Religious Intolerance and Prejudice - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:04 pm on 17th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 10:04 pm, 17th October 2018

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.