I thank the Government for their response to the inquiry, particularly because they have taken the unusual step of issuing a Command Paper, which gives a clear indication that they have taken seriously the work of the 14 MPs who looked into this issue for some significant time. The previous Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, personally met the all-party group on anti-Semitism, and the current Prime Minister, before he took office, reiterated the Government's position unequivocally during two speeches that I was privileged to witness, including an important after-dinner speech for British Jewry.
A vital factor of Parliament's work is that it has taken the lead on this issue. That may sound like a trite, side point, but it is not, for reasons of both principle and practicality. The point of principle is that when dealing with racism—anti-Semitism is a form of racism as abhorrent as any other—one should not simply throw issues to the Executive to lead and run with, but accept one's own responsibilities. All Members present will want to hear clear and coherent responses from the Minister about tangible developments from the Government, because the Executive have a vital and important role to play. However, we must all tackle racism in our lives, parties and constituencies.
A great strength that emanates from the report is that the main political parties, which are represented here today—the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative party and the Labour party—have been prepared to tackle their own problems with anti-Semitism. To me, that is as important a step forward as any other. It is not that people have not tackled such problems in the past; however, the three main parties have in their own ways—and in an essentially unified way—looked in their own back yards and been prepared to challenge such issues with their own colleagues and institutions first and foremost. That is the most encouraging development, and it reinforces the model of Parliament taking the lead.
I hope that the Minister agrees that the all-party group's methodology of taking a cross-party approach, mirroring that of a Select Committee, and having a group of unbiased parliamentarians assessing the situation and coming to unbiased conclusions, gives the report respectability and removes party bias. The report and its recommendations are therefore particularly important to both the Government and wider society.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those comments. It is not parliamentary terminology to call him my hon. Friend, but he certainly is a good and close friend from our work on this issue, which demonstrates the importance of cross-party co-operation. The involvement of Northern Ireland was certainly a vital factor, as was the fact that Members who had no describable vested interest participated in the process, thus giving it authenticity and creating a benchmark. One could argue with the details—one always can—but the benchmark exists for the future. People can look at the work and ask, "What is Parliament saying on anti-Semitism?" or "What is Parliament's view on what is happening in the outside world, and what should be done about it?" That benchmark can be used by us and others and will exist for years to come. It is a vital tool, which will allow us to hold the Government to greater account.
Albert Einstein said that
"implementation is the vehicle of genius".
Implementation is the difficult part with any such report. Identifying the problems is one issue—and there are many, because anti-Semitism is a growing problem—but implementing recommendations from the report in respect of which there is dialogue with the Government is a far greater one. I do not intend to spend any time going through the report, because both it and the Government's response are available to read, and I shall not waste Parliament's time by going through those issues again, although other hon. Members will need to home in on some of the specifics in their contributions.
I want to address two points in detail, the first of which concerns civic society and its institutions. The report gave a message beyond Parliament about what society should be doing about anti-Semitism. I shall give two examples of where there could be progress, on which I shall be interested to hear the Minister's views. Secondly, there are some specifics about Government implementation that I would like the Minister to clarify or repeat.
The examples from civic society include what I consider to be priorities—the worlds of sport and football. Yesterday, I convened a meeting of the football world about anti-Semitism in football, as a starting point. There is clearly a role for the Government regarding anti-Semitism in football, but not a leading role because the football authorities and the football world itself must deal with those problems. At the meeting, we discussed in detail the growth of anti-Semitism in community football and football across the country. We also discussed the problems in the professional game, in which there is anti-Semitism on the terraces and beyond.
There was one major, encouraging factor and one negative factor at the meeting. The encouraging factor was the involvement of the England supporters associations. A range of active England supporters from official supporters' bodies were at the meeting, some of whom are stewards at local clubs, such as Millwall and Southampton. They gave good examples of best practice when dealing with racism and anti-Semitism in professional football. They are prepared, as volunteers and spectators within the sport, to participate with intelligence. The number of England fans who attended was one of the most encouraging things I have seen since I have been involved in chairing the all-party group in the past two years. It gave a powerful message that many people are our allies in dealing with racism: people beyond the normal, expected sources—out there in the world we know well. I hesitate to use the term "ordinary world", but I am talking about the world outside. The practical suggestions from there were incredibly valuable.
The negative thing was that some football clubs chose not to attend—I know that they must be very busy. I agreed at the meeting and put it on the record that I would write to those clubs offering them the opportunity to participate in the debate. Representatives of Arsenal football club, West Ham United and Chelsea, who were unfortunately too busy to attend yesterday's meeting—unlike the Football Association, Tottenham Hotspur, the England fans and many others—will get the opportunity to participate in a debate. They have been written to, as have Leeds United, which I know well and which have been mentioned on a number of occasions. Those four clubs have been written to today to entice them into the debate on anti-Semitism. Given that that is now on the record, I am sure that they will be keen to participate. We are looking for an important section of civil society to take the lead. We as parliamentarians can play our role in assisting that process.
The second example from civic society is the universities. I know that others will want to talk about the universities' so-called boycott. Of course, there is no boycott and there will be no boycott; it is a misnomer given by a group of people who have time on their hands. They have nobody to negotiate on the real issues affecting their work force, which is perhaps why their membership seems to be going down rather than up and will continue to do so if they choose to pick on the frivolities of life, such as intellectual debates, rather than the real stuff of life, such as the terms and conditions of their members.
Without question it is the role of university leaders to ensure that every student, including every Jewish student, can work in an atmosphere on campus that encourages study. We can get hung up on statistics. I do not look for violent attacks to quantify the problem on campus—I assess the smell and sight on campus, what people hear there, and what we in the community call antisocial behaviour. Those are not things that, in themselves, would ever warrant police involvement, and "atmosphere" is probably the best word to describe them. The accumulation of such elements means that people are not happy in what they are doing, or are making choices because of what they perceive they will have to go through. That is a growing problem on our university campuses.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the real problem is the reluctance on the part of some Jewish students on some of our campuses to report incidents of anti-Semitism to the university authorities, because of a perceived feeling that there will not be a sympathetic response in some cases? Has he encountered that phenomenon?
I thank my hon. Friend, who represents two universities in his constituency, for his pertinent comments. That issue has been well reported; indeed, an interesting dialogue with the football authorities took place in that regard. The Football Association has good reporting systems, but the question of how well they worked was part of the debate. Perhaps an even more important question is whether people know that they exist and trust them. I think that the FA is in the lead in civic society in this matter, and, ironically, the universities could learn something from it.
The universities need to deal with these issues coherently. For example, one of the ways in which antisocial behaviour—the atmosphere on campus, or what I would call anti-Semitism—can occur is simply through silence. Shunning and ignoring a student is part of deliberate and calculated discrimination. How can one complain about that, and what would be the criteria for making a complaint? Could one go to the police and say, "No one is talking to me. I demand that you take action"? Clearly, one cannot do that.
We now have some expertise in this country—perhaps more than other countries—through the way in which we have begun to tackle antisocial behaviour. We need to involve the same ethos on campus and we need some of the same imagination. The lead must come from the university authorities, and I call on them in that regard. They have been more elusive in being prepared to meet than the football authorities—I find that strange—and significantly more elusive than Ministers or Opposition parties, which have always been happy and quick to meet. The universities have managed to duck meetings, despite a lengthy and significant debate on the matter in the other place.
I call on the university authorities to start doing the appropriate thing, which is not to turn away and say that they can handle this. They must be clear and open and say, "Here are our systems." On the university boycott, they should say unequivocally, "There is none and there will be none." Every university should say that. They should outline what they are going to do about incidents on campuses and colleges, and say clearly to every student, "No racism of any kind in any educational establishment will be tolerated." That means that anti-Semitism will be tolerated no more and no less than any other form of racism. That message is not coming out strongly enough.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's points very carefully. Has he had the briefing that I received from Universities UK, which referred to the universities' disappointment at the fact that the all-party group's inquiry had not reported their evidence? They seem to be very keen to catch up, even if they were a little behind at the beginning. Will he comment on that?
I was rather surprised by that briefing. I shall be moderate with my words and simply say that we are seeking a meeting with the universities and have been for some time. That meeting has not taken place. Mr. Boswell has offered to participate in such meetings. I have had clear messages from Chris Huhne and my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley saying that they are happy to participate. I am sure that others, as well, will want to participate. I know that my right hon. Friend Mr. MacShane would love to participate. However, we have not had the opportunity. We are free and we will be free to meet, but we need the universities to come to the table. Perhaps they should spend less time writing to us and more time meeting us.
I appeared yesterday on the Universities UK platform on a different subject. I had some private words about this matter. We should perhaps work on the basis that there is an understanding of responsibility on that side, and we need to work together to clinch it and to have a constructive discussion. It is unfortunate that we have not done so. In fairness to the universities, they have made some efforts, both individually and collectively. We now need to bring our collective wisdom to bear on what I think everyone accepts is a problem.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. It is clear that parliamentarians are keen to meet the universities to discuss this issue; I am sure that they will respond accordingly. Such meetings would help take matters forward in a very positive way, which would be good for the universities and for their reputations. We will reassure all parliamentarians on this issue.
I shall conclude with a number of questions for the Minister, so that he can contemplate some of the issues and detail. I am keen to know which Minister will be taking responsibility for the management of the programme of activity outlined in the Government's response. Can we be assured today that sufficient energy will be exerted and time devoted to maintain the progress made by my hon. Friend Mr. Woolas, who, in his former role, put enthusiasm and energy into formulating the Government's response on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Government?
I am also keen to know how many times the Government-appointed taskforce will meet. Will its progress be reported, and if so, in what way? That would help us to see precisely how the cross-departmental implementation of what the Government say they are doing in their response is going, so that we can assist that progress and help the Government to meet their objectives. What form will the progress report take, and can we be certain that there will be real and substantive measures to improve the situation on the ground? The Government's response has been robust, and I commend it, but it is essential that there be implementation on the ground. We must see real progress, including implementation throughout the country. I am sure that other hon. Members will raise these points in detail.
What are the Government's priority areas in their response? It would be helpful to have some clarification on that. Does the Minister share the concern that I sense among Members here about the situation on campuses, and does he echo the sentiments expressed in the debate in the other place last month? Will he ensure that ministerial meetings take place with university leaders in the near future, so that they are aware of the Government's concerns about anti-Semitism on campuses and the so-called boycott issue?
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth and my right hon. Friend Ruth Kelly were present at the launch of the Government response—of which the Government made great play—along with many colleagues from both sides of the House. My hon. Friend, as the then Minister with responsibility for such matters, said that he was keen that it should be a model to be shared with other Parliaments, and specified £20,000 of Government money to assist that progress. Is that commitment still there, and do the Government still believe that the model could be used by other Parliaments?
I could say much more, but I shall sit down and allow others to participate in the debate.
I thank my colleague who is, in this context, my hon. Friend John Mann for his contribution. I also thank the colleague whom I call for this purpose my right hon. Friend Mr. MacShane for leading our inquiry. There are times in this place—we all understand them—when confrontation, rude noises and lively debate are entirely appropriate. We should have the lively debate about this subject, but confrontation is not appropriate. We were surprised by the coincidence of view that we established during the four-part inquiry, which enabled us to produce an agreed report.
In terms of teeth, my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw has set the Government some challenges, which I echo rather than repeat. It is important, as I shall signal at the end of my remarks, that we do not just have this process, walk away from it and let nothing very much happen. I want to make a number of comments about different aspects of the report, rather than speaking abut the whole thing, and I hope that we shall build up a picture of some of the problems that we identified.
In the history of racially driven, religiously driven and other sorts of hate crime, anti-Semitism must be the oldest. We cannot absolve ourselves of our record in English mediaeval history, and during the 20th century there were emanations of the most unimaginably appalling hate crime in western Europe. We owe it to the history of anti-Semitism to explore it, to be alert, and to look at the matter seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw outlined our thought process when examining it, and I want to stress that at all times we came to the subject as what might be described in diplomatic language as non-aligned persons. I do not have an exclusive brief from either side of the Israel-Palestine issue. I do not have Jewish ancestry, or a significant Jewish population in my constituency. The issue is not a political one for me, but it is an issue for the country and for Parliament, and I echo what my hon. Friend said.
