Singh, would acknowledge. I accept that they too are subject to attacks and prejudice, and that must not be forgotten.
The noble Lord will be aware that I did comment on that. I said that we are investigating the issue relating to Boris Johnson and looking at issues raised to do with members. Some members have been suspended and some have been removed. That is not to say there is no issue to confront—I have not ducked that on any occasion. However, the noble Lord is always fair, and I think he will accept that it is different in nature. What is happening in the Labour Party involves the leadership. I do not seek to draw division here, where there is unity on the basic themes of the debate.
The noble Lord mentioned the importance of freedom of speech and understanding what the boundaries are. I referred to that in my own contribution in relation to universities. Will the Minister take to the Department for Education the importance of getting proper guidance ready so that it can deal with the difficult issues, not just the easier ones, around knowing the difference between political discussion on campus and anti-Semitism? Will he make sure that the Union of Jewish Students is consulted on this? It has not been consulted so far, and its contribution would be invaluable.
The noble Baroness would, if she stood where I am, see that the next section of my response moves on to that, but I accept the concern she has expressed.
We have had good contributions from Members from across religions. We heard the Hindu position from my noble friend Lord Gadhia, and the Sikh position from the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and my noble friend Lord Suri. I accept what the leaders of these faith groups, Guru Nanak and Swami Vivekananda, have said about the importance of plurality, community and so on. The Zoroastrian community was, as always, ably represented by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and we heard a contribution on Roman Catholicism from my noble friend Lord Patten.
Before I talk about universities, I want to comment on the Holocaust memorial. I will not comment on the siting—this is perhaps not the time to do so. However, the case for the memorial is widely accepted and was put powerfully by my noble friends Lord Pickles and Lord Cormack and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I agree with her that this is not the sum total of what needs to be done; these issues are not solved by memorials alone. A lot will be affected and influenced by what goes in the Holocaust centre, which will deal also with genocides since the Holocaust.
Before I come on to what unites us, let me deal with the points made on universities. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that the balance of freedom of expression and speech is not right in universities at the moment. It has improved under the current leadership, but I accept what she said about the need to involve the Union of Jewish Students and the need for the Department for Education to come forward on this issue. However, have no doubt, the Government are determined that there will be that freedom on campus. That is central to getting the balance that my noble friend Lord Cormack referred to. Here, we are in favour of some action.
What unites us? The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, talked about this being key, and it has to be. Let us take strength from the positive things that are happening in our communities—and a lot is happening, on interfaith in particular. When I first took on this job, I was stunned to find how much is happening. It surprised me and I am sure it would surprise noble Lords. I shall cover some examples in the letter, but I will give one or two examples now. At the Finsbury Park Mosque attack, just over a year ago—that was not the one I referred to earlier; I was referring to the Cricklewood mosque attack—the first people there to comfort their Muslim brothers and sisters were members of the Haredi Jewish community, who knew them well and who lived just down the road. That was surprising enough on its own, but it is an example of some of the strengths present in our communities. It is important that we do not lose sight of these things.
I simply wanted to say that Jeremy Corbyn was among the first there on that occasion.
That is perfectly true—he was there as the local MP—and, in fairness, I think Diane Abbott was there soon after, as was the Prime Minister. Political leadership is important, but that faith dimension is very important to note. But the noble Lord is absolutely right: he was there.
The same is true of the Manchester Arena attack, with communities coming together. In fact, there was interfaith activity after all of the attacks we have had, which is very important and signals what can, and often does, happen regularly—in difficult, and not so difficult, times. This often happens around food, dance, music and sport; coming together and becoming friends and allies.
Let me just say something about social media, which is a massive challenge, and which many noble Lords referred to—the noble Lords, Lord Triesman and Lord Desai, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay all referred to it. I was very interested in talking to HOPE not hate and, like the noble Lord, Lord Hain, I pay tribute to the work it does, as well as to Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card. They all do great work. I was interested in what it said about the massive amount of damage that can be done by a few lone wolves, often sitting in a bedsit, sending out this stuff on social media. The ability to tackle that, acting nationally, locally and globally, is a real challenge. Some organisations such as Google are doing good work, but others need to step up to the plate somewhat more. It is a real challenge and, again, we are trying to deal with that across parties and across Government.
There are a couple of things I would like to touch on briefly in this very limited time. In the autumn, the Government will come forward with the integration action plan, which relates to the earlier White Paper, indicating things that are important. One of those, which was touched on, was the importance of the English language. That is of key significance and makes a real difference. It perhaps ties in with what some noble Lords were saying about the need for positive action in communities to help with some of the issues that confront us.
We have social action programmes. I referred previously to the Hate Crime Action Plan and mentioned the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group. Perhaps I may also mention the race disparity audit, the Prime Minister’s initiative to issue data across government on outcomes for different races. I appreciate that I have moved away from religion, but it is important to see where we are in the fields of health, education and housing in relation to different racial groups. When you have the data, which you cannot really disagree with, you then have to do something about it. We are in the process of doing that and some actions will be announced this month. They will take place on an ongoing basis, which is also important.
Perhaps I may mention one other key point. Action by government, local authorities and institutions is important, but so too—this came out at the meeting I had this morning when talking to a young Muslim teacher—are role models, not just at the local level, such as the doctor, the teacher, the accountant or the person who runs a small business, but nationally. I often say that Mo Farah, Nasser Hussain, Natasha Kaplinsky and so on probably do far more than government programmes could ever hope to do—certainly, they do it in a different way—and we should recognise that too.
In conclusion, I accept that political action is needed in all parties on behalf of all individuals, and we all have a responsibility to step up to the plate. It sticks in my craw that my fellow countrymen and women fear the tap on the shoulder and have a packed suitcase ready. Many across different faiths worry that they are not welcome in their own country—a country they were not born to but have lived in and a country they love. This is frankly outrageous and not acceptable. As politicians—whether it is Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn or anybody else—we have a responsibility to provide leadership across the country, because such a situation is fundamentally wrong and totally contrary to what makes this country great, and we must not tolerate it. Indeed, we will not tolerate it. I thank noble Lords for taking part in this debate.