Muslim Community in Wales — [Esther McVey in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:22 am on 23rd February 2022.

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[Esther McVey in the Chair]

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:30 pm, 23rd February 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the Muslim community in Wales.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I am delighted to have the opportunity to open this debate on the Muslim community in Wales, and I am grateful to colleagues from across the House for being here today. The debate provides us, the elected representatives of the Muslim community in Wales—north, south, east and west—with the opportunity to say thank you, to acknowledge decades of commitment and contribution, and to show solidarity in these uncertain, divided and difficult times.

My constituency of Newport West, together with that of my hon. Friend Jessica Morden, is the gateway to Wales. The city of Newport is home to the second largest number of Welsh Muslims, which is why I called this debate. Too often, too many people who make a great contribution go ignored—but not today. Today, we must all seize the opportunity to shine a light on the huge contribution made by Muslims all over Wales to our national life.

I will start by setting the scene and sharing the facts. In 2019, the Muslim population in Wales was estimated to be 55,400. That compares with the 2011 census estimate of 45,950. Welsh Muslims accounted for roughly 1.8% of the population of Wales in 2019, compared with 1.5% in 2011. The Welsh Muslim community is small in number but stands tall right across our national life. In terms of ethnicity, the 2011 census showed that the majority of Muslims in Wales were from families of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Arab origin; those three groups made up 62% of the Muslim population in Wales.

Thanks to the Library briefing for the debate, we know that the 2011 census showed that almost half of the Muslim population in Wales resided in Cardiff. The second largest number was found in God’s own city of Newport; it was followed by Swansea, where I know my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) are active in championing the needs and concerns of the community. The data shows that 74% of Welsh Muslims reside in the three local authorities of Newport, Cardiff and Swansea. I know from my own area of Newport West what a brilliant contribution Muslims make to the life of our city. I know the same goes for Muslim communities across Wales.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

I am delighted that my hon. Friend and neighbour has secured this debate. She will know that the first purpose-built mosque in Wales was in my constituency, but of course the heritage goes back much further, certainly to the mid-1800s for the Somali community. We also have a strong Yemeni community, as well as all the other communities that she mentioned. The community made a fantastic contribution during the covid pandemic, but it has done so over many decades.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend and neighbour is perfectly correct. We are stronger together, and the communities in his constituency and ours play a tremendous part in bringing about integration and social cohesion.

Newport’s greatest strength is its diversity. I know from my visits to Jamia mosque on Commercial Road in Pill, the Islamic Society for Wales on Victoria Road, and Newport Central mosque in Stow Hill—the heart of our city—just what a contribution they have made to our local community. I also acknowledge the Hussaini Mission and Masjid at-Taqwa.

As I have said previously in the House, it is important to take a moment to acknowledge the key role our Muslim community has played over the last two difficult years. Those in the Muslim community were on the frontline as we worked our way through the pandemic. They looked out for their neighbours and provided food and support to people of all faiths and none. I saw in Newport West our Muslim community living its values, showing it cares and bringing our community together.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I commend the hon. Lady for bringing the debate forward. I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. I am here to offer my support for what she is trying to achieve. Does she agree that the key to true integration is the need for understanding—for communities to understand that strength is found in diversity—and that programmes such as those that she is outlining must be funded in the long term to raise a generation that sees that it is only community, and not differences in lifestyle or opinions, that is important?

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Absolutely. I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. I also thank and commend him for the work that he does as chair of the APPG. It is so crucial that we ensure that we all work together—that those of all faiths and none can work together and worship together peacefully. I also want to say thank you to our Muslim communities for what they did in working with our council, our emergency services and many volunteers from across the communities in some very dark times.

In a debate at the end of last year that was called by my hon. Friend Afzal Khan—I pay a warm tribute to him for all his work in standing up for British Muslims, and it is good to see him here today—I noted that a few years ago, the Muslim Council of Britain delved deeply into the most recent census statistics to get a picture of Islamic life in the United Kingdom. It found good stories to tell. Muslims are ethnically diverse; the level of segregation is starting to fall as Muslims move to all parts of the country to start a life and raise a family; a third of British Muslims are aged under 15, which is a higher proportion than for the population as a whole; and levels of educational attainment and ability are growing.

However, there were also challenges. Nearly half of Muslims live in the most deprived 10% of areas, while only 1.7% live in the wealthiest areas. Unemployment among Muslims is higher, health problems among elderly Muslims are more pronounced, and Muslim women face a challenge in balancing their work aspirations with the expectations of others. That challenge is something that we must all take seriously and work together to overcome, and I look forward to hearing exactly what the Minister thinks that will look like in Wales.

A key part of meeting that challenge is ensuring that we all live by the value of proper and inclusive representation. I am firmly of the view that representation really matters. All parties in this House have a responsibility to ensure that Members of Parliament and our Senedd Members, councillors and party officials look like the country we want to serve.

I recognise that Natasha Asghar MS was the first BME—black and minority ethnic—woman and the first Muslim woman to serve in the Welsh Parliament. I know that representation is a real focus of the First Minister and leader of Welsh Labour, Mark Drakeford. We must support—with our votes as well as our words—more members of ethnic minorities to stand for the Senedd, for this House, and of course in town halls and civic centres across Wales and, for that matter, across the United Kingdom.

On that note, I pay tribute to my colleagues in local government in the city of Newport and in my constituency of Newport West. I am thinking of people such as Councillor Miqdad Al-Nuaimi, who represents Stow Hill, and Councillor Ibrahim Hayat, who currently represents the industrial heartland of Newport and our docks in Pill. I am also very grateful that the first Muslim mayor of Haringey, Councillor Adam Jogee, works with me in this place. He works every day to deliver for the people of Newport West.