We can set an example by calling the nation's attention to the matter, and polishing our own act when that is appropriate. For example, as political parties, we must get on with the job of ensuring that our candidate selection is not biased in that respect, and that there is no preference in working people's clubs and so on that discriminates against Jewish or other people. We should be able to speak out about local incidents of anti-Semitism, and I hope to give exemplary voice to international incidents. The words that come to mind are: sunlight is the best disinfectant. The source is not precisely tied down, but I think those words came from an American Chief Justice, and they informed our process. Let us find out what the problem is, publish it and do something about it.
The Committee was balanced in its conclusion on the nature of anti-Semitism. I would be the last to minimise the danger of the traditional far right, because it is still there, and it is extremely unacceptable. It is as difficult for a Conservative party as it is for a centre left party, and we have no time for it. There has been a change on the political left, and I shall draw a distinction between that and another element. I sense from outside—other hon. Members may want to comment on this—a move away from political support for Israel as the imaginative and innovative democratic state of the early years of its inception towards a closer identification with the Palestinian cause or otherwise, or a distaste for the current Israeli Government, but I leave that as a matter of speculation. I do not think I can remember during my political career quite such organised distaste on the left that, however hard it is covered up—sometimes it may be genuinely motivated for political rather than racist reasons—comes out as anti-Semitism all too often. There has been press comment to that effect recently.
The third element—I do not know whether it is the middle way, but it is certainly not acceptable—is that of Islamic radicalism, which reflects the boiling hatreds in the middle east. We saw that when we tracked overt incidents of anti-Semitism with reference to the state of the political climate, the inception of intifada and so on, which has undoubtedly contributed to the problem. On the other hand, I would not want to signal to anyone that it has anything to do with the political argument in the middle east, because I do not believe that it has. Many Jewish people and I, as a non-Jewish person, have reservations about the conduct of some aspects of the Israeli Government, and clearly I share that with much of the population in that democratic country. We are not debating the middle east this afternoon, but we must acknowledge that it plays into a situation with underlying tensions, all of which are unacceptable, and must be faced and put down.
A point that we did not bring out in the report, but which underlies some of the concerns, is that the Jewish community was traditionally the most significant and distinct religious and ethnic minority in the United Kingdom, but with large-scale immigration from the new Commonwealth since the second world war that has changed, and the Islamic population is perhaps six times that of the Jewish population. That situation is likely to give rise to tensions in certain localities, but more typically to tensions in a detached environment such as a university—particularly a university that recruits locally from the underlying population and has a high concentration of Islamic students. That situation adds to the threat.
On the actual state of play, it is fair to refer briefly to paragraph 5 of our report, which mentions the Chief Rabbi's immensely impressive oral evidence. He said:
"If you were to ask me is Britain an antisemitic society, the answer is manifestly and obviously no. It is one of the least antisemitic societies in the world".
That is an entirely fair comment, but the paragraph then reports the oral evidence of the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, with whom I also concur. He said:
"There is probably a greater feeling of discomfort, greater concerns, greater fears now about antisemitism than there have been for many decades."
The issue is not about people being immediately subjected to violence or persecution, but about the feeling of discomfort—a very good word—that is not acceptable in a free democracy. None of our citizens should be put in that invidious position, and if nothing else, we must take action on that issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw implied that it is difficult to legislate against a negative. It is difficult, because people do not normally go around with a banner saying, "I am anti-Semitic and I am going to murder you." Sometimes they do, but they do not normally advertise it like that; there is usually—not always—either a kind of hole-in-the-corner, smutty scurrilousness, or it is not advertised. However, just because it is not in our face every minute does not mean that we should not do anything about it.
We must consider the components of the issue. Incidents do take place: I have mentioned that incidents have arisen because of the intifada, and the Community Security Trust does invaluable work by logging such incidents and providing advice. There is a serious passage in the report about the need for better awareness and a reporting structure and protocol from the Association of Chief Police Officers. The Government must be pressed to get on with that work so that we can implement any measure at any time.
The report is fair and balanced, because it says that we must also take account of diffuse anti-Semitism. We should not only record incidents such as a gravestone being overturned or some other horrible act; we should take account of what goes on behind people's hands, and what contributes to the feeling of discomfort that I have mentioned. That is why the most important parts of the report are forward-looking and about good practice in our society, which we must foster. The Government have rightly been set a limited number of challenges, but we understand that this is a job not just for them. It would be wrong to interpret our report as saying, "Over to you, get on with it." It is a wake-up call to the nation and to all the different parts of our diverse society, so that we might deal with a diverse problem. We do not ask for a one-off Government response, but for everyone to consider what they can do to meet those responsibilities.
I shall emphasise two or three points. I would say this, as a former Education Minister, but much of the issue starts at school. The Government have welcomed the report's suggestion about twinning schools. One might consider the Northern Ireland sectarian context. It is important to ensure that while schools may have strong faith backgrounds, they do not turn their backs on each other, but actively seek to know and speak about each other. By sheer coincidence, I was having lunch with a high commissioner from Malaysia today, and we were talking about the ethnic and religious complexities of his country and the interesting way in which they wish to restructure their schools. They wish to retain faith schools, as we would call them, but to place them into clusters so that there is social and educational interaction. We must all consider how we can make the situation more effective.
I support what the hon. Gentleman says. In relation to education about such matters in school, does he agree that anti-Semitism should be dealt with separately from overall anti-racism? Does he acknowledge the phenomenon whereby anti-racists can themselves be anti-Semitic, as was evidenced by the conference in Durban?
That is a useful and valuable comment. There is a big danger that in personal and social development, we lump a whole series of issues together. Even in education, whatever the motive, such development can either come out as a mish-mash or, if it is used selectively, exclude some elements of unacceptable conduct, such as anti-Semitism. To simply say, "We have done this, we have provided three hours a week," is not a sufficient answer to the problem.
I was a Minister with responsibility for the university sector, and thank God Ministers do not tell universities what to do. I hope they never will, but they can set an example and enter into dialogue. From the group's early exchanges, we can usefully do so, too. We have perhaps been fencing around the issue, so we must get together and talk.
I shall emphasise two elements. The first, easy element is the question of the academic boycott, for which there is no place in a university sector. It is unacceptable, and if there is any doubt, academics individually and the universities collectively must be told that it is unacceptable. The second, more difficult element is the attitude towards Jewish students, the way in which they are treated on campus, whether they are subjected to difficulties and whether their complaints are taken seriously. Action has been taken by individual universities and collectively by Universities UK, but I rest my case with Trevor Phillips's comment in oral evidence to the group, when he said that the picture was "patchy". We must ensure that it is universal, and send out the signal that such conduct is not acceptable. There must also be good reporting in universities, and if there is a problem, vice-chancellors must take the lead. However, society, Universities UK, the Government and ourselves must follow.
There is also the wider civil society question, which is an extension of what has been said about school twinning. While Jewish societies have their own charitable remits, it is important that they do not turn their back on the wider community. On the whole, they do not seek to do so. Equally, however, people must meet them half way, and there will be practical opportunities. We heard of one when we visited France on one of our studies. A bus had been damaged, and the Islamic school agreed to share with the Jewish school, which was commendable. We must look for active opportunities to collaborate, and perhaps consider things that we can do together in developing countries or in local community development, so that it becomes more common, accepted and the norm for the different building blocks of our society to fit together more comfortably. It happens below the radar much more than we concede. If there is diffuse anti-Semitism, there is also diffuse good practice, but we must bring it out, celebrate it and extend it.
The wider world is relevant, if only because I noticed yesterday a news source, of which I was not aware, from Jerusalem, which was quoted in our press. It expressed concern about a systemic growth in anti-Semitism throughout Europe. I felt very sympathetic to those comments. At the time of the report, we were conscious of the danger that if we set out to expose our own dirty linen, Europe would be pilloried for being exceptionally dreadful.
Having gone to the European Parliament with my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw, I can report that I had an interesting conversation with a lady parliamentarian from one of the Baltic states. She appeared perfectly sane and normal, but when I asked her about the extent of anti-Semitism in her area, she said, "We don't have a problem." I would say, with respect, that she was either being naive or disingenuous, and I do not know which I find less acceptable. I have also had one or two brisk dialogues with Polish parliamentarians, in which I have said that their party leader is an anti-Semite, and I have been assured that that is not the case. It is, however, still worth at least raising the issue, and I will continue to do so. Indeed, many of us on the all-party group are at the disposal, as it were, of any European Parliament that wants to take another look at this issue, and we want to share some of our experience.
As I said, we have had an opportunity to say something about the report in the European Parliament. However, I also happen to be a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as does my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham, and we participated—with me perhaps as the junior partner—in a fairly brisk double act when we responded to a report to the Council on combating anti-Semitism in Europe. I mention that partly because the rapporteur in this case is currently the chairman of the European democratic group—in which the British Conservative party is a participant—and interestingly, although I leave this only for speculation, also a member of United Russia, so he is a Putin supporter. What is also interesting, however, given that country's history of anti-Semitism, which is not a happy subject, and the fact that its human rights record is not always above criticism or reproach, is that this person's report should say explicitly that there were concerns about France, the Russian Federation and indeed the United Kingdom, which takes us back to my slight concern about our exposing our own problems.
However, there was an element of self-criticism in the report, which I find encouraging. Indeed, the report was quite trenchant, and I hope that it was a wake-up call to some of the countries that say they have no problem. We shall persist in tackling the issue and we shall not let it go. We need to make it clear—indeed, the Foreign Office needs to make it clear in private soundings—that the behaviour that I have described is wrong and that we would be concerned as a country if domestic politics were conducted according to such an agenda.
We were pleased with our report, but we were also very pleased with the Government's response, and I say that from the Opposition Benches; indeed, I do not think that there was a partisan issue. What matters, however, is what happens now. If we just sit there saying, "Oh well, it's worth looking at the issue. Wasn't that interesting? It may have been a little concerning," but then do nothing, we will have short-changed the problem. We have a problem, which we have exposed, and it is all the more soluble because we have exposed it rather than pushing it under the carpet. However, we now need to get on with the business of producing—all of us together, not just the Government—an appropriate response.
In conclusion, let me say that this is the start of a process of vigilance and cleansing, but it is not the end of the process and it is not a process that we can ever afford to let up on.
I am grateful to those who have spoken so far and particularly to my hon. Friend John Mann for his energetic and politically far-sighted and clear chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism. I am also grateful to the Government for responding to our report with a Command Paper, which is a rare honour for a parliamentary group that does not have the status of a Select Committee. Finally, I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his support—indeed, we went to see him to present our report—as well as to the various Ministers concerned, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister is here to respond on behalf of the Department.
In essence, today's debate is not about bringing closure, but about announcing a new chapter in Parliament's commitment to rooting out anti-Semitism. We have been lucky in that a remarkable series of publications and statements from within different communities has touched on this issue since our report came out. In particular, I want to refer to a book called "The Islamist", which is published by Penguin and which I am happy to give an absolute plug in Hansard. It is written by Mohammed Husain—known as Ed Husain—who is a young Muslim from east London. He went through school, college and university as an Islamist and went to study and live in Syria and Saudi Arabia. Frankly, his book should be read by everybody in Britain and certainly by all of us in this chamber, by every vice-chancellor and by everybody in the University and College Union, which organised the anti-Jewish boycott.
In a sense, the book is what we have all been waiting for: it is neither a debate between different groups with different positions nor a close textual reading of statements—some highly odious—calling for the death of Salman Rushdie 16 or 17 years ago or of statements by visiting theologians, whose remarks on Jews would have done Goebbels or Himmler little justice. Instead, we now have a book that bears witness to the extent to which the hatred of Jews—anti-Semitism—the hatred of Israel and contempt for anything to do with Jewishness are part and parcel of the ideological formation, alas, of young people in this country who decide to go down the road of radical Islamist ideology.
