[Hywel Williams in the Chair] — Jewish Communities (350th Anniversary)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:15 am on 14th June 2006.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 10:15 am, 14th June 2006

I congratulate Mr. Dismore on securing this important debate. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Scott and Mrs. Ellman on their speeches in this enjoyable debate. I do not expect that my humble contribution will add much.

I am not a Jewish person, but I want to place on record my appreciation for what Jewish people have brought to Britain in the past 350 years. In many respects, the number 350 resonates throughout the debate, because after Cromwell changed the law, there were only about 350 Jewish people in London. It is now 350 years since that important decision, and there are about 350,000 Jewish people in Britain today. That is the second largest Jewish population in western Europe, I believe.

As the hon. Member for Hendon described, Jewish people have not always had a happy time in this country. For many centuries, it was considered that Christian people should not be involved in moneylending, which is why the first Jewish people who came here engaged in that profession, from which they clearly prospered, which led to resentment. It is shocking, and strongly reminiscent of the second world war, that in 1217 in this country, Jewish people were required to wear yellow badges to indicate that they were Jewish.

Cromwell's decision, made in this place in 1655, was momentous. It followed several weeks of debate, including opposition from the clergy, but with strong consideration given to the Messianic prophecies. It was a strong view at that time that if Jewish people were not allowed back into this country there would not be a second coming, because Jewish people would have to be on all the lands of the earth for the second coming to happen. As well as those religious implications, Cromwell clearly had strong feelings on the matter and rightly recognised that Jewish people would help trade inside England and with other countries in Europe.

The relationship between this country and Jewish people has not always been straightforward. We rightly recognise that this country has a long and proud tradition of democracy and trade in all sorts of different spheres, but Israel was a kingdom long before London or England were ever thought of, and when where we are now was just swampy riverside. For the people alive at that time, there was no concept of our nation, yet many years on, this country played a crucial role in establishing the modern state of Israel. That was never a straightforward process, but I like to think that if Britain had not had the mandate in Palestine and it had been given to another power, the state of Israel might not have been born in the way that it was.

My uncle served in the British Army in Palestine just before 1948. He very much appreciated all that Israel had to offer, and our country had a difficult role to play between the Israeli and Arab communities. The path was never straightforward. Had there been a more brutal colonial power than Britain in Palestine, the Israel that we know today might not have come about after the second world war. This country stood alone in 1940 against the rise of Nazism in Germany when no other country in the world was prepared to stand up to Hitler.

I am sure that Jewish people and non-Jewish people alike will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue today. An important part of Britain's cultural life is the hymn "Jerusalem". Many of us know its words off by heart, and it is rather appropriate that that hymn links the Jewish community with those of us who are not Jewish but who recognise the Jewish tradition.