I am very conscious of the important role that the city of Newport plays as home to the second largest Muslim community in Wales. That is why, since my election to this place in 2019, I have regularly raised issues around religious freedoms and the importance of tackling Islamophobia. I have also looked to ensure that the needs and voices of Welsh Muslims, particularly in my constituency of Newport West, are heard loud and clear. Islamophobia affects Muslims in Wales and across the United Kingdom, and we in this place have a particular and real responsibility to call it out. Islamophobia is a pervasive hatred targeted and directed at a particular section of our society. It manifests itself in violent hate crimes, targeted discrimination and the loss of opportunities for many Muslims, in Wales and across the nation.

It is vital that this House acknowledges that Islamophobia is on the rise in Britain. Year after year, British Muslims are victims of the highest proportion of religiously motivated hate crimes, which is a stain on us all. Frankly, this trend shows no sign of abating under this Conservative Government; I am interested to hear what the Minister will say about that when he responds to the debate.

I am proud that Welsh Muslims will benefit from a Labour party that has adopted the definition of Islamophobia set by the APPG on British Muslims, and that took proactive steps to tackle this vile form of racism and hatred by adopting a new code of conduct on Islamophobia last year.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for being so generous in giving way again. I totally agree with and endorse the points she has made about Islamophobia. Regrettably, despite the wonderful communities that we have locally, we have seen some terrible incidents, which have been raised with me by members of the community. Does she agree that we need to do specific work to target the rise of the far and extreme right? We have seen some horrific incidents in my own constituency and elsewhere, so we need to work together with law enforcement agencies, with counter-terrorism forces and—crucially—with those in education to tackle the rise of far and extreme right ideology in the UK.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank my hon. Friend for his important intervention. He is quite right that education is key and that we must work with the enforcement agencies. I pay tribute to organisations such as HOPE not hate, which has also done some brilliant work in this area.

However, I want to press the Minister, because the Conservative party is the only major political party that continues to refuse to adopt the APPG’s definition of Islamophobia. Even the Scottish Conservatives have done so. I know that the Minister for Brexit Opportunities is not a fan of Douglas Ross, but I suggest that, on this issue, he follows the lead of the Scottish Conservatives.

With the Muslim community in Wales in mind, Labour committed to implementing the Labour Muslim Network’s recommendations when they were published, and has adopted new codes of conduct on Islamophobia and anti-black racism. Those codes were developed with groups such as the Labour Muslim Network, the Runnymede Trust, the Labour BME staff network, and the Diversity Trust, to ensure that they have the trust and confidence of all across the United Kingdom.

It is important that we monitor hate crime. The charity Tell MAMA, which does excellent work, reported a 40% increase in online Islamophobia last year after the far right peddled false narratives blaming British Muslims for spreading coronavirus. That is why this debate is so important; the abuse is not just verbal or physical but structural, and in many ways it is entrenched in our society. As parliamentarians, we have a real responsibility to shed some light and tackle it head on, and that starts by talking openly and honestly about it.

We know that elected officials of the Muslim faith are targets for online bullying and Islamophobia. I am very clear that all abuse directed at Muslims in public life in Wales—or, indeed, any other part of our country—is completely unacceptable, as is all abuse towards all Muslims because of who they are, how they pray, and the way they lead their lives.

It is a matter of deep regret that hon. Members of this House have had some of the most horrendous abuse directed at them simply because of their faith. I think, most notably, of my hon. Friend Naz Shah, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton, and, of course, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London. It is last important to say a word about Ms Ghani, who, as a Muslim woman in Parliament, faced the most disgraceful treatment from the very top of Government. All Muslim colleagues—irrespective of party affiliation—in public life, at home in Wales and across the United Kingdom, have my full and total solidarity.

As I lead this debate and express my solidarity with the Muslim community in Wales, I want to be crystal clear about my support for the APPG’s definition of Islamophobia. I would be grateful if the Minister would do the same when he winds up the debate. He is very welcome to intervene now if he wants to, or he can reassure me at the end.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton called a debate during Islamophobia Awareness Month. The House saw a very disappointing performance from the Minister that day, which is why I secured this second debate. Back in November, I asked a number of questions that covered issues affecting the Muslim community in Wales, but I did not receive adequate answers. I am confident that the Minister will be able to answer those questions today.

Can the Minister explain how the fight against Islamophobia was included in the last National Hate Crime Awareness Week programme? Has he met the leadership of the Muslim Council of Wales? If so, when did that meeting take place—and if it did not, why not? How many members of Her Majesty’s Government have met the current secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain? A number of local authorities in England have established hate crime delivery groups. What assessment has the Minister made of the effectiveness of such groups, and what financial support will the Government provide the Welsh Government to develop them? I hope that the Minister will answer those specific questions today.

This debate is an opportunity for all of us to share our local stories, our connections, and any examples of the immense contribution made by the Muslim community in Wales. I am looking forward to hearing from colleagues who represent constituencies right across Wales, but I felt that it was important to speak the hard truths and not run away from reality. I called this debate because we must do more; we must go further in standing up for and proudly ensuring that the needs of Welsh Muslims are heard loud and clear by this Government.

I want to pay tribute to all Welsh Muslims, and the groups and organisations that support them, for the work that they do to bring Wales together, and for making our country great. To all our Muslim colleagues in this House and in the other place, I say: thank you for persevering and for showing grit, grace and determination in the face of some horrendous abuse. And to the Muslim community in Newport West and across Wales, I say: thank you, and please know that in me you will always have an ally.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

I see that a good number of colleagues want to speak, but I will not introduce a time limit just yet. We will go to the Front Benchers no later than 3.40 pm, and obviously Ruth Jones will wind up the debate.

Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Shadow Vice Chamberlain of HM Household (Whip), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 2:44 pm, 23rd February 2022

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ruth Jones on securing this debate and giving us all an opportunity to put on the record our thanks to the Muslim communities in our constituencies. I apologise that I have to leave before the end of the debate, but I thought it important to take part. I am glad that my hon. Friend said it was a chance to tell stories about our local areas, because I want to take the opportunity to put on the record my recognition of communities in Newport East, and in Newport as a whole, which we share.