Some right hon. and hon. Members in the House, and indeed in the Government, may have been attracted by different creeds and beliefs in their student days, but they put such things behind them as the years passed. The problem that we face today, however, particularly on campuses, is a continuation of the ideological formation described in the book. More Ed Husains are coming, but very few will have the literary gifts, the energy or the desire to confront their own demons or their old friends and comrades, or to say things about their families and religion that might not be too comfortable.
I strongly recommend Ed Husain's book. In it, he describes being in his college and working under the religious banner of the Islamic Society. He describes invoking Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and having his injunctions on the walls. Those injunctions include:
"The Koran is Our Constitution. Jihad is Our Way. Martyrdom is Our Desire."
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I have just read the book. Did he note that Mr. Husain claims at one point that he was taken to what he described as sessions of
"Koran recitation, religious discussion, antisemitism and good food" by a person who still holds quite senior rank within the Muslim Council of Britain?
If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a second, I will indeed come on to my good friend Mr. Bunglawala.
The point is important. I go to mosques in my constituency, and the councils of elders and the imams are good, pious men—their religion is one of hope, peace, love and charity. Yes, the young boys learn the Koran, just as I learned the Latin mass, and I can take hon. Members through it if they would like me to—Introibo ad altare Dei. Perhaps I will stop my Latin at that point, although I understand that the Pope may be bringing the Latin mass back. All religions teach their young boys and girls to recite, and to learn by heart and by rote. There is absolutely nothing wrong in that. But that exact point is made by the fact that when I learned my Latin mass I did not then mix it with hatred of another religion or group of people. By all means let people teach and discuss the Koran and learn as much as possible about the life of the Prophet; but let them not go down the road of anti-Semitism.
My right hon. Friend performs an important function in drawing attention to the extent of Islamic anti-Semitism, which is often not recognised, but does he also agree that strong anti-Semitism is to be found in groups such as the British National party and Combat 18?
Very much so. The only full length work written by the odious Nick Griffin, called "Who are the Mindbenders?" is a long litany of hate against people in the British media whom he says are Jews. He goes through people's names, saying that they were originally called something else. All the traditional, odious hundred-year-old rhetoric against the Jew is there at the heart of the BNP. There is an objective alliance between the extreme Islamist organisations, such as the Muslim Association of Britain, and the extreme right-wing organisations. In a sense they join as the circle of anti-Jewish extremism closes itself.
Mr. Husain, in his college, put up a poster that said, "Islam: The Final Solution." There were protests, as one might expect. He writes about his fellow students that
"deep down, we never really objected to the Holocaust. Indeed in the prayer room we were convinced that the college principal as well as several other members of the management, were Zionist agents. Without question we despised Jews".
He writes also:
"We suspected that the college management was dominated not only by Jews, but by homosexuals too....there was a gay-Jewish conspiracy to undermine our efforts."
I read these extracts because perhaps people do not understand how mutilated is the thinking of those ideologues. It is not narrowly a matter of the behaviour of Israel in the occupied territories; it is a much stronger, deep-going hatred of the Jews and of gays, and deep contempt for the rights of women fully to be women and control their own lives rather than being dictated to by men.
In the book Ed Husain meets Inayat Bunglawala, who is now one of the spokesmen or leaders of the Muslim Council of Britain, and who is regularly on "Today" and "Newsnight". I hesitate to add to the many woes of the director-general of the BBC, Mr. Mark Thompson, at the moment, but he might want to ask why someone with that track record of anti-Semitism is allowed such an unchallenged free rein on the main BBC programmes.
I note my right hon. Friend's comments about Mr. Bunglawala. Does he have the same sentiments about Dr. Azam Tamimi, formerly of the Muslim Association of Britain, who is also a frequent commentator on our national media? Dr. Tamimi is on record as saying in a BBC interview that he would be a suicide bomber if he could.
Yes, of course, and I shall come to that aspect of the argument later.
There is—I speak as a former president of the National Union of Journalists—a deeply ingrained belief in all of us about the importance of freedom of expression, but freedom of expression that supports the killing of innocent people anywhere in the world is a freedom on which there are some limits. In the United States there are very powerful laws upholding freedom of expression, but as the great Justice Frankfurter said, they do not extend to shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. In other words, even in America, there must be some self-limitation.
I wonder whether I might make a little more progress, because I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak, and if I keep giving way I may take up more time than I should.
To return to my account, Mr. Husain met Mr. Inayat Bunglawala, and off they went for their meetings—young men in their 20s, a decade ago:
"Inayat would pick me up and drop me off after a session of Koran recitation, religious discussion and anti-Semitism".
"Jew-bashing was an acceptable part of the Islamist curriculum."
Mr. Husain's final and important comment is:
"What dumbfounded us was the fact that the authorities on the campus never stopped us."
That is in a sense the most killing statement in the book. Of course, a huge part of the report was devoted to saying that it is time to attend to the matter of British universities and colleges—I think that the real problems start there, as adolescents of 15, 16 or 17 are perhaps not really ready to imbibe an evil anti-Jewish, Israel-hating and Jew-bashing ideology, but at college and university that can happen.
We invited the university campuses to take action against the phenomenon. However, the opposite has happened. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw has mentioned that the vice-chancellors do not seem willing fully to engage with the question. The union representing university and college lecturers has taken frankly the most extraordinary decision in the history of the British trade union movement. For the first time in British history since the abolition of the anti-Jewish discrimination laws in the 19th century, a college union is saying that there should be discrimination against Jews. There is no call for a boycott against people from universities in other countries where state practices are infinitely more odious than those undertaken by some agents of the Government of Israel. There is no call for a boycott of Arab professors or students in Israeli universities. The call is directed expressly at Jews. I find it unbelievable that there was not a greater upsurge of outrage in our country about that call.
My hon. Friend has rightly said that Sally Hunt, the union general secretary, has come out clearly against that call, that it will not come into effect and that most university lecturers are ashamed at their new union's decision, but none the less it still stands. I spend some time as a Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe discussing, in the course of political work in many different European cities, what the British Government are doing. Again and again this summer I have had the question put to me, "What on earth is going on? This is the first time any European trade union has sought to organise any kind of boycott against Jews." It is no use saying, "No, it is because they work in Israel and are associated with Israeli universities." It is because they are Jews that people are to be picked out. That is why it is so important that my hon. Friend the Minister should ask the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills what its action will be in the coming period in response to that grave problem.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills must take a lead. It is not right that the Department for Communities and Local Government should be the sole Department involved in the matter. My right hon. Friend must take a clear lead. I invite the Minister to write to me when he returns to his Department, outlining the views of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and what action he will take before the academic term starts in the autumn. We do not need to see another outbreak of anti-Semitism on campus, followed by action; we need pre-emptive, preventive action now.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education has made clear in the media and on a visit to Israel the Government's repugnance at the call for a boycott by the universities union, but now that the Department for Education and Skills has been broken up, it behoves the Secretary of State responsible to take a clear lead. We must go further. We need an action programme signed by each vice-chancellor explaining what they will do to ensure that academic freedom is not threatened by calls from any country for boycotts against Jews.
I invite the Minister—I do not know how cash-strapped his budget is, but it always surprises those of us with any connection to Government how poor and lacking in resources any Department is until it decides to do something—to send Ed Husain's book to every vice-chancellor and ask them all to read it over the summer holidays, so that never again can anybody say, "What dumbfounded us was the fact that the authorities on campus never stopped our anti-Jewish hate campaigns."
We must understand the extent of the dismay, particularly throughout Europe—that is the part of the world in which I have the most contacts and do some work—at such decisions. Our universities should understand the extent to which European parliamentarians—Chris Huhne, a distinguished former Member of the European Parliament, might want to comment—members of the Council of Europe from the Parliaments of the 46 member states and the European Commission are concerned about the boycott calls and the reports of anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel on British university campuses. UK universities receive a great deal of funding and support from the European Commission and other European institutions. If vice-chancellors are not seen to take clear action against anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish behaviour on campus, the question will arise whether that funding will be quite as automatic as it has been.
This is not simply about odious acts of violent hate; it is about a culture of sneering and contempt. Too many of our Jewish students, as we found on our travels to talk to university and sixth-form students, feel afraid. That is a terrible thing. Islamophobia exists, as do snarls and snide comments at times about people of many different faiths, including Irish Catholics—I could tell stories from my mother's side—but we found something quite different. Some young British men and women simply are not 100 per cent. happy going to university, as my children will be. That is quite wrong.
I turn to the problem of foreign policy. The Minister must feel that he is carrying the burden for rather more Departments than he should, but the question of what Britain says and does about international anti-Semitism must be integrated into the work of our international policy Departments. To begin with, we must consider the role of the internet as the publisher of the most odious anti-Semitic material, as well as material written to inflame global Islamist opinion against Israel and the defence of democracy anywhere in the world. It is not too much to describe the net as a contemporary version of Der Stürmer, the notorious anti-Jewish Nazi newspaper published in the Hitler years. One can easily read Islamist propaganda anywhere just by logging on.
We must discuss the issue with the United States in particular, because America is the biggest source of internet service providers and America, alas, allows unacceptable amounts of pornography, the commercialisation of sexual relations and other vile material, including anti-Semitic propaganda, on the net. In the cause of freedom of expression, American friends and colleagues in politics and public life are reluctant to talk about dealing expressly with such things. Obviously criminal sites can easily be shut down, but the problem goes well beyond that. We must have a discussion about the deontology of the net and what action can be taken to prevent it from being accessed in order to poison minds with propaganda against Jews.
I am not talking about the religion of Islam. I have no problem with any preacher talking about his faith. It is not necessarily my cup of tea—I do not believe that any type of religious fundamentalism is a great help in these troubled times—but I respect and admire enormously the commitment to faith of my 10,000 Muslim constituents, who are the Muslims I know best. It is the ideology of Islamism—not the faith but the ism—that must be confronted.
We have seen preposterous examples of what can be easily accessed on the net. Islamist organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain condemned the suicide bombings in the tube two years ago, the failed car bombings a few weeks ago and the attacks on the twin towers, but that was the easy part. The real test is to condemn suicide bombings in the middle east, Iraq, Kashmir or Afghanistan. A dead man in a London tube or a Manhattan office tower is an innocent victim of evil terrorism, but to read much of the material written by Islamist ideologues, a dead Jewish child or granny in a Tel Aviv bus is a legitimate target for what almost appears to be good or acceptable terrorism. Dressing the matter up with talk of resistance or freedom fighting is sheer hypocrisy, as is making comparisons with Nelson Mandela when South African apartheid was overthrown by peaceful means, or Mahatma Gandhi when the one thing that he taught the world in freeing his country from British rule was to shun violence rather than embrace it.
Until the Muslim Council of Britain condemns all terrorist violence at all times and places, I shall take its condemnation of terrorism in our country as an expression of piety rather than a willingness to join the great mass of UK citizens, including all the Muslims I know, who detest terrorists and their ideological gurus who make hatred of Jews and Israel a key element of Islamism. We must continually spell that out to our international partners and friends. We are doing so through the Council of Europe, but we must also take the message to those countries that would find what I just said completely unacceptable or nonsense. One can walk through too many streets in Istanbul and buy "Mein Kampf"; television channels in Egypt and Jordan broadcast films based on blood libels or "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion". Such countries are part of the problem and not yet part of the solution. The British Council should do more—in addition to interfaith dialogue, in which I am a complete believer—to encourage theological discussion between Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians, all children of the great Abrahamic religions. Indeed, we need to invite theologians—theologians in the purest sense—to discuss whether any part of their religions can endorse evil action; that includes the Christian religions.
