Ahmadiyya Community — [Annette Brooke in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:55 pm on 20th October 2010.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 2:55 pm, 20th October 2010

I apologise for being absent, Mrs Brooke; I will be chairing a meeting at half-past 3, so I will miss the Front-Bench responses. I congratulate my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh not just on securing this debate but on her continued commitment to the Ahmadiyya community over the years and her dedication to a constituency that she clearly loves, although she could relocate to Hayes.

For me, the issue is fairly straightforward. In this debate, we are setting the agenda for our new all-party group. The two issues topmost on that agenda will be the discrimination that might be occurring in this country and attempts to divide our communities, but the attacks in Pakistan are also an issue. Over the years, many of us have signed early-day motions on discrimination, but we are deeply shocked by the attacks in Lahore. I think the head count was 94 dead and at least 100 injured, some very seriously. The severity and scale of the attacks gave us a shock.

All parties have made representations to the Pakistani Government about discrimination against Ahmadiyyas, as did the previous and incoming Foreign Secretaries, but we still have had no movement on some key issues. First, working with Human Rights Watch, we asked for the repeal of the blasphemy laws in order to eradicate them from the Pakistani legal system. Secondly, we mentioned the failure over years to prosecute the perpetrators of attacks on the Ahmadiyya community. I am aware of no prosecution in the past 15 years in Pakistan for a serious attack on members of that community. Thirdly, we attempted to see how we could work with the Pakistani Government to combat persecution and harassment overall and understand in greater depth the motivations for such attacks. In many cases, it is small groups of extremists who perpetrate such attacks, but a culture of victimisation, persecution and discrimination against the Ahmadiyya community has also built up in Pakistan and infiltrated other communities around the world. I will welcome any Ministers who come along to the early meetings of the all-party group to report on the progress that they have made in their representations to the Pakistani Government on those three issues.

We are now encountering problems in this country. My constituency has a relatively small but active Ahmadiyya community. I convene a regular meeting of religious leaders in my community every couple of months. The Ahmadiyyas are active representatives who have involved themselves in every community campaign and every charitable act and target that we have set ourselves, ranging from getting involved in local community groups and festivals to running marathons. They are excellent contributors to the local community.

The Ahmadiyyas in my area have set up a centre in the constituency of Mr Randall. It has taken over the old Irish centre, of which I was a member, the Irish community there having moved elsewhere. I will miss having a pint of Guinness there, but I welcome the centre. Immediately the centre was established, it opened its doors to the wider community. We had a session there a few weeks ago on the theme, "Love for all, hatred for none" in which representatives from the local community and all religions were invited in for a genuine discussion of local issues that we should address together. It demonstrated the commitment of the Ahmadiyya community to my local area.

We have also launched an ad campaign in Uxbridge featuring "Love for all, hatred for none" on the sides of buses. In addition, the Ahmadiyya community leafleted every house in my constituency with a similar message of peace. In my area, all that work is establishing the Ahmadiyya community in a very close, warm and encouraging relationship with the wider community. However, there are real fears about what has happened in south London and that the situation will infect the wider community, resulting in further victimisation, discrimination and, indeed, persecution of the Ahmadiyya community in this country.

For that reason, I hope that the second item on our all-party group agenda will be about receiving a report back from Ministers on the issues surrounding liaison, through the Home Office, with the Metropolitan police. What monitoring of these activities is going on, and what intelligence do we have? We then need to consider how to devise a strategy to deal with the matter. The problems under discussion are based on profound ignorance, which some elements within our society are willing to exploit to their advantage. If we can nip that in the bud at the earliest opportunity, combating discrimination against the Ahmadiyya community may shine as an example that could well provide us with lessons we can learn from in relation to Pakistan and elsewhere.