As my hon. Friend mentioned, the Muslim community in Newport numbers nearly 7,000, including a significant population of Bengalis, Pakistanis, Kurds and other ethnicities, in and around both of our constituencies. The Harrow Road and Hereford Street mosques in Maindee, and the nearby IQRA community centre on Corporation Road, are important hubs for a community proud of its faith and heritage, and equally proud to be Welsh and Newportonian.

I want to highlight a few examples of individuals and groups who exemplify the values of a community that continues to play such a vital role in the social, economic and cultural life in the city of Newport and the wider area. My constituent Dr Kasim Ramzan and his colleagues at Muslim Doctors Cymru have helped lead the drive to ensure take-up of the vaccine by local ethnic minority communities, which were hit hard by covid-19, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. The efforts of Dr Ramzan and his colleagues were instrumental in ensuring that the Jamia mosque, in my hon. Friend’s constituency of Newport West, opened its doors as a community vaccination centre; it was the first mosque in Wales to administer the vaccine.

My constituent Fatma Aksoy, a pupil at St Julian’s high school, was recently elected a member of the Welsh Youth Parliament for Newport East. Fatma, whose family is Kurdish, is a great advocate on issues including environmental protection, young people’s mental health and the rights of the Kurdish community around the world. She is proudly learning Welsh, on top of the four other languages she speaks fluently, and is undoubtedly one to watch in future. The Muslim community in Newport East is one of the hotbeds for up-and-coming Welsh political talent. I urge politics watchers to keep an eye out for the likes of Farzina Hussain, Shah Alom, Ruqia Hayat, Abul Chowdhury and Asum Mahmood, all of whom are standing for election to Newport City Council in May in Newport East.

In the world of business, the Minister will recognise that companies such as Euro Foods, which has a branch in Newport as well as headquarters in nearby Cwmbran, are vital cogs in the local economy. Indeed, Euro Foods is one of the UK’s largest food suppliers to the restaurant and takeaway sector, and the owner lives in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West. Newport East is also home to many small businesses owned by the Muslim community. I will mention Mango House in Magor, as it has previously been nominated for an award in this place. There are too many to mention today, but I recognise the long hours that the owners of those businesses put into serving their community throughout the pandemic.

On that theme, I want to pay tribute to the UK Islamic Mission team in Newport, who run a monthly food distribution programme helping vulnerable residents of all backgrounds and faiths, with food packages delivered from the IQRA mosque. I also pay tribute to Rusna Begum, who runs KidCare4U, a charity based in Newport that helps families develop through education, health and integration.

In the world of sport, great strides are being made with Exiles Together, a Newport County AFC supporters’ group, founded by Jalal Goni, which aims to engage members of the BAME community in sport, and in particular in Newport County, through the promotion of equality and cohesion. That is a great initiative and the group continues to go from strength to strength.

On the theme of community cohesion, I also want to put on the record my thanks to staff and volunteers at Bawso, the Gwent Association of Voluntary Organisations, the Welsh Refugee Council, the Sanctuary Project and the Red Cross in Newport. They undertake fantastic work with the Muslim community in Newport to provide advice services, which have been more valued than ever during the past two years. Those organisations work closely with my office and, in particular, Sarah Banwell, my caseworker, who is very well known in the community. The same is also true for Eton Road, a multi-faith, multicultural hub, where the Muslim community works hard, hand in hand with the Presbyterian church, as an example of Newport at its best.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West said, the Muslim community in Newport, in Wales and across the UK still experiences hostility and discrimination from an intolerant minority. Indeed, nearly half of all religious hate crimes in England and Wales target Muslims. My hon. Friend highlighted how Islamophobia is on the rise, and it would be good to hear from the Minister some responses to her questions.

Good work is being done to tackle Islamophobia, which sadly does exist. I thank Gwent police, the Welsh Government, our local authorities, our schools and third-sector organisations such as Show Racism the Red Card for their active work in countering Islamophobia where it persists and in providing the education and resources needed to stamp out bigotry. The Muslim community continues to make an important contribution to the rich cultural life of Newport, and to exemplify our city’s proud history of diversity, which is one of its characteristics and one of our greatest strengths. We have seen that in action through the warm welcome that has been given to refugees over the years, most recently to those fleeing Afghanistan. Long may that continue.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:51 pm, 23rd February 2022

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ruth Jones on securing this important debate and on her excellent speech and questions. I hope to add a couple more questions for the Minister.

I also recognise the invaluable work and contribution of the Muslim community in Wales and, indeed, of all our faith communities across the UK. The most recent report by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims showcased the incredible and selfless contribution made by Muslims during the pandemic. The Muslim Council of Wales carried out excellent work with local mosques in Wales, providing essential supplies in their districts, which is a great illustration of Islamic teachings in practice. As a Muslim, I lean towards my faith in times of hardship for spiritual guidance and, most importantly, because it teaches me core principles and values such as empathy, stewardship, equality and fairness, which I strive to implement in my work as an MP.

To my great sadness and regret, however, Islamophobia is rampant in our society and beyond. It manifests in violent hate crimes, targeted discrimination and lost opportunities for many Muslims. The Government’s own figures reveal once again that Muslims have been victims of the highest proportion of all hate crimes committed in the last year in England and Wales. It is no surprise, then, that our major political parties are not immune from the stain of Islamophobia.

The Labour Muslim Network report on Islamophobia made difficult and sober reading. It outlined that one in four

“Muslim members and supporters have directly experienced Islamophobia in the Labour Party.”

As chair of the Labour Muslim Network, I had encouraging meetings with the general secretary, the leadership and the party chair on taking take swift action. It was agreed that all the report’s recommendations would be implemented, and last year the Labour party introduced a new code of conduct to handle internal complaints on Islamophobia. By approving the new independent complaints process, the Labour party acted decisively and showed that it is and always will be the party of equality.