The fundamental point that the Foreign Office must start to consider is what it is doing through formal diplomatic means, démarche, and its sponsorship of the British Council, the BBC World Service and BBC World TV, to make clear our concerns about anti-Semitism. Let nobody misunderstand the points to be drawn from our report and the points made by the Government in their strong response. What we are discussing is part of a new global ideology, which is a nihilist renunciation of everything that people have fought for, since Galileo through to Spinoza and the years of the enlightenment, the great advances in freedom of expression and religious freedom in the 19th century and today's human values as expressed in the European convention on human rights and the United Nations charter, to which we all sign up.
That ideology is a denial of what is best and most important for all human beings. That is why I hope that our modest report, which has produced a fine response from the Government, is not seen as a closing down of the discussion in the House of Commons. It should be seen as the beginning of a wider fightback until anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel is extirpated once and for all and seen as part and parcel of the thinking of only a tiny fringe—the extreme, idiot minority, whom we can never get rid of, but who should no longer be allowed air time on the BBC. They should not be treated as serious interlocutors for the great faith of Islam and the vast majority of British Muslims, who repudiate the evil ideology that is expressed, in a perverted way, in the name of their faith.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir John. I add my penn'orth to those of other Members who have appreciated the Government's efforts to respond to the all-party parliamentary inquiry's report. I was honoured to be the Liberal Democrat member of the inquiry, and I pay tribute to the dedication of our research staff and to our chairman, Mr. MacShane, for guiding us through a good route march of research and thinking.
This debate is crucial, not just to the Jewish community in this country but to all minority communities. In some basic sense, we are all minorities in one way or another: in our tastes, beliefs, enthusiasms and views. We must defend that diversity. We have to champion and celebrate it, or we will lose it—at our peril. Today, the Jewish community faces the challenges that we are discussing, but the Muslim community may well face them tomorrow and some other community may face them the day after.
Having been involved in the inquiry and report, I was shocked that a minority community in modern Britain should suffer problems such as those suffered by the Jewish community. Thank heavens, there has been no direct attack on a Jewish community building since the bombing in 1994 of Balfour house, the headquarters of the Joint Israel Appeal and other UK Jewish charities. However, that cast a long shadow over many activities of the community. I shall give one example, which I found striking and is in the report. It relates to the King David school, which has 1,000 Jewish pupils. Under the advice of the local police and the Community Security Trust, it now has CCTV, anti-shatter glass and reinforced walls. There are just two access points to the school, and they are controlled by security guards. It all comes at a cost of £130,000 annually—with, I have to say, very little, if any, support from the British state as yet. A similar school in France suffering similar problems gets a major contribution towards costs.
At one end of the spectrum are issues of potential criminal damage, threats to the person, bomb and firebomb attacks—although as I said, those latter have not happened recently in the UK. We have heard from other hon. Members that the softer problems can be just as intrusive and limiting. The development of anti-Semitic discourse in Britain is worrying; we found it worrying as we took our evidence. Given the frequent lazy confusion of Jewish with Israeli, and Israeli with the Israeli Government, it is easy to slip into something that to any Jewish person can seem—indeed, is—a discriminatory set of remarks.
It is worth mentioning the definition of anti-Semitism in the report which we adopted from the EU monitoring centre on racism and xenophobia. The definition is not perfect; I am sure that the debate will go on. However, it is a good working definition of what we have to deal with. It simply states:
"Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."
We have to be aware of that and deal with it; the right hon. Member for Rotherham rightly set that out in quoting from the Ed Husain book.
Underlying that definition of anti-Semitism is a fundamental and old battle against any type of human behaviour that seeks to stereotype us as other than individuals and to depict our behaviour as being in some sense determined by the group of which we are a part. Such behaviour does not treat our individual views and beliefs as worth while in themselves, but as part of a collective view or belief. For any liberal, that is deeply shocking. Criticism in that context, as that definition sets out, constitutes anti-Semitism—for example, when it applies double standards to Israel that are not applied elsewhere, when it requires a standard of behaviour from Israel not demanded elsewhere, or when it holds Jews collectively responsible for the behaviour of the state of Israel. Israel, after all, is a democratic state with a vigorous tradition of a free press—often an opposition press—and of free opposition parties. Moreover, as people often forget, it has a substantial Arab minority, which has full political rights and exercises them in its representation in the Knesset.
I recognise that Mr. Boswell and the right hon. Member for Rotherham in particular have already mentioned this issue, but I should like to extend some of the points about the academic boycott, which I feel is total folly. Its adherents and proponents have set it out in terms that are counter-productive as well as illiberal. I also share the dismay about the motion passed at the annual conference of the University and College Union. Although I can hear the weasel words transmitted to us by John Mann, the thrust of that motion—its political understanding—was that it was to be seen as a support for a boycott of Israeli universities. The academic boycott essentially treats the individual, once again, as someone who is responsible for the behaviour of their group—not as an individual, but as part of a collectivity for which they cannot conceivably share responsibility. Two wrongs cannot and do not make a right.
The boycott would be counter-productive, even in the terms of those who are pressing for it, since many of those who are most critical of Israeli Government policies are to be found in the universities, think-tanks and institutes within Israel. Jonathan Freedland was absolutely right when he wrote recently in the Evening Standard:
"For one thing, Israeli academics are disproportionately represented in Israel's 'peace camp.' The UCU will be boycotting the very people who have done most to draw the Israeli public's attention to the folly of the occupation, to the very people working to bring an end to this desperate conflict. By their actions, the UCU will embolden the Israeli right who will be able to say, 'Look, the world hates and isolates us: this is exactly why we have to be militarily strong.'"
From the other side of the community divide, so to speak, Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the president of al-Quds university—the only Arab university in Jerusalem—has said:
"An international academic boycott of Israel, on pro-Palestinian grounds, is self-defeating: it would only succeed in weakening the strategically important bridge through which the state of war between Israelis and Palestinians could be ended and Palestinian rights could therefore be restored. Instead of burning that bridge, the international academy should do everything within its power to strengthen it including, foremost, through its own collaborative intervention."
I welcome the idea from the right hon. Member for Rotherham that the new Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills should attempt to communicate the concern—in the hope that he shares it—to the vice-chancellors about the recent developments of this nature in those communities. It is important for us to remember the words of George Bernard Shaw, who once said that the English think that they are being tolerant when often they are merely being indifferent. We must not be indifferent; we have to be tolerant, and toleration sometimes requires a more active role than mere indifference. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us on the action that the Government are taking to ensure that any academic boycott will not be implemented, and on whether university authorities might consider legal sanctions or derecognition against a UCU branch that supported a boycott. Could, for example, the Department for Communities and Local Government encourage UCU to conduct a race equality impact assessment over any boycott policy?
I said at the beginning that this is not an issue only for the Jewish community. There is an important line to be drawn and defended for all of us who care about the rights of our fellow citizens. Perhaps the best quotation that I could mention in this context, well-known though it is, is that from Pastor Martin Niemöller, referring to the sad developments in Germany in the 1930s. He said:
"First, they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me".
We let others encroach on the freedom of our fellow citizens to make their lives as they choose at our great peril. An attack on one of us is an attack on us all. With the attacks on the Jewish community, the time has come to draw a firm line on behalf of us all.
A wide range of material is covered in the inquiry and has been covered in the debate. As a member of the inquiry panel, I wanted to touch again on some of the experiences reported to us by adults and young people at the hearing in Manchester that was part of the inquiry, and to relate them to the Government's responses and some of the report's recommendations.
Let me touch briefly on the context. I am bearing it in mind that the Minister responding to the debate was not involved in those earlier stages. Clearly, Greater Manchester was an important part of the inquiry because it has the second largest Jewish population in the UK, second only to London and numbering somewhere between 22,000 and 35,000. Salford, my local authority, has a quarter of that population, but most of it is not in my constituency. Like some other Members, I am reflecting not a constituency interest but a general area interest.
As Chris Huhne said, we visited Manchester and held hearings there, which occupied most of a day, and my right hon. Friend Mr. MacShane and I visited the King David school. That was an important aspect of the inquiry, because that school educates about 1,000 Jewish children and young people. We have to regard those whom we encountered there as an important sample of the total population of Jewish children and young people in Greater Manchester, which, as I said, has the second largest such population in the UK.
As has been mentioned, we saw first hand at the school security measures that are now considered necessary, based on the advice of the police and the Community Security Trust. Reinforced fencing and CCTV could, in some urban areas of Manchester and Salford, be accepted and possibly even be standard. However, that is not the case for things such as anti-shatter glass and reinforced walls, controlled access to the school site, security guards and a necessary security rota of parents. How would parents at other schools feel if they were required to take part in a security rota to cover the school? Fire drills are, we hope, standard in schools, but not the bomb drills that they have at the King David school. As the hon. Member for Eastleigh said, those security measures cost £130,000 per annum, but because such support was not forthcoming from the then Department for Education and Skills, the parents are being asked to contribute that sum.
Looking back on the report, we should look to other countries, particularly France. If that school was in Paris, the French Government would contribute to the security that is judged necessary, so that those children could be educated.
On reflection, does my hon. Friend agree with me that the panel and the group have perhaps been too moderate in some of their conclusions, specifically the recommendation that the Government should be contributing to the security for one of the highest performing state schools in the country?
Indeed. As I looked back on what was reported to us in preparation for the debate, I was struck by the inordinate level of financial and physical involvement that those parents are required to have in the school's security, in order to protect their children. We said a number of times during the inquiry that certain things there would not be acceptable to any other group in our communities. If they were Sikh or Catholic parents, they would complain to their MPs. However, we did encounter such a situation and I, like many other Members, was very surprised by it.
The majority, if not all, of the children and young people whom we spoke to had been threatened or abused because of their Jewish faith. The example was readily given to us of a car being driven directly at a female Jewish pupil at the school by a female adult. The boys reported that they were abused daily as they went to and from school on public transport. They had such things as "Jew!" and "Get out of our country" shouted at them.
In the recent past, there was a local campaign to prevent the King David primary school from relocating and building a new primary school in an open area. The British People's party produced a leaflet saying, "Defend our English park". There was a sense of "This is our country. It's our England. You are not part of it", which is a terrible thing to be faced with day in, day out. It was clear to me from talking to the students at King David school that that was directed at them and their families as part of their daily lives.
Let us imagine it. There were examples of students experiencing verbal abuse going to and from school, or when playing football with other schools. I guess that football is trying to face down the problem, but teams at other schools would ritually verbally abuse the students before they started playing. One girl, quite tellingly, explained what happened when she attended a drama group. Out-of-school activities are important to young people, but when it was discovered that she was Jewish, she was spat at and abused. She left the group because the teacher would not intervene on her behalf.
We got an overall view of the level of anti-Semitism. When we asked young people whether they felt that it had got worse, they said that they were noticing it more. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham touched on, the key thing is the extent to which it affected their choice of university. They got advice from older students already at university, and they were choosing where they wanted to go not on the basis of, for example, selecting a course, but at which university they would be safest.
Schools should not have to pay a lot of money for extra security. It would horrify us if other schools needed reinforced walls and anti-shatter glass. On the whole, schools should not have to employ security guards just to allow their pupils an education. As I said, most schools have fire drills, but this one has bomb drills. We will all realise that that must add to the sense of tension and fear felt by someone who has to go through that regularly. Schools and families should not have leaflet campaigns of hatred directed at them when they want to build a new primary school in a community. The school is long-established in the area, not new to the community.
There have been serious incidents in communities in Salford and Manchester, including stabbings and other extreme forms of violence. A young person being attacked with a baseball bat was one example. It is important that, beyond the school environment, families and adults are able to attend synagogue in their communities and express their religious faith without the fear of being attacked. In the afternoon session held with adults, councillors and the police, people reported that they had been attacked, spat at and verbally abused, and, again, had had cars driven at them when they were attending synagogue.
