Jewish Community in London: Safety - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:39 am on 25 April 2024.

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Photo of Lord Bellingham Lord Bellingham Conservative 11:39, 25 April 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government what further measures they plan to take to enhance the safety of London’s Jewish community.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, the Government are steadfast in their commitment to protecting our Jewish communities, which is why we have committed further funding of £72 million for the Jewish community protective security grant to continue the vital work done in protecting Jewish communities until 2028. The JCPS grant is managed by the Community Security Trust, which I had the privilege of visiting a couple of weeks ago and which provides protective security measures at Jewish schools, colleges, nurseries and some other Jewish community sites, as well as a number of synagogues.

Photo of Lord Bellingham Lord Bellingham Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the police have a very challenging task to allow peaceful marches, to protect the rights of local people who are observing the march and to arrest those who are blatantly breaking the law—and that they normally they get this right? I ask the Minister to reflect on the Gideon Falter case and just to further reflect on whether, if the person in question had been a hijab-wearing Muslim woman observing a pro-Israeli march, or, for that matter, a Catholic priest, they would have been accused of provocation and threatened with arrest? I suggest that, if that had happened, there would have been massive outrage and the police officers in question would have been dismissed. So all we are really asking for is that everyone should be treated fairly and equally.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I agree with my noble friend that the police have a hugely difficult job, but obviously a police officer telling a person that being openly Jewish is provocative is clearly very wrong. I will not speculate as to what might have happened in the case of other individuals. We should welcome the Met Police’s apology. The Prime Minister recently made it clear to police forces that it is the public’s expectation that they will not merely manage protests but police them and, of course, do so proportionately. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary met with Sir Mark Rowley and the Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist earlier this week, and put it very well:

“Jewish people will always have the right to be able to go about their daily lives safely and freely, in London and across the UK”.

The Home Secretary continued:

“Sir Mark has reassured me he will make this clear to all sections of the community as a matter of urgency. The Met’s focus now is rightly on reassurance, learning from what happened, and ensuring that Jewish people are safe and feel safe in London”.

I think we should all support it in that critical endeavour.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would enhance the image and security of the wonderful Jewish people if the Jewish people in this country were to issue a strong statement dissociating themselves from the policies of the Netanyahu Government and the atrocities that have been committed on the people of Gaza, who are also human? Instead of that, the Board of Deputies has unfortunately sent a delegation to Tel Aviv showing solidarity with the Netanyahu Government, whose atrocities include the destroying of hospitals and the firing on aid convoys, killing even British people.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I think that is a deeply inappropriate question and I will not stoop so low as to answer it.

Photo of Baroness Sherlock Baroness Sherlock Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Perhaps I can. British Jews are no more responsible for the actions of the State of Israel than I am.

To return to the question, it is clear that this incident was deeply regrettable; that language about being “openly Jewish” was wrong and I am glad that the Met Police has apologised for it and will take the opportunity to reflect and ensure that all Londoners can have confidence in it and everyone can feel safe in their city. I will not try to second-guess policing decisions and I would not expect the Minister to do so, but I am sure that discussions are ongoing around these issues in government. I noticed that this Question was originally down to be answered by the Minister for Faith. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Minister for Faith is being drawn into these discussions so they are not simply seen as a policing or security matter?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, we have to consider all the various aspects of policing in the round. The noble Baroness is quite right; public order policing is very complex and obviously very challenging, but it remains incumbent on Sir Mark and of course the mayor as well to ensure that London remains a safe and welcoming city. As I said in an earlier answer, I believe that the force’s focus ought to be on proportionate policing, making sure that it is done properly and fairly, and obviously we will continue to back forces in that, using all aspects of government.

Photo of Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee Non-affiliated

My Lords, just to follow up on the noble Baroness’s point about drawing in other issues, not just leaving it to policing, the question is about enhancing the safety of our Jewish community. What more can we do to enhance it? Once it gets to policing, we know that it is in a bad place. How can we stop it getting to that point and enhance the safety of our Jewish communities right across the United Kingdom?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I think I answered that in my initial remarks, in which I mentioned the funding that has been increased for the Community Security Trust to administer in the JCPS. Just to go back to the Community Security Trust—I declare an interest as I was at the dinner where the Prime Minister announced the additional funding and I donated some money to it—the fact is that it has an enormous network, which I know is incredibly sophisticated, having seen it in operation, the police work incredibly closely with it, and it does a fantastic job. I very much praise it for all the work that it does.

Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat

My Lords, from a slightly different angle, the additional funding from the Government mentioned by the Minister is extremely welcome, but it is not assuaging the additional insecurity felt by the Jewish community after 7 October. A recent survey found that 50% of British Jews are currently considering leaving the United Kingdom. This would spell disaster for Britain, which desperately needs their talent and creativity and the diversity that they bring to British life. We as politicians have an important role to play here, and we must be extremely careful about what we say and do, which could inflame tensions and increase divisions that are growing and are already way too wide.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Government for their commitment to protect the Jewish community, and I ask my noble friend whether he will join me in paying tribute, as I am sure he will, to the CST, which is trying to keep Jews safe. I declare my interest as a British Jew and to my other interests in the register. While there are weekly marches calling for “globalising the intifada” and eradication of the only Jewish state, when Jews are pelted with bricks and beaten with bars, and children are threatened on the way to school and university students threatened on campus, I feel that it would be most appreciated if the Government would look carefully at banning more of organisations such as Palestine Action, which has come to light, and other groups which seem to want to target the Jewish community directly, when we have no responsibility for the actions of an overseas Government.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My noble friend makes some good points. Of course, as has been often stated from the Dispatch Box, the Government do not comment on ongoing matters of possible proscription. The police can of course impose conditions on protests where they believe the protest may result in a variety of civil offences, serious disorder, damage to property and so on and so forth, but the ability to actually ban protests is a complex one under the Public Order Act. Of course, I agree with my noble friend, but it is incumbent on all citizens to reassure the Jews, who are feeling so under pressure.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords have been following the events at Columbia University and the encampment there, where there have been some pretty horrific scenes of students screaming rather maniacally to exclude “genocidal Zios”, and using other very offensive and anti-Semitic slogans, and so on. It has just completely got out of hand. The global student movement is coming to the UK: “From Gaza to Columbia to London” is the slogan, and it starts at UCL at 1 pm on Friday 26 April. I am not saying that as an advert, and I am not particularly worried about people protesting or about their interpretive dance against colonisation that they are bringing over. However, I am worried about anti-Semitism on London and other British campuses. Safety is not just a policing question. Can the Minister assure us that guard is being taken against what is happening on campuses, where the levels of anti-Semitism are now routine and normalised?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My noble friend from the Department for Education assures me that there is protection on British campuses. However, I also acknowledge the points that the noble Baroness made and share her concerns; these trends are very disturbing.

Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour

My Lords, can the Minister comment on the take-up of grants for the protection of religious premises from attacks? Is he aware of some of the concerns that the processes that his department requires from faith communities are extremely complicated for often quite small sums of money?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid that I do not have any statistics to hand on that. But, again, the money that we were talking about making available in my initial Answer is administered by the Community Security Trust; there is no application process to access that pool of funds.