The Labour party was one of the first to adopt the definition of Islamophobia by the APPG on British Muslims. That definition has the confidence of more than 800 organisations, and has also been adopted by the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National party, the Green party and even, as has been said, the Scottish Conservatives, as well as the Mayor of London, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, and hundreds of councils across the country. I applaud the aforementioned for taking that positive step—defining and naming a problem is the first step in rooting it out.

All that stands in stark contrast to the Conservative party, which has repeatedly shown that it is in denial about Islamophobia through its failure to accept the definition proposed by the APPG; its failure to conduct a truly independent investigation; its failure to implement the recommendations of the Singh review; and its failure to appoint Government advisers for this issue. What concerns me is that the Tory party has an institutional problem. In light of the shocking accounts that Ms Ghani gave of her own experience of Islamophobia within the Conservative party, those institutional failings are clear for all to see. When a Muslim woman raises a direct experience of Islamophobia and discrimination at the heart of Government and her party, those allegations must be treated with the utmost seriousness and investigated immediately. This is by no means an isolated incident: former Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim detailed his own experience of Islamophobia, and despite raising it within the party, he is still waiting for a response two years later. This is hardly a zero-tolerance approach.

The Singh review, published last year, revealed the extent of institutional failings within the Conservative party in its handling of Islamophobia complaints. That review was also a damning indictment of the prevalence of Islamophobia within the Conservative party. Its terms of reference were widely criticised for being too narrow, and the review itself failed to engage with Conservative Muslim parliamentarians. Will the Minister commit to implementing the recommendations of the Singh investigation in full? Will he also follow in the footsteps of the Labour party and take tangible steps to tackle Islamophobia in Wales and the rest of the UK? Adopting the APPG definition is a good starting point. Can the Minister finally deliver on his party’s promise to conduct a truly independent investigation into the Conservative party, demonstrating that the Government take the issue of Islamophobia seriously?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

I allowed Afzal Khan to carry on giving his speech because it was important to get it on the record. It was out of scope of the debate today, but I did feel that he should have the time to get it on the record. Maybe it is for a future debate as well.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West 2:57 pm, 23rd February 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms McVey, and I offer my warm congratulations to my hon. Friend Ruth Jones and, of course, as-salaam alaikum. It is a great pleasure to represent a large Muslim community in Swansea West: the Muslim community in Swansea is largely in Swansea West. Incidentally, there is an issue around the Boundary Commission proposals that would split it in half, which I am hoping will be resolved. As is the case elsewhere, the Muslim community is largely of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Arabic but also African descent, and indeed there are some white Muslims. We are very much a community of communities in Swansea, and the Muslim community provides public service in our hospitals and our schools. Muslims serve in retail, manufacturing and hospitality: it is an integrated environment, and we rejoice in our similarities as well as our differences.

As other speakers have mentioned, the pandemic disproportionately hit certain groups who perhaps had less money or more forward-facing jobs, or were more congested in accommodation. We therefore saw a differential outcome in terms of infections, which we should learn from in future. We also saw a differential impact in terms of educational opportunities, because people from Muslim backgrounds often may not have English as a first language: there is a digital divide there. Again, the Welsh Government took that issue up, trying to focus support on people who were less well off, which included the Muslim community. It should be said that the Muslim community do better than the average in terms of educational outcomes, both in higher and lower education, but they start from a position of less economic strength. Therefore, we had this differential problem.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group on speech and language difficulties, which obviously looks at all groups, and we found that people with difficulties with speech and language—those from poorer backgrounds in particular but also those who have English as a second language—have differentially suffered from the lockdowns. There needs to be focused support on catch-up in that respect.

Since 2010, the Government’s mantra has been austerity. Sadly, that has translated into a flatlining economy, and politically that can translate into more racism, as frankly the Brexit debate did. People who have very little money, as we see a growing cost of living crisis, suddenly want someone to blame, and sometimes that blame is focused on people who are different from them. We are, of course, talking about the racial discrimination that we see. As has been pointed out, half of all hate crimes are committed against the Muslim community.

I am pleased that in Swansea West we have the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team. The organisation tries to avoid the extreme radicalisation of youth, whether they are from white backgrounds facing fascist radicalisation or, indeed, occasionally people who misunderstand the Islamic Scriptures and end up seeking a violent way forward. There are not a lot of examples in Swansea, partly because of the success of the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team. I am pleased that its chief executive Rocio Cifuentes has been appointed the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, and will help those children who may not have had the greatest opportunity to start from.

Hon. Members will be aware that Prevent is a system that attempts to prevent the emergence and continuation of terrorism. I have found, from engagement with the programme with Muslim imams and others, that its intrinsic problem is that there is a preconception in Prevent that if someone has too much Islam—like drinking and so on—they become too Islamic and then they become a fundamentalist. That is not the truth. The truth is that people who become fundamentalists and ultimately cause damage in various ways do it through a corruption of the Scriptures of Islam. After all, hon. Members may know that Islam is Arabic for “peace”.

It is not about saying to people, “You’ve got too much Islam.” It is about having clerics and imams engaging with and talking to people who may, in the extreme, have adopted the corruption of Islam, such as Isis, and say, as has just been pointed out, “Actually, Islam is about peace, equality, fairness and living together in harmony.” That is an important point to get across. We all vividly remember the police officer who was killed outside the House of Commons. Sheikh Mohsen, an imam in Swansea, phoned me to express his sympathy and solidarity that we should be side-by-side as communities against any extremism, wherever it comes from and against whomever it is inflicted.

I am here to rejoice in Swansea as a city of sanctuary and in Wales as a nation of sanctuary for the Muslim community. Rather than suggestions of the Muslim community as some sort of victims, my experience is that they are very much part and parcel of the community, but they are also heroes of the moment. Mosques have come forward and provided food for people during the pandemic, as well as continuously doing so for homeless people and others. They have shown great leadership in doing so.