The level of anti-Semitism on campus is high, and in some places the situation seems to be worsening. I attended Salford university, which, happily, seems to have one of the better track records in the family of universities in Greater Manchester. We even heard that at Manchester medical school, people of the Jewish faith are not progressing in their careers as they might, which they do at Salford. The report and the evidence that we took showed a correlation between the situation in the middle east and the tensions there, the experiences of student bodies on campuses and school pupils, and the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students.
I keep coming back to the importance of people having to factor into their decisions their safety from attack or intimidation. This week, there was a statement to Parliament about the priorities of Ministers for Women. If any other group of people picked out a university or other educational institution to attend, based only on how safe they would feel, we would all be horrified. Yet the examples that we heard were unsurprising, given the history of my local universities. The university of Manchester students union proposed a motion in 2002 that anti-Zionism or criticism of Israel was not anti-Semitism, and called for a boycott of Israeli goods. We saw a leaflet that quoted neo-Nazi propaganda, reproducing historical anti-Semitic slander describing Jews as vampires and calling for them to be expelled.
On the activities of far-right parties, I have talked about the British People's party's campaign against the establishment of a new Jewish primary school in Heaton park, but we know that the British National party also campaigns in overtly anti-Semitic ways. Nick Griffin calls the holocaust a hoax and a "profitable lie"—an anti-Semitic act in itself. In local elections this year, the BNP campaigned more widely. It always stood one candidate in Salford, in the university ward, but, as in other parts of the country, its campaign has developed this year. It stood in six different wards across the three constituencies in Salford in May 2007. The hatred and anti-Semitic rhetoric of Nick Griffin is spreading through our communities and I, for one, as a Salford MP, find that disturbing, given that we have one quarter of the Jewish population of Greater Manchester's 10 areas.
I wish to touch briefly on the work of the Holocaust Education Trust, which is an important counter to the rhetoric and hatred of the BNP. Young people from sixth forms and colleges can visit Auschwitz on a one-day trip and take part in seminars reflecting the lessons of the holocaust for their generation. Given what I have said about what is happening in Salford, I hope that a school from my constituency will take part in that scheme later this year. I hope that we are all promoting it, now that the finances allow it to happen.
It seems worrying that, of 600 anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the UK in 2006, a quarter took place in Greater Manchester. On the face of it, it is worrying for Greater Manchester to have a quarter of the incidents but only 10 per cent. of the Jewish population. Within those figures, almost half the incidents of assault or extreme violence in the UK took place there. I have detailed the experience of students at King David school and some unacceptable incidents in our community.
However, I wish to record my own feelings after our day of inquiry in Greater Manchester and after the writing of the report. We can draw a different conclusion: it should be understood that Greater Manchester police is probably exemplary in how it records and monitors anti-Semitic incidents and co-operates with the Community Security Trust. As was mentioned in the Chamber today, sometimes an increase in the number of incidents is a sign not that things are getting worse, but that such incidents are being reported. That is the first step to things getting better. I would not want, through detailing what we found in Manchester, Salford and elsewhere in Greater Manchester, to leave the impression that things are terrible there. The work of the police there is very good.
There were further important examples of good practice in Manchester. The former Lord Mayor, Councillor Mohammed Afzal Khan, a Muslim, took a lead in his mayoral year on promoting inter-faith dialogue, and was joint chair of the Manchester Muslim-Jewish Forum.
Having said what I have, I add that there is much to welcome in the Government's response to our all-party parliamentary inquiry. I wish to mention some particular things relating to Manchester hearings. The Government's response condemns the rise in the number of such incidents and states that people should be able to live their lives free from verbal or physical attack, which they clearly are not doing. It rightly points out that anti-Semitism is starting to be accepted instead of condemned, which is an important point.
On anti-Semitism on campuses, about which a number of Members have spoken, there is an important recognition that Jewish students feel threatened and that, as we said in the report, the response of vice-chancellors is patchy. We really should start to insist that they take a more active role. I keep coming back to the fact that the young people to whom we talked cannot choose the university that they want to go to, the place where they want to live or the course they want to do; they have to consider their safety. That is unacceptable.
On the monitoring and recording of anti-Semitic incidents, if Greater Manchester police can do it, other areas can, too. The largest part of the Jewish population lives in London, and the statistics from London look ludicrous in comparison with those from Manchester. It can be done, and the recommendation that the Home Office research and report annually to Parliament is key. The other exemplary aspect in Manchester is the working together of the police and the Community Security Trust, which is vital. It was also important that the Crown Prosecution Service accepted that the low number of prosecutions of anti-Semitic incidents was not acceptable, and we should, as MPs, continue to review its plans in that regard.
The Government's response says that the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government have a cross-government group of officials working on the matter. It is important that DCLG continues to work on it—it did not commit to it—and that it commissions an annual survey on attitudes and tensions. We cannot keep investigating in detail, as we did for the Manchester hearings, but it is important that a Government Department continue to work on the matter. The new single equality body, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, has a key role to play in the months ahead. It is important that we feed information to it as it establishes itself and takes up that key role.
The step of promoting inter-faith programmes and leadership programmes for young Muslims and Jews was fully supported by the Government in their response. I mentioned the good example of the former mayor of Manchester. People in civic leadership positions such as the mayor of Manchester—who, in that case, was a Muslim—have an important role to play. The significance of their role could be promoted.
The Government's response details further events involving leaders of major faith communities and the work of the Faith Communities Consultative Council, which are important. In March, there was an event for rabbis and imams and another for Muslim and Jewish women. Such leadership events must continue to be promoted. I should also mention that ITV Granada has a programme to build links in the community between different faiths and cultures. As a media body, it has taken on that role. I did not know about that previously, but I commend its work.
Finally, given everything that I have said about schools, and that other Members have said about the reported difficulties at King David school, we should look again at the idea in our report on twinning schools and communities. It is clearly wrong that students from one school cannot play football with pupils from another school without experiencing verbal prejudice. The idea of twinning schools of different faiths should be strongly encouraged and promoted.
I have dealt mainly with school, campus and community. It is important that we work toward people understanding these issues when they are younger, and, most importantly, toward Jewish children and young people being able to receive their education at school and university free from physical or verbal attack. Although there are some important steps in the Government's response, it is clear that continued action and, perhaps, extra focus will be required in the future.
I pay tribute to the members of the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism for performing a public service by bringing to public attention the growing and distressing phenomenon of anti-Semitism. It is certainly not anti-Semitic to criticise the state of Israel, but it is anti-Semitic to demonise Israel, the only Jewish state, in a way that no other state is demonised. As the report states, the effect of that is that
"traditional antisemitic notions of Jewish conspiratorial power, manipulation and subversion are then transferred from Jews (a religious or racial group) on to Zionism (a political movement)."
We see the effects in several ways. Reference has been made to statements by extremist Islamic movements, the British National party and Combat 18 that condemn Jews and Zionism together, but perhaps most disturbing is the way that anti-Semitic discourse, as the report describes it, has become part of mainstream society. The front page of the New Statesman on
What has happened has led to more attacks on Jewish people and, as hon. Members have said, to increasing Jewish concern. British Jews are active citizens who have pioneered several different models of successful integration that could well be followed by other minority communities, yet many Jewish people in this country feel increasingly uneasy and disturbed. That is partly because of the growing number of attacks on Jews, as shown by the reports of the Community Security Trust, but also because of what is detected as a change of attitude. It has become all too commonly acceptable to criticise Jews and imply that they are a subversive people—again, relating them to negative views about the Jewish state and Zionism.
The report has increased public awareness of what is happening. I commend the members and chairman of the all-party group and the commission itself for what has been achieved. Many members of the Jewish community are asking what is to be done. The question is not just for the Jewish community; it is about the nature of our society. I hope that the Government and others will respond to the shocking information in the report and that we will see action.
It is a privilege to be able to speak in this debate on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. I believe that I am the first speaker in the debate who does not have either of the two qualifications that other speakers have had. I did not serve on the commission nor do I have a Jewish background. For that matter, neither do I have a significant Jewish community in my constituency. Perhaps I can look on the subject of the debate and the debate so far from slightly outside the perspective of some of those who have spoken.
The all-party group's inquiry is a moving piece of work. It is thorough and measured, and, for me, it was revelatory in many ways. I hope that it serves to be revelatory in so far as policy making goes, but not just Government policy making. Several speakers made it clear that overcoming the problem that the inquiry brought out will require changes in other parts of civic society.
This is a unique occasion. I understand that it is the first time that an all-party group's report has been the subject of a debate and an official response from the Government. Indeed, I believe that it set you one or two procedural issues to deal with at the beginning of the debate, Sir John.
I welcome the Government's response, which is a good first shot at a response, but, as has been made clear in the debate, is very much a case of work in progress with far more to come. The report has sounded the alarm, but we all understand that there is far more to be done before we can say that we have responded properly to the alert that has been given.
The report set a good precedent for co-operation between parties. As the first of the Front-Bench speakers, I can say that it is my party's intention to offer full co-operation with the Government, on a party basis, on ensuring that the recommendations are not just implemented but vigorously pursued. We need to remind ourselves on occasions that just as we urge ethnic and faith groups in the outside world to work together towards common objectives and to promote social cohesion, there are occasions when political parties have to do the same. In dealing with this matter, my party is ready to do that formally and informally.
We also need to recognise—perhaps this is the first of the outsider's viewpoints—that we can get very wrapped up in recognising what the problem is but not face up to the fact that there are legitimate and deeply held differences within society and between faiths and ethnic groups. We must accept that at every phase we need to work together to achieve common objectives while recognising the right of others to have different views and to express them robustly on occasion. I want to place it on the record that we believe that the common values on which we need to work together are the preservation of a free and fair society in this country, and the protection of minorities and of minority rights. That is right ethically and, for some of us, is right from a religious perspective. In addition, on a much more utilitarian basis, a safer, more prosperous and secure society for everybody can only delivered be through such an approach. In other words, we are driven by both a pragmatic and an ethical response.
I want to say clearly that nothing can justify hate crime, whether that constitutes terror attacks at one end of the spectrum or sending people to Coventry at the other. It is quite right for the law and society to put measures in place that punish and deter people from hate crimes and avoid such situations occurring. A foundation for that has been put in place by the report when it mentions adopting a common and widely understood definition of what discrimination is. It says that the methodology of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry should be adopted and that it is what appears to be discriminatory to the victim that counts. I was very impressed by the inquiry's report of the work of the Community Security Trust, of which I was not previously aware. I was also impressed by what the trust has done—perhaps not deliberately—to rebut one of the criticisms of such an approach to a definition of discrimination, which is that if discrimination is defined according to the eyes of the victim, that may provoke a lot of groundless complaints based on other causes. The evidence is there for that in the report and it should be put on the record that the Community Security Trust is rigorous in weeding out complaints that are not in fact about anti-Semitism. I hope that those who might be inclined to criticise that process will take note of that as it is an important rebuttal.
I come now to recording, which is the first matter that I want to ask the Government about. The report states that only seven of the 43 police forces in England have effective ways of recording anti-Semitic incidents. The Government's response to recommendation 7 is pretty faint-hearted. It does not say anything about changing things, but simply states that they are in favour of things getting better. I would like the Minister to say in plain terms what he plans to do about the recording of incidents.
My second question is, to which Minister should I address my remarks? We might have expected the Minister who deals with local government and cohesion to respond to this report, but perhaps the Minister will tell us that he deals with that and everything is fine. However, I notice that according to the Government's response it was the former Minister for Local Government, now the Minister for the Environment, who dealt with the issue. I want an assurance that the seniority and importance that was given to this matter will be carried forward in the new departmental arrangements.
Will the Minister say something about exactly what area he is responsible for? Is it England; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; or sometimes one and sometimes the other? What is his area of responsibility when it comes to tackling this issue? That does not in any way imply a criticism that the approach might be different in different places. A different policy approach in different parts of the United Kingdom is not a bad thing; in some respects it is a positively good thing. For instance, the Government's response to the issue of the protection of Jewish property points out that the Scottish Executive have already set aside a fund of £1 million to deal with synagogues in Scotland. That is obviously a good thing and I would not want a United Kingdom-wide new initiative to blot that out. We should ensure that if there is good practice in one part of the United Kingdom, we borrow and import it into other parts of the UK.