In particular, Mahaboob Basha, who I know personally, has done a lot on this issue and he got a medal from the Queen for his work. He is standing as a councillor, as it happens, and he stood, as did Riaz Hassan, in the Assembly elections. Aisha Iftikhar was another candidate in the past. There are a lot of people coming forward from the Muslim community to take up positions of public responsibility and who are giving back to the community and showing leadership. Today’s debate is a great opportunity to thank them, and to say that we stand together in solidarity in difficult times, we are stronger together than apart and we will not tolerate those who breed intolerance and hatred.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West 3:04 pm, 23rd February 2022

I thank everybody for their contributions, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Ruth Jones on securing the debate. I also congratulate colleagues who have spoken, including my hon. Friends the Members for Newport East (Jessica Morden), for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), as well as my constituency neighbour and hon. Friend Stephen Doughty, who has made some interventions and who I know is also very busy with the Russian question today. I am sure my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) and for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) would both want to echo lots of the remarks that have been made about the positive contribution of the Muslim community in Wales.

I will not repeat the statistics that others have quoted about the Muslim community in Wales, but suffice it to say that the Muslim community in Cardiff has a very long history going back well over a century, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth mentioned earlier. There are particularly strong links because of Cardiff’s maritime history, with sailors from Somalia and Yemen originally coming to Cardiff and settling in what was once known as the Tiger Bay area and now tends to be called Cardiff Bay, which is in my hon. Friend’s constituency. There was a huge melting pot of cultures in Cardiff over 100 years ago. If one walked the streets of Cardiff, particularly near the docks in the south part of the city, one would have seen a recognisable and unique multiracial community. It was famous across the world for its diversity, with a large number of people of the Muslim faith living there.

As hon. Members have mentioned, the exciting melting pot of Cardiff produced a unique culture, but it has also produced problems over the years. We know there is nothing new about discrimination and Islamophobia. One of the first cases that I worked on when I worked for my predecessor, the former Member of Parliament for Cardiff West, Rhodri Morgan, involved a woman called Laura Mattan, who was from Ely in my constituency and whose husband, Mahmood Mattan, was a sailor from Somalia who came to settle in Cardiff. As a result of a gross and terrible miscarriage of justice in 1952, he was the last person to be hanged in Cardiff. Through the campaigning of Laura as a widow and the work of my predecessor Rhodri Morgan, that conviction was subsequently overturned. Indeed, she was the first person ever to receive compensation from the newly created criminal review board for a miscarriage of justice. There is no question at all that prejudice played a large part in the trial. Even the defence barrister for Mahmood Mattan referred to him as a “semi-literate savage” back in 1952. That was his own lawyer, so we have to be realistic. Even though we have a wonderful and marvellous history to celebrate in Cardiff, we also have to recognise that along the route there has been terrible prejudice, that Islamophobia is not a new thing, and that it still exists to this day.

However, we should also focus on the incredibly positive contribution that the Muslim community in Wales, and especially Cardiff, has made to our capital city. As well as the original Muslim population of Cardiff, who came from Yemen and Somalia, we have had in recent decades more Muslims originating from south Asia, particularly India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. I was very privileged a few years ago to travel with a group of Welsh Bangladeshis to Bangladesh and to visit Chittagong, Dhaka and Sylhet, where, as I am sure hon. Members will know, most British Bangladeshis tend to come from—they have fed us in restaurants for many decades. What an incredible experience it was to travel with British Bangladeshis back to Bangladesh and see the vibrancy. It is a poor country, but it is incredibly rich in culture and activity. Anyone who says that poor people are lazy should try visiting Bangladesh, because the incredible human activity and endeavour of the people of that country was inspiring to me as someone who had never visited a south Asian country before. It was an amazing experience.

As hon. Members have said, there are several mosques in Cardiff West. The Muslim community has made an incredible contribution during the pandemic, not just through charitable acts within the Muslim community itself, but reaching out to anybody who needed assistance, particularly the elderly. It was inspiring to see the way that the community has organised itself during the pandemic to help elderly people from all backgrounds around my Cardiff West constituency. They are proud to be Welsh Muslims—I know that because they tell me—and I am proud to have the privilege of representing that community in Parliament.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

I fully endorse my hon. Friend’s comments about the links with Bangladesh. I recently had the chance to have a meeting with the Wales Bangladesh chamber of commerce and heard more about those links, which are absolutely fantastic. Does my hon. Friend agree that a number of Muslim-led and Muslim-majority organisations are doing fantastic work in education with young people? Some of our sporting organisations, such as Tiger Bay boxing club and Tiger Bay football club, which are in my hon. Friend’s constituency, are not only delivering amazing sporting prowess in the community, but providing tutoring, education and inspiring mentorship for young people.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

I endorse everything my hon. Friend said and add that my constituency is also home to Glamorgan county cricket club. There has recently been controversy regarding racism in cricket. I am a member of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the chair of Glamorgan recently appeared before us to talk about some of those issues. Glamorgan is based at Sophia Gardens and has one of the largest Muslim communities in the country—certainly in Wales—on its doorstep at Riverside.

By the way, Riverside is on the west of the river, but the Conservative party does not seem to have noticed that in its proposals on boundary changes, and they somehow want to move part of the west of Cardiff to the other side of the river. We will have to fight them tooth and nail on that, because that is where the heart of the Muslim community is in my constituency, in Riverside, on the west bank of the River Taff, which is the major geographical boundary in Cardiff and should be respected by one and all. Hopefully, the Welsh Conservatives will revisit that crazy idea as the Boundary Commission hearings go on.

Before you tell me off, Ms McVey, for straying too far from the subject of the debate, I want to say that I am proud to represent the Muslim community in Cardiff West and across Wales. As others have done, I praise the political contribution that the Muslim community make to all political parties in Wales. With the retirement of Councillor Ramesh Patel, who has made an incredible contribution, I am pleased that Welsh Labour has selected Jasmin Chowdhury as the candidate for Canton ward, where I live. I wish all candidates well, but particularly her, in the forthcoming local elections in May.

However, there is one Muslim constituent that I am missing at the moment, and he is a young man called Luke Symons. Like many people from Cardiff, he has a family background linked to the history I talked about earlier and linked to Yemen. A few years ago, Luke travelled to the middle east in search of his roots and ended up looking up his family in Yemen. He converted to Islam and married a local girl. Sadly, five years ago Luke was detained at a Houthi checkpoint, having tried to flee the country when civil war began. For the last five years he has been held by the Houthis in Sanaa, without trial and without being accused of any offence.

I appeal to everyone here to support Luke and his family. His marvellous grandfather, Bob Cummings, whose background was as a merchant navy man, has campaigned tirelessly to get Luke released. I appeal to the Minister, in particular the Wales Office Minister, to put pressure on his colleagues in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to do more about Luke’s case.

It is completely wrong that the Foreign Secretary picks and choose which families to meet of the British detainees who are held overseas without any justification. She and her predecessors have refused to meet Mr Cummings, Luke’s grandfather. He has met with other Ministers, but he wants a meeting with the Foreign Secretary; other families have been granted that privilege. I think it is outrageous that he is discriminated against in this way, and that Luke’s case is not given the priority it should be given by the Foreign, Development and Commonwealth Office.

Last year in Yemen, many hostages of many nationalities were able to be released. However, somehow or other, Luke, who should be taking his place in the Welsh Muslim community with his wife and child, was not got out at that time—while other nationalities were. Why is it that we as a country seem so poor at being able to get our people home in those circumstances, when other countries succeed in doing so? What is going on at the FCDO that means we have a terrible record in looking after our own citizens? I sincerely ask the Minister to take an interest in Luke’s case, and put pressure on his colleagues in the Foreign Office to do two things. They should, first, do everything they possibly can to get him released so he can come and re-join the Welsh Muslim community in Cardiff and, secondly, put pressure on the Foreign Secretary to agree to meet with Luke’s grandfather, Bob Cummings, so that he can put to her directly the impact this case is having on their family.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

We have certainly had a full debate today. I am now going to move to the Front Benchers.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Wales) 3:16 pm, 23rd February 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I congratulate my hon. Friend Ruth Jones on securing this debate. It has been a full and, on the whole, positive debate. As we have heard, Wales boasts a rich Muslim population; Islam is the largest non-Christian faith in Wales. Our Welsh-Muslim heritage is rich and vast, with the earliest recorded history dating all the way back to the early 12th century. The first mosque in Wales was built in our capital in 1947, and Wales now proudly houses 40 mosques, with 18 in Cardiff alone, including the South Wales Islamic Centre in Butetown, and others for Somali, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities. There are seven mosques in Newport, and in north Wales there are ongoing plans to renovate an old chapel in Llanbedr into a brand-new mosque.

As we have heard, Cardiff is a modern, diverse, vibrant and cosmopolitan capital city, and is home to some of the oldest black and Muslim communities in the UK. These have roots dating back to the mid-19th century, as has been outlined by my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). The history of Somalian-Yemeni seamen in Wales begins with the Somali migrants who arrived in the docks of Cardiff, Barry and Newport after the opening of the Suez canal in 1860. Somalia was colonised by the British Empire during the 19th century. At a time when Cardiff was one of the busiest ports in the world, Somali and Yemeni merchant navy men would travel on steamships from their home countries, transporting coal mined in the south Wales valleys around the world. Hundreds ended up settling in Wales and many families can trace their history back to the first seamen who settled there.

I had the pleasure of working in Cardiff during the 1990s and met many families in the Butetown and Grangetown areas, seeing for myself that they were diverse and vibrant communities. In the early 2000s, in another job, I worked in the city of Newport with charities and voluntary organisations, all of which received a huge contribution from the local Muslim community. We have heard about the Al-Ikhlas centre in Adamsdale, in Cardiff central, that ran a food bank during the pandemic, as so many others have, and it continues to feed families across the city. Its staff helped in picking up prescriptions and shopping for those who have been shielding, again, supporting the most vulnerable in our community through difficult times. We saw so many examples of that throughout the recent pandemic. A similar food bank was set up at the Dar Ul-Isra mosque in Cathays that continues to operate. It also ran a covid-19 response to help the drive for personal protective equipment for NHS staff in Cardiff.

Notable elected representatives have been mentioned this afternoon, such as the Cardiff central councillor, Ali Ahmed, who, along with his team of volunteers, delivered food to staff at University Hospital Wales throughout the pandemic. Mosques across Cardiff, including Dar Ul-Isra, hosted pop-up covid vaccination clinics to play their part in Wales’s record-breaking vaccine rollout. The Muslim community in Wales and right across the UK plays an important role in our communities and across national life. Much more needs to be done to highlight and celebrate that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West highlighted, the Muslim communities in Wales have made a crucial and integral contribution to Welsh history and public life. We should be proud of the part they have played in the development of our cities.

In opening this afternoon’s debate, my hon. Friend highlighted the fact that Newport has the second largest Muslim community after Cardiff, as well as the contribution to national life that the Muslim community in Newport has made. It is important to recognise that contribution and that of elected representatives in local government, the Senedd and here in Parliament. She also highlighted the bullying targeted at the Muslim community, which is reprehensible. I will say a little more about that later.

My hon. Friend Jessica Morden talked about the Muslim community, which is proud of its faith and heritage, and the role it plays in community life, which I recognise from my time working in Newport. Indeed, the first mosque in Wales to roll out the vaccine was in Newport. She also celebrated the diversity of candidates in the forthcoming elections—hopefully several new Muslim councillors will be elected—and the active work to stamp out bigotry across society.

My hon. Friend Afzal Khan talked about the role of the Muslim community during the pandemic. He warned of violent hate crimes and gave a powerful account of what is needed, particularly in the Tory party, to tackle Islamophobia.

My hon. Friend Geraint Davies talked about the impact of local lockdowns on the Muslim community and on higher education outcomes, often for people from disadvantaged communities. He also talked about the impact of austerity and Brexit, about how people who are different have often been blamed, and about the Prevent programme and its shortcomings.