My third question—if it is not in fact the fourth—is whether the Government intend actively to manage a programme or whether they simply plan to tick a few boxes. For instance, the Government response refers to the fact that the Commission on Integration and Cohesion will be producing a report. The timing of the writing of the Government's response meant that it came before that report was produced. The commission has now reported and it would be good if the Minister could say what the implications of its report are on the programme that the Government intend to pursue.
I wish to say clearly that nothing justifies hate crimes, discrimination against individuals and their property, or discrimination against a whole religion or ethnic group. At the risk of being boring and repetitious, I wish to make the point that anti-Semitism is wrong. I make that point because a central matter of contention is whether the behaviour of a nation state—good or bad—can or should legitimise such behaviour or discrimination. I wish to say clearly that it does not. Discrimination is real and, in preparation for this debate, a briefing was provided to me by a senior Jewish member of the Liberal Democrats. I want to quote a couple of points that he put to me. He reminded me that the British Muslims who were convicted in the Crevice trial had a list of synagogues in their possession as a possible target. He went on to say that every
"Jewish community in the UK takes this threat so seriously that it is spending £3million, via the CST, to bomb-proof the windows of every Jewish building in the country."
That is £3 million and I note that the Scottish Executive have allocated £1 million. It would be a powerful signal if the Minister said that the Government are prepared to allocate the other £2 million for the rest of the United Kingdom.
I do not want to make a partisan point, but it is important for us to recognise that political parties have a role that we are not yet fully playing. Another point put to me by a senior Jewish member of the Liberal Democrats was:
"Many of us experienced personal anti Semitism. In my last Parliamentary campaign the Labour team canvassed on behalf of 'the Christian Gentleman' to show that I was not 'acceptable'... I lost by a very small margin".
I emphasise that that is not a partisan point and I am well aware that it would be quite possible for people to intervene on me and draw my attention to Liberal Democrats who have behaved in an inappropriate way. John Mann was quite right and frank in what he said and I want to be quite right and frank in what I say. None of us can say that we are without fault in this; we all have work to do to improve our approach to this issue.
I accept with all seriousness the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. Is he aware that during the last general election in Rochdale, the then Member for Rochdale, Lorna Fitzsimons, reported that the Muslim Public Affairs Committee distributed a leaflet that claimed that she was Jewish, which she is not, as a reason for not voting for her? Does he think that there should have been a stronger dissociation of a political party from that leaflet put out during that campaign?
I only became aware of that when I read the report. I of course share her concern about that.
I was making the point that the behaviour of a particular nation state cannot justify discriminatory action against individuals. There is also the inverse point that the robust criticism of the behaviour of a nation state should not be automatically interpreted as an attack on the integrity, the standing or the legitimacy of individuals. Let me give a simple example. I completely condemn the illegal invasion of Iraq, but that does not make me anti-British, except perhaps in the eyes of some right-wing commentators. That invasion does not legitimise terrorist actions against Britons, either at home or overseas. Similarly, I condemn the illegal occupation of Arab lands by Israeli settlers, but that does not make me anti-Semitic. It cannot be used to legitimise attacks on Jews in this country in any context.
That brings us to the disturbing issue of academic freedom. Robust polemic and a rigorous search for truth are at the heart of the academic and learning process, but so too must be the freedom to do that in an open and accepting climate without fear and with personal and mutual respect. It is clear that the UCU boycott, whether designed to be a boycott or designed to sound as though it is one, is utterly wrong. If it is a boycott, it is wrong, for all the reasons stated by my hon. Friend Chris Huhne and others, and because it cuts across the whole ethos of the academic climate in this country that has developed over the years. It is wrong because it hits the wrong targets and quite clearly is discriminatory against one religious and ethnic group. I support the point that is in the report, and which my hon. Friend made, about how we will need race equality impact assessments if the boycott goes any further.
If, of course, it is just pretending to be a boycott—presumably so that it can gain credit with extremists without actually doing anything—a good analogy, and appropriate in the circumstances, would be Pontius Pilate. It is just washing its hands and trying to get the credit—a "Not me, guv!" sort of thing. If that is the case, it is absolutely scandalous. I do not think that there is any division in this House about that, and if the Minister can give us any pointers to action that the Government and Ministers in the relevant Department are prepared to take, it would be helpful. We should send a message in this debate to Universities UK saying that whatever its briefing says, and whatever might have happened so far, if from now on it will at least be fully engaged with this House, the Government and the all-party inquiry so that we can tackle things vigorously, that would be very encouraging indeed.
I would like to see more muscle in the Government's responses. Okay, it is early days and there are good reasons why, at the moment, they are not as forthcoming as I would like, but please can the Minister tell us that he is absolutely determined to put in that muscle to ensure results? Will we see more signs of action from the Government and not simply good intentions? Will he assure us that there will be more cross-border work in all its meanings? England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are each producing different responses, which is not bad; I am not asking for a uniform response, but for an evaluation of the responses being made and the application of best practice wherever possible.
For instance, I noticed that the Government's response records that Northern Ireland universities have a statutory duty to deal with religious and ethnic discrimination. Is that a route that ought to be looked at for English universities? Then there are border issues relating to our work with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union. Again, there are plenty of opportunities for co-ordination and learning, and maybe for the UK Government to export best practice else where.
I think that this has been a very valuable inquiry and the Government's response is a good start, but there is much more work to be done, and I look forward to working with the Minister and, I hope, the official Opposition in tackling this and taking it forward.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir John. Like the Minister, I have been translated from the great spaces of the Finance Bill into community cohesion. I have not yet had the chance to welcome him to his new position, which I now do. I suppose that this is my debut in this field.
I should like to pick up on a point made by Andrew Stunell. I think that we should all like to have some clarity about who ultimately is responsible in this area. Is it the Minister present or another refugee from the Finance Bill, the Minister for Local Government? I am sure that the Minister present will answer that question when he responds to this debate, which has been a very fine one. I congratulate John Mann on the way in which he introduced it and on commissioning the report. I congratulate also Mr. MacShane on chairing the inquiry.
I have a number of particular interests: my background is Jewish, although it is not the religion that I try to practise. Furthermore, I have the largest percentage of Muslim constituents of any official Opposition MP. So there is never a dull moment. I think that I can say fairly, therefore, that I see several angles on the issues involved. The debate has been a model for other debates on the violation of human dignity, whether that violation is based on ethnicity or religion. I, certainly, would welcome similar debates on, for example, Islamophobia.
I want to make it clear that I agree with the hon. Member for Hazel Grove that this is an area for an all-party consensus, and I welcome much of the Government's response, although, as all Ministers know, there is always more to do. I shall come to that point in a moment. I think that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw was absolutely right to intimate that all racism is evil. There is a particular horror of anti-Semitism for people with roots in western Europe as a result of the holocaust. I think that it has to be acknowledged that the roots of anti-Semitism in western Europe lie partly in Christian replacement theology, from which, thankfully, the Roman Catholic Church and a number of others have now distanced themselves, since Vatican II.
Against the, in some cases, horrifying pictures painted this afternoon by hon. Members, particularly some of the alarming information given by Barbara Keeley, it is important to set what my hon. Friend Mr. Boswell quoted the Chief Rabbi as saying when he gave evidence, which was that, by and large, Britain is not an anti-Semitic country. In general, and certainly compared with other countries, I believe that Britain has been a good home for Jews, as well as for people of many other ethnic backgrounds.
I am trying to respond to a few themes only and to draw them together in this way: I think that it has emerged from the debate that organised anti-Semitism, until relatively recently, has been monopolised by British neo-Nazis and elements of the indigenous left and right. Government Members were courageous to sign up in the report to the statement quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry. We have heard evidence that contemporary anti-Semitism in Britain is found more commonly on the left than on the right. Mrs. Ellman referred to the New Statesman cover, which was an alarming manifestation of that trend, although I should say in return that all parties have their own sinister corners. However, I admire the way in which members of the commission faced and signed up to that statement.
It has emerged also that that monopoly has been broken in recent years by separatist extremists who claim to act in the name of Islam. It is important, right at the start, to stress, as did the right hon. Member for Rotherham, that those separatists do not represent the Islamic mainstream, which in my constituency is represented by bodies such as the Wycombe Islamic Mission and Mosque Trust, and that there is much local co-operation on the ground up and down Britain between Jews and Muslims. I am nervous of citing examples from Manchester, because hon. Members present know more about it than I do, but the Community Security Trust has cited in a brief the Muslim-Jewish forum in Greater Manchester. There are, of course, others.
At best, the separatists are opposed to terrorism in Britain, but they regard Jews, Christians and members of other religions and none as kufr, which is a derogatory term for non-Muslims and which in itself contrasts with the authentic Islamic view of both Jews and Christians as "people of the Book". At worst, the separatists support terrorism in Britain, as we have seen from a procession of events, from the Dhiren Barot plot, which, significantly, took place before the invasion of Iraq, all the way through to the most recent attack on Glasgow airport.
It is vital to emphasise—the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, picked up this point very acutely—that synagogues and other Jewish targets in Britain are potential terrorist targets. There is a long list of such attacks abroad. The House will remember the bombing of the synagogue in Istanbul. It is significant, as the hon. Gentleman said, that the Crevice trial convicts were found with a list of synagogues in their possession.
Having established that what I described as a monopoly has been broken and having time to respond to only a few themes, I shall question the Minister about the Government's response to the abuse of universities, which have come up a great deal in the debate, and prisons, which have not come up so much, as potential incubators of anti-Semitism by extremists.
Let me deal first with universities. The Minister will be aware of claims by Professor Anthony Glees of Brunel university that extremist groups or terror groups are active in up to 30 British universities. Some of those, by the way, are BNP or what are traditionally known as extreme-right groups. If he has read Ed Husain's book "The Islamist"—he is being urged this afternoon by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber to do so—he will be aware that it is the practice of extreme groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, of which Ed Husain was a member, to operate in that way, and that at least one member of a university Islamic society has been charged with terrorist offences.
Does the Minister agree with Trevor Phillips that the response of vice-chancellors to anti-Semitic activity has been "patchy"—my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry referred to that—and will he commend universities such as Birmingham, which the report identified, that have very strong safeguards in place in relation to visiting speakers? What practical steps are the Government taking to ensure that a working group comprising Universities UK and a committee of vice-chancellors is set up on the issue? The hon. Member for Bassetlaw made it pretty clear that there has been an element of institutional resistance and that that perhaps continues.
On the vexed question of the proposed so-called boycott, will the Minister pick up the point made by Chris Huhne about the Government encouraging the University and College Union to conduct a race equality impact assessment on any boycott policy?
I asked the Secretary of State for Education and Skills a while ago, before I was moved to my current duties, how many faculties, chairs and other facilities in relation to Islamic studies in universities were funded from abroad. Obviously, we have no objection in principle to funding coming to universities from abroad. However, we are concerned about funding from separatists whose mode of thought is, among other things, anti-Semitic. I received the following answer:
"This information is not collected centrally".—[Hansard, 11 June 2007; Vol. 462, c. 792W.]
I should like to know why not.
In the current circumstances, prisons are equally a cause of concern. The Minister, like other hon. Members, will be aware that there is a claimed link between prisons and separatist and therefore terrorist indoctrination. Richard Reid, the attempted shoe bomber, is alleged to have been radicalised in Feltham young offenders institution. Muktar Said Ibrahim, the leader of the 21/7 gang, is alleged to have been indoctrinated in Feltham or Aylesbury young offenders institutions, or in both. It is claimed that imams at both institutions were suspended in 2002 amid fears that they were preaching extremism.
Like the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, I am sorry to bombard the Minister with questions that might properly be directed at the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills or the Home Department, but bombarding him with these questions illustrates the point that this issue goes right across Departments. I should be obliged if, as well as furnishing the right hon. Member for Rotherham with the information from the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills that he requested, he could obtain a reply from the Home Office on some of the points that I am raising.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because it gives me the chance to make the point that has already been made by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove: we would like a little more clarity about how exactly that mechanism will work.
It is pretty clear that there is a danger, first, that non-terrorist prisoners will be indoctrinated into anti-Semitism inter alia and, secondly, that just as Northern Ireland's prisons during the 1970s and 1980s became universities of terrorism as republican and loyalist prisoners swapped information on experiences and planned strategy, so our own prisons have the potential to become universities of terrorism and, by extension, universities of anti-Semitism, if that is not a contradiction in terms. Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, was quoted last weekend in The Observer as raising concerns about Feltham and saying that there was
"concern among some staff that a small minority of young people were being coerced into joining the Muslim faith" and I bet that that is not the mainstream version that operates in my constituency and others.
What is the Government's strategy for combating the growth of extremism and anti-Semitism in prisons and if they have not published it, will they do so? How many imams have been suspended from British prisons for extremism or any other reason since 9/11? Again, before I was moved to my current duties, I asked the Home Secretary in a written question if he would name the imams who had served as prison chaplains in each year since 2001. I was told:
"There is no central record that holds this information."—[Hansard, 5 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1764W.]
That is worrying.
I was very surprised at the reply that I received this week to a written question that I had tabled asking the Department for Communities and Local Government how many mosques there were in the UK. I was told:
"The information requested is not held centrally."—[Hansard, 18 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 368W.]
Frankly, all that is required is a letter to local authorities asking how many mosques they have. It is quite preposterous that the Government do not know how many mosques there are in our own country or, for that matter, churches or synagogues.
I do not want in any way to upset the right hon. Gentleman, but I have to tell him that my recollection is that I asked a similar question and I received an answer. I will send him that answer and perhaps we will have a chance to clear this up.
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman might say something like that.
To return to the central record, I was told that it would not be appropriate to provide the names of the imams fulfilling the role of prison chaplain. I think that I can guess the reason for that—there may be legitimate security concerns—but I would just like to hear it from the Government, rather than be told:
"It would...not be appropriate to provide the names of those filling this role."—[Hansard, 5 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1764W.]
Although I am a bit happier with the written answers that I am receiving from the Government than a Government Member and ex-Minister is, I am not completely satisfied.
Again, picking up the lead of the right hon. Gentleman, I shall say a few words about the Government, Muslim partners and anti-Semitism. Clearly, Governments work with faith-based organisations of all religions and none as partners, and that is entirely proper. The Muslim Council of Britain was, for a long period, the main Muslim partner of Conservative and Labour Governments. The legend is, and I have no reason to doubt it, that the MCB was partly put together by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard when he was the Home Secretary. The MCB has always opposed terrorism in Britain, but the former Communities and Local Government Secretary, who is now the Secretary of State for Transport, was none the less sufficiently concerned about separatist tendencies within the MCB to announce that the Government's
"strategy of funding and engagement must shift significantly towards those organisations that are taking a proactive leadership role in tackling extremism"— which, of course, includes anti-Semitism—
"and defending our shared values."
I return to Mr. Bunglawala. It is a matter of record that he has said:
"The Jews consider themselves to be God's chosen people—although the blessed prophet Jesus called them the children of the devil—and so can do...whatever...they like".
He is also on record as saying:
"The chairman of Carlton Communications is Michael Green of the tribe of Judah. He has joined an elite club whose members include fellow Jews Michael Grade...and Alan Yentob. The three are reported to be 'close friends'...so that's what they mean by a free media".
I was going to quote from the "The Islamist", but the ever-attentive right hon. Member for Rotherham has beaten me to it.
I gather that Mr. Bunglawala has since repented of those views, just as he has repented of his description of Osama bin Laden as a freedom fighter. None the less, all that is a reminder of how careful all political parties have to be when selecting partner organisations to work with. Does the Minister believe that the MCB is taking the necessary leadership role? Will the shift that was announced by the last Secretary of State continue under the new one?
I conclude by reflecting on the nature and implications of anti-Semitism. To the social historian, Christianity grew at least partly out of Judaism, just as—again to the social historian—Islam drew on the Jewish experience. Therefore, anti-Semitism is not simply a repudiation of one group on the ground of ethnicity, barbarous though that is and represented as it is by the obscenity of the holocaust. It is also, by implication and extension, a repudiation of the institutions, culture and values of the western world in general and, for us as parliamentarians, of Britain in particular. Those values are ultimately founded on the inviolable dignity of the human person.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the debate, and I look forward to the Minister's response.
It is a privilege to have you in the Chair, Sir John. It has been an interesting and excellent debate. That phrase is often bandied about in Westminster Hall, but I think that everyone who has participated would agree that it is the case.
I commend and applaud the parliamentary inquiry as an important contribution to the work to eliminate anti-Semitism. I note in particular that the membership was genuinely cross-party and that a strong consensus on ways to tackle anti-Semitism was developed through the process. Politicians are often criticised about yah-boo politics—I am conscious that two by-elections are being held today in which the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are trying to tear each other apart—and it is gratifying and makes me proud to be a Member of a House in which greater and nobler causes such as the elimination of bigotry and hatred are advanced. We have seen evidence of that today.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised many points, which I should like to address individually. I commend the work that my hon. Friend John Mann has done on this issue over many years, and I pay tribute to his high-quality chairmanship of the all-party group. I am pleased that he recognised the importance that the Government have placed on racism in general and anti-Semitism in particular by providing a formal response to the parliamentary inquiry. Hon. Members have said that we must all, in all our lives, try to change bigotry and hatred. That is important. The good publicity that came out of the report's publication in September and, hopefully, the publicity that will emanate from today's debate will help to push that culture in trying to tackle anti-Semitism head on and ensure that it is not tolerated in this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw talked about civic society and football clubs. I pay tribute to the "Let's Kick Racism Out of Football" campaign of the past few years, which has played an enormous part in reducing levels of tension in football. We are not there yet—far from it—but it has made a valuable contribution. He and other hon. Members also mentioned universities, which I shall spend some time on later.
My hon. Friend asked specific questions, to which I shall now respond. He asked which Minister will have responsibility for matters of anti-Semitism and co-ordinating the Government's role on that issue. It was made clear to me before the debate, and abundantly clear in the debate, how important hon. Members feel it is to have a clear, single point of reference—a single Minister—to co-ordinate activity on this issue across Government. I understand that no decision has been made on that yet, but the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Mr. Dhanda, is in charge of faith and cohesion, and it is likely that he will be in charge of taking forward the elimination of anti-Semitism. I pledge to take a personal interest in the matter. I am proud to be a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel, and I shall tell the Department that there is an urgent need for a single point of contact, and ensure that the matter is resolved as quickly as possible.
May I make the point gently to the Minister that there might be significant disquiet should we be in recess without a clear point of contact?
As I said, I am aware of the strength and depth of feeling on that. I know that we are a week away from recess and I shall endeavour to ensure that the matter is resolved as quickly as possible.
My hon. Friend—I make that mistake deliberately—makes an important point, and I shall take it back to the Department.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw made some points about the task group, including about the frequency of its meetings and how it is going to move forward. The task group, which consists of Jewish stakeholders and representatives of various Departments, meets four times a year. The first meeting was on
Mr. Boswell, who is a decent and civilised man for whom I have much respect, said that we should set an example. That has been one of the themes of the debate, and it must be pushed forward. If we walk on by, tolerate and are indifferent to the idea of anti-Semitism, that is almost as bad—it might be worse—than landing a punch. We need to address that, and I pay tribute to his comments.
The hon. Gentleman particularly mentioned setting an example in respect of universities. I agree with his point that it would be wrong for Government to start dictating what can be discussed in universities, as that is a dangerous path. When the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education visited Israel on
My right hon. Friend Mr. MacShane mentioned—in his usual high-quality and eloquent way, which I can never equal—the horrific bigotry that continues. He mentioned Islamic anti-Semitism. It is odd, if not disturbing and distressing, that a beautiful and peaceful religion such as Islam can be distorted with such hatred in the way that such a small minority have done. He gave striking and vivid examples of Jew hating and anti-Semitism. When he was talking, I remembered the comments made a year or two ago by Iran's President Ahmadinejad that Israel is a blot on the landscape and that it should be wiped off the face of the earth. The fact that a state in the United Nations can say that of another and not receive overwhelming global condemnation is astonishing. We should be pushing, both inside and outside this House, to rail against such a comment and against the fact that Tehran can host a holocaust denial conference. We should be doing a lot more.
One of today's themes has been that if we do not challenge, we implicitly accept the idea that anti-Semitism is acceptable. I can give clear assurances that the Government will not tolerate such a stance. Chris Huhne and my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley mentioned funding for security of Jewish buildings. The Government are happy to provide advice to organisations and to industry about protective security—that is usually arranged through the National Security Advice Centre—but we have a policy whereby we do not fund the provision of protective security for organisations or industry. That is true not only in respect of Jewish groups, but across the board in respect of different racial and social groups. Our strategy is based on making advice available, should it be requested, free of charge, but it is up to the recipients whether or not they take it, and if they do, they pay for the work.
I want to emphasise that the point that I was making was about the protection of children at schools. I see a difference between the average buildings—community buildings of a variety of sorts—and the protection of children at school. Does the Minister think that there is a difference between schools and other community buildings?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I cannot pledge anything today, but I shall take her comments away and see whether anything can be done, because she raises a valid point. I do not want to give false hope. It is right that the Government have a policy on this, because if we fund one group, we would have to fund all, and that could prove problematic.
On the wider point of the security of Jewish buildings, the Metropolitan police's rainbow team, which involves uniformed policing and the response to counter-terrorism, has been working with the Community Security Trust, which is a registered charity that is working to ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community, over the past year on the security of Jewish buildings. The CST has identified 300 buildings across London about which it has security concerns. The rainbow team has worked with the CST to quantify the threat and risk by examining objective factors, such as whether a building has underground parking, CCTV or bollards outside it. As a result of that exercise, some buildings have been identified to undergo a crime reduction survey, while others have been put on a frequent visit programme. Such visits are undertaken by safer neighbourhood teams. In response to the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley, I should say that perhaps that could be done in conjunction with Jewish schools. I shall examine the issue further.
Andrew Stunell mentioned the Government's plans to ensure that the police should record anti-Semitic crimes more fully. That was an excellent point. The Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers have given an undertaking that all forces will record anti-Semitic crimes by 2008-09. I hope that he can take reassurance from that.
Will the Minister clarify whether that specifically includes anti-Semitic crimes as a sub-group of racial attacks? We need to be clear that we are separating out the information that is available.
I understand that that will be the case.
I thank Mr. Goodman for his presence, although I was expecting the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, my hon. Friend Helen Goodman. That is a private joke from our consideration of the Finance Bill—I shall not bore you with the details, Sir John.
The hon. Member for Wycombe congratulated me on my coming to the Treasury Bench, so may I congratulate him on his move? He made some excellent points. I was particularly struck by the one about extremism in prisons. Given the nature of the prison system, community engagement is limited mainly to the resettlement of prisoners. Work is ongoing in the Prison Service and the National Offender Management Service to provide assistance to prisoners during their time in prison and in order to rehabilitate them into their community.
I particularly want to draw the attention of hon. Members to the extremist prisoners working group. Peter Atherton, deputy director-general of the Prison Service, has chaired a series of seminars to consider the strategic policy and operational issues surrounding radicalisation and extremism in the specific context of prisons. A report setting out the current working practices, issues to be resolved and an implementation and action plan is being produced, and it is anticipated that it will be published at the end of October. That directly answers the hon. Gentleman's point and I hope that he can take reassurance from that.