My hon. Friend Kevin Brennan talked about the multiracial community across Cardiff, which dates back many decades, and about how discrimination is not new. Indeed, the terrible prejudices that we witness are, in way, historical. He talked about the contribution of the Bangladeshi community, particularly in Cardiff West and across Cardiff. He also spoke movingly about the plight of Luke Symons, who travelled to Yemen, and made a plea for a Government to do more in that case.

As we celebrate the contribution of the Muslim community, we must also recognise the challenges. We know that many Muslim families are subject to abuse, particularly on social media. As we know, social media platforms have a moral responsibility and a duty to protect their users. Much more can be done to tackle Islamophobia online and across society.

As we have heard, the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims has worked to create a definition of Islamophobia that has the confidence of more than 800 organisations, including political parties—the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the Green party and the Scottish Conservatives, as we have heard—as well as mayors and local government. We know that the definition—naming the problem—is often the first step needed to tackle the root causes. It seems bizarre that the Government cannot bring themselves to use the term Islamophobia, which begs the question: how do they intend to deal with a problem that they cannot even name? In recent weeks we have heard Azeem Rafiq’s powerful testimony about his experience in cricket, which highlights how easy it can be for racism and Islamophobia to be dismissed as banter. That points to the need to do much more to challenge such behaviour in our communities, in sport and in politics.

We know how important it is to celebrate what we have in common rather than focusing on what divides us, as we have witnessed in recent years. In closing, I want to mention my constituency, which once had the largest Jewish community in the UK. The Foundation for Jewish Heritage has been working to save a historic grade II-listed former synagogue in Merthyr Tydfil, which has lain empty since 2006 and become dilapidated. Its vision is to turn it into the Welsh Jewish heritage centre and a cultural venue. That work is progressing well and represents a huge opportunity to celebrate the history of the Jewish community in Merthyr Tydfil and across Wales.

I use that as just one example to show what can be done to celebrate diversity and I hope that this debate to mark the contribution of the Muslim community in Newport West and across Wales will go some way towards encouraging us further, as we realise that there is much more to be done to highlight and celebrate the contribution of the Muslim community in Newport, Cardiff, Swansea and right across Wales.

Photo of David Davies David Davies The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Assistant Whip 3:25 pm, 23rd February 2022

Diolch yn fawr, Ms McVey; thank you very much for calling me to speak. Prynhawn da, and as-salaam alaikum—I think that is probably about as much as I will get away with before the translators start to complain.

I begin by thanking you for your chairmanship, Ms McVey, and by thanking all Members who are here today for this positive debate. Of course, I particularly congratulate Ruth Jones on securing it, on talking about her own experiences and on giving thanks to the Muslim community of Newport and the rest of Wales. I absolutely side with her in that regard and strongly echo those thanks.

The hon. Lady mentioned Councillor Miqdad Al-Nuaimi. He, of course, used to be my councillor and I knew him quite well. In fact, my father knew him extremely well, because they both served on the council together for the same ward but for different political parties. I think she may know this already, but their first meeting in the late 1990s was what one might describe as being brisk and lively. However, they subsequently became very good friends through serving on the council and I know that Councillor Al-Nuaimi wrote a very kind letter to my mother last year after my father passed away. He is a man for whom I have great respect, even if I would not necessarily entirely agree with his political views.

I also echo the hon. Lady’s words of thanks to, and support for, the Muslim community in Wales, because they really are a very important part of our culture. Islam is the second largest non-Christian faith in Wales, with approximately 46,000 adherents, according to the census data from 2011. As we have already heard, the first purpose-built mosque in Wales was constructed in Cardiff in 1947 and I believe that there are now over 40 mosques in Wales. I have only visited one, but I will perhaps receive invitations to visit more. I hope so, because at the mosque I visited I was treated with incredible hospitality by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Cardiff. I was invited to a feast and I can honestly say that it was quite wonderful.

I am also proud of the magnificent work being done by my colleagues in the Senedd to combat Islamophobia. I must take some issue with some of the comments that have been made today. There is no place for Islamophobia anywhere, including in any political party, and I certainly would not want to see it being tolerated in the Conservative party. We can be judged to some extent by our deeds, because in the Senedd there are 16 Conservative Members out of 60—a proportion that is not high enough—and two of them are Muslim, including, of course, Natasha Asghar, who I have known for many years and who is one of my Assembly Members, as a regional Assembly Member.

It is very important that we do not just say the right words, which we can all do very easily, but demonstrate our commitment to tackling racism and Islamophobia by making sure that we reach out to all communities and offer all communities the same opportunities. Britain has a proud tradition of religious tolerance within the law and the Government are committed to creating a strong and integrated society in which hatred and prejudice are not tolerated, and within which all people are free to express their religious identity without fearing harassment or crime because of it.

Members have quite rightly raised the issue of the so-called far right. I never like to call those people that, because I am right-wing—centre-right—but I have nothing in common with them and nobody in the Conservative party has anything in common with the sort of fascists who we have sometimes seen harassing people because of their religion or ethnicity. I am sure that we all stand united in saying that such behaviour is totally and utterly unacceptable, and something that we would never ever support.

The covid-19 pandemic, which has been mentioned today, brought many challenges for all of society, including for those of faith, who were unable for months on end to adhere to their routine and tradition of frequenting their chosen place of worship. Again, we recognise the hardships faced by all religious communities, including the Muslim community, during lockdown. They were unable to celebrate Eid and Ramadan with family members and friends, or meet for Friday prayers.

We know these restrictions were put in place to keep everyone as safe as possible during the pandemic, and all the faith communities steadfastly observed the restrictions. The Government were very grateful for their support and co-operation. I am very pleased that, because of that outstanding work and the efforts of communities to observe the guidance and keep people safe, communal worship for all faiths was able to continue in some way during the recent restrictions.

We are also very grateful to the Muslim community for their support in encouraging vaccination take-up and in dispelling the myths surrounding the vaccine, some of which, as I think was said during the debate, were spread by people with very dubious political views.