One of today's other themes has been an almost universal concern about the rise of anti-Semitism, both in this country and across Europe. That concern is shared by the Government. It is unfortunately well founded, given the fact that the CST recorded 594 anti-Semitic incidents in 2006—that is the highest annual total since the CST began recording in 1984. Of those incidents, 112 were violent anti-Semitic assaults, four of which were potentially life-threatening. There were 70 incidents of damage and desecration to Jewish property, which included nine desecrations of Jewish cemeteries. Of major concern is the fact that Jewish schools or schoolchildren were targeted in 59 incidents, so I fully take on board the point made eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley. In 25 cases, the incidents took place against Jewish schoolchildren on their journey to or from school. So we are not necessarily talking about incidents on school estates themselves, and that also might need to be examined.
In the light of all this, it is important that we recognise that anti-Semitism has not been taken as seriously as other forms of hatred in some parts of our society. That is simply not acceptable and it is right that we take concerted steps to deal with the situation. Whether anti-Semitism comes from the far left, the far right or from so-called Islamist extremists, it must be understood for what it is and condemned. It should be dealt with promptly and effectively through the law. We must do everything that we can to prevent anti-Semitism occurring.
Britain has a strong legislative framework to protect people from harassment and hate, and I should like to mention some of the legal safeguards at length later in my contribution. We cannot be complacent and allow things to happen. We need to have a zero-tolerance approach and ensure that the powers on the statute book are complied with and enforced. I hope that everyone will take away that important point.
I reiterate the Government's commitment to tackling all forms of hate crime and racial intolerance, including anti-Semitism, wherever it exists. We have one of the world's strongest legal frameworks for protecting people from discrimination and persecution on the basis of race or faith, and that has been significantly tightened in recent years. It is also important to note that the UK leads the way on the recording and monitoring of racist crime, including anti-Semitism. The UK's excellent example has been acknowledged in successive reports by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, now the Fundamental Rights Agency. As hon. Members have said, we recall more than seems to be the case, and it looks as if we are a more racist or anti-Semitic country than we are, but we are taking the matter seriously. I hope that other countries will follow.
I am pleased to see wider progress away from the focus on criminal acts. The report noted concern about the tone of the general discourse, for example. Open and public debate is one thing, but rhetoric with an undercurrent of hate and racism is quite another. We need practical ways to tackle that rhetoric. That is why I remain concerned about recent calls in academia to boycott contact with academics working in Israel. Such boycotts threaten academic freedom and intellectual exchange, and cannot be acceptable.
Lecturers in the new university and college lecturers' union should be given every support to combat selective boycotts that are anti-Jewish in principle. I urge the new union's executive and leadership to oppose the boycott. Alongside that, I urge them to take seriously the problems being experienced by Jewish students on some university campuses. That has been articulated very well today. I know that Universities UK is involved in that debate, and I urge it to go further. Universities should be centres for constructive dialogue and exchange of views that lead to better understanding of issues, and of people and their backgrounds. No one is disputing the right to criticise, or to criticise Israel, but a place where differences and diversity are welcomed and valued for adding new dimensions to the dialogue, and new ideas developed in partnership at the expense of hate, should be the norm rather than the exception.
Is the Minister aware that boycott campaigns and boycott resolutions have been passed by Unison and the Transport and General Workers Union, which is part of the new Unite union? Does he see those acts, with the proposed academic boycott in colleges and universities, as yet another illustration of singling out Israel as evil above all other nations?
I was disappointed with the T and G call for a boycott. I am a member of the GMB, and trade unionism is based on fairness, equality and a free exchange of ideas, so it is astonishing that a trade union can condemn a country in that way. I share my hon. Friend's concern.
Returning to the boycott in academia, it is not acceptable for Jewish students to be attacked in that way, either verbally or physically. It is not acceptable for people to incite the sort of behaviour among students that was so eloquently described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham.
During the debate in the other place reference was made to the strong legislative framework on race crime. Britain has in place one of the strongest legislative frameworks to protect people from harassment and abuse, and specifically racial or religious persecution. That legislation protects Jewish people alongside other racial and ethnic groups. The Race Relations Act 1976 imposes on public authorities, including higher education institutions, a positive duty to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination, and to promote race equality and relations between different racial groups.
Will the Minister pay particular attention to concern in the university sector as to whether that public duty binds a university's management, vice-chancellor and court, and whether it is applicable to the student union? I am a little sensitive about the matter, because I introduced the legislation some time ago. Will the Minister undertake at least to look at that point in detail, and to explore it with the universities?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I am not at liberty to give a definitive answer, but I can pledge to look at the matter.
There are other examples on the statute book of strong protection against harassment, so additional legislative powers are not necessary to cover higher education institutions and so on, but it is important that existing provisions are enforced and complied with.
The Minister has provided a strong explanation of the law. Will he ensure that the cross-departmental taskforce has at the top of the agenda for its next meeting an analysis of why there have been so few prosecutions in view of the law's strength, and consideration of the role of the Crown Prosecution Service and others in bringing forward prosecutions?
I have asked the cross-departmental hate crime taskforce to take the matter up as a matter of urgency, and it will consider ways forward. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend. I have taken the matter on board personally, because compliance and enforcement are crucial.
Hon. Members referred to the internet, but not as much as I thought they would. Today's students are very much the internet generation, and they have access to reams of information, some of which helps them with their studies, but some of which exposes them to dangerous views and campaigns. That applies not just to students. The internet is open to the wider population, including children, which is a particular concern to me. Anti-Semitism on the net is a hate crime, and when a UK internet service provider is told that it is hosting offensive or anti-Semitic material, we should recognise and applaud the fact that it has a good record in removing it promptly. The police also have specific powers to deal with terrorist-related material. However, I believe we could do better in ensuring that service providers and the police find out about all such material more quickly.
With that in mind, the Association of Chief Police Officers has agreed to improve its advice on what to do when an internet hate crime is spotted. Recognising that many internet sites are not hosted in this country, Foreign Office Ministers have raised the matter with Governments of other countries, including in the middle east. I hope that that reassures my right hon. Friend the for Rotherham who made the point so eloquently. Foreign Office Ministers have obtained agreement among the G8 countries to co-operate further on that.
We should be clear that our policy in this country is robustly to tackle hate crime in whatever form or media it appears. Alongside that, we aim to build community cohesion so that communities draw strength from their diversity and celebrate what they all share, rather than remaining divided by difference. Tackling prejudice is an important part of building cohesive communities so that people from all backgrounds develop their shared future, find common solutions to shared problems, and live and work together.
I believe the Chief Rabbi suggested that people should be bilingual, with a common language of citizenship and a second language connecting us to family and group traditions. Faith groups, including the Jewish community, have a crucial role to play in making the links and the bridges, and developing that common language.
I intervened simply because the Minister seems to be drawing to the end of his peroration, and naturally has not had time to answer all the questions that have been raised. Will he assure us that he will write in reply to any unanswered questions, such as mine about the funding of university faculties from abroad?
Certainly I can give that pledge, but I hope that it will not disappoint the hon. Gentleman to hear that I do not intend to wrap up yet. I shall be on my feet for some time, and I apologise to hon. Members.
Informing the inquiry's report was the vast and varied contribution that the Jewish community makes, has made and will continue to make to this country. Socially, economically and culturally it has enriched British society as a whole, but it is one of a number of faith communities that can bring people together at local level, opening channels of dialogue and creating shared projects that give people of all faiths a shared stake in their community. We are helping many of those organisations to play a full role in developing cohesion through the faith communities capacity building fund, which is administered by my Department. Through this, we have supported a group of British imams and rabbis that have been meeting for the past three years. A result of those meetings and identifying joint priorities was the first national Muslim-Jewish women's conference, which was held in March.
The hon. Member for Hazel Grove mentioned the devolved Administrations. They are also doing a great deal. Many of the projects are similar to the initiatives about which I have already spoken, and they have been taken forward in particularly Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish ways by the devolved Administrations. The Government's response to the group's report says:
"Scottish Ministers have supported a separate annual Scottish Holocaust Memorial Day. Since 2001 so that communities could mobilise around an event for Scotland. Scotland also hosted the main UK event in 2003 in Edinburgh in partnership with the Home Office and Edinburgh City Council...The Welsh Assembly Government is fully committed to eradicating all forms of racial and religious discrimination and to promoting community cohesion. The government works with all faith groups through various forums including its Faith Communities Forum, chaired by the First Minister."
I am grateful to the Minister for drawing our attention to the Government's response. Will he assure us that the best practice from each nation will be taken into account and propagated elsewhere? When a Minister is appointed to that decisive role about which he has spoken, will that person take personal responsibility both for informing themselves about the initiatives and for ensuring that that good practice is circulated?
Yes, I will certainly take that forward and ensure that best practice is disseminated through the taskforce and through other means.
On my final lap I shall turn to education, because Members have said that education is the key to changing cultures and attitudes. There is a generational issue. My grandparents grew up during and fought in the second world war, and they feel revulsion and horror towards anti-Semitism, largely as a result of learning about the final solution and the holocaust. My generation does not tend to have that feeling, and certainly the generations coming forward now do not seem to have that direct connection with the horrors of anti-Semitism. It is therefore important that the holocaust and other matters relating to anti-Semitism, such as the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, are taught in schools. The Blackburn school linking project, which brought together 14-year-old girls from schools in the Wirral, Preston and Blackburn, shows how successful such activity can be. Despite coming from very different backgrounds, the girls quickly discovered that they had a great deal in common, so new guidance will encourage linking as a way forward.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is also working with faith schools, which are another core part of the local cohesion picture. Indeed, the Jewish school in Birmingham, which has been mentioned in the debate, is an excellent example of promoting integration and cohesion, catering as it does for Jewish and Muslim children. However, there should also be a focus on the core curriculum to ensure that it provides opportunities to challenge racism, to understand the positive sides of migration and to value diversity. That is why I am delighted that the Government have made a £1.5 million grant to the Holocaust Educational Trust. I pay tribute in the strongest possible terms to the trust and to its work enabling children and sixth-form pupils to visit Auschwitz. It has been mentioned in the debate that enabling two students from every sixth form to visit Auschwitz is not enough. I fully accept that point, and I hope that we can move forward in ensuring that even more people can experience at first hand the horrors of the concentration camps and the final solution. That will help spread awareness of the lessons from the holocaust, and ensure that its language is respected by new generations.
There is a statutory requirement to teach about the holocaust, and the Department for Children, Schools and Families has supported holocaust memorial day in schools through the production of free educational resources to support its issues and themes. My Department's £18 million "Connecting Community Plus" grant scheme is already supporting many projects that tackle racism more widely. With fair and objective media reporting, those practical projects have a real chance to make a difference in local communities throughout the country.
I shall end—perhaps where I should have begun—with the report's first recommendation, which is about the definition of anti-Semitism. The inquiry was attracted to the European monitoring centre on racism and xenophobia—EUMC—draft definition. The Government have undertaken to re-examine that definition, if and when the EUMC's successor body, the Fundamental Rights Agency, does so. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove noted that the Government use the broader definition of a racist incident, which came from the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. It is based on the victim's perception, and we continue to regard it as a wide and powerful definition that shows society's abhorrence of such crimes, whether the victims are Jewish or from any other community. The fact that we have had the chance to publicise that message clearly and succinctly in the report reiterates how important the inquiry's findings and recommendations have been. We are therefore committed to taking the work of the inquiry forward, and we have established a cross-Government working group, which includes Jewish stakeholders, to ensure that our response is actioned throughout Departments.
In conclusion, I pay tribute to the inquiry's work. Moving it forward, I pledge that the Government will take it seriously and co-ordinate it properly, and I hope that we can have a similar debate sometime in the future.
Before the Minister sits down, is he saying that when the Government respond to that progress in March 2008, there will be an opportunity to debate in the House that progress report?
That is not for me to say; it is for the business managers of the House. However, I would certainly encourage it so that we can be accountable for the progress that has been made on such an important issue as tackling anti-Semitism.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes past Five o'clock.