I pay particular tribute to the founder of Muslim Doctors Cymru, Dr Bnar Talabani MBE, whom I had the pleasure of meeting online last week. Despite her enormously busy day-to-day job working with the Wellcome Trust in Cardiff, she has been working tirelessly to dispel vaccine misinformation, particularly among younger age groups, through her viral TikTok videos. That is not a platform on which I am any sort of expert, but she has used it to reach out to people, particularly the younger generations. Dr Talabani’s incredible online influence stretches well beyond our borders. As she has told me, she has been successfully reaching out to communities, particularly the Muslim community, not only in Wales but all over the world, including as far away as Australia; she has hosted question-and-answer sessions to encourage people to take up vaccination. I put on the record my thanks and congratulations to Dr Talabani on her well-deserved MBE and on her incredible work, which has, without any shadow of a doubt, saved lives.

I also pay tribute to Jamia mosque in Pillgwenlly, which last March opened its doors as a drop-in vaccine hub for local residents, irrespective of faith. As we come out of the pandemic, the UK Government will look at how we can further strengthen our relationship with Britain’s Muslim community and with other faith groups.

I will mention a couple of the points raised during the debate. Geraint Davies talked about the terrible attack that happened almost five years ago on the parliamentary estate. Coincidentally, I was on the square with my right hon. Friend Grant Shapps, and we were 20 feet away from the attack as it happened. Either the following day or a week later, Westminster bridge was closed to commemorate the tragedy in an event organised by the Muslim community in London, who wanted to say how appalled they were, and how much they condemned that kind of ludicrous extremism, which does not represent the Muslim community in the UK. I was so proud to stand with Muslims on that bridge to thank the police for what they had done, and to show our support. There were people from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities—it was quite something, and it was very memorable.

Kevin Brennan made an important point about his constituent Luke Symons. It is a bit above my pay grade to start delving into foreign affairs, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is difficult to get people out of countries, and the UK Government follow very strict rules about that. However, he asked if he could have a meeting about that with the Foreign Secretary, and I am sure that my officials will have taken note of that reasonable request. We will do what we can to help.

The UK Government are committed to protecting freedom of religion and belief. Freedom of religion and the ability of all people to worship where and how they wish—or not to worship at all—is part of what makes Britain the vibrant and resilient country it is today.

A number of Members have asked about the definition of Islamophobia. I think the law needs to be used to crack down on anyone who is abusing people. I have read through the definition of Islamophobia in question, and the problem is that although no one would disagree with parts of it, I fear that if it were fully implemented, other parts of it could be used to stop people having historical debates, or other kinds of debates. A point in the definition states that nobody should be able to say that Islam was spread at the point of a sword. Clearly, it was not, but some historians would say that it could be argued that Christianity was spread at the point of a sword during the crusades. I am not saying that it was, or that it was not—I am not a historian—but historians might want to make that argument in a reasonable way.

There is also a point about denying the right of self-determination to Palestine and Kashmir. Personally, I hope that we see a Palestinian state at some point; I know less about Kashmir. The point is that there is a debate to be had about those matters. What amounts to a law on Islamophobia should be there to protect Muslims from any kind of abuse or stereotyping, not to stop people having a debate about the rights and wrongs of foreign policy in Palestine and elsewhere. That might be part of the problem.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Justice)

If we look at the definition, the first point to note is that it is from an all-party parliamentary group that had people from across the parties, with legal backgrounds and expertise, looking at all these issues. My second point is that almost 1,000 organisations in the Muslim community accept this definition, and all the political parties, including the Scottish Conservatives, have accepted it. That is where it gets difficult. Why is there this one part of a party that does not accept it?

Photo of David Davies David Davies The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Assistant Whip

With all due respect, an APPG cannot make the law; it can only make recommendations. As I say, I have looked through the definition and most of it seems perfectly reasonable, but I can see problems with some of it. We have to be very careful that we have laws that protect people from being discriminated against or abused because of their religion or ethnicity, but allow people the freedom to question beliefs. There are people in the Muslim community who would question the beliefs of other people in the Muslim community, and they should have the right to do that, in the same way that I, as a Christian, might well want to—and, in fact, do—question the beliefs of some people who also claim to be Christian. We have to be able to have an open debate about people’s belief systems, so that is probably the problem with that definition.

None the less, it is important that we use laws, such as those on public order offences, to ensure that people can worship freely and are not discriminated against or abused because of their religion or ethnicity. If we are not quite there at the moment—and I accept that there are problems—we need to change the law to make sure that happens.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Justice)

Even if we accept what the Minister is saying, the difficulty is that we cannot deny that the biggest group that is facing hate is the Muslim group. That is according to Home Office figures. If the Government are aware of that fact and do not accept this definition, which the Minister thinks might have flaws, how many years do they need in order to come up with an answer to this? That is the problem. The Government have been saying that they will come up with an answer, but they have not done anything.

Photo of David Davies David Davies The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Assistant Whip

We already have laws in place to protect people from discrimination or abuse, but people are breaking the law. That does not necessarily mean that the law is wrong or needs to be changed. Perhaps it needs to be enforced more, or perhaps the penalties need to be looked at. We need to be careful about any legislation that will have an impact on freedom of speech. I do not think that we can get to a point of equality and tolerance simply by saying to people that they are not allowed to express a view about something, be it be Palestine, Kashmir, the history of the crusades or whatever. Those are all things that people should be able to discuss.

Photo of David Davies David Davies The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Assistant Whip

I do feel that I am getting slightly away from my responsibilities as a junior Minister in the Wales Office—I will probably get the sack tomorrow—but go on; I will take one more intervention.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

I am sure that the Minister will accept that there are limits to freedom of speech. I am thinking in particular of the online incitement to racial hatred by groups that inspire hatred and division, such as Voice of Wales, which has been taken off YouTube and then came back on to it. Do we not need a balance between what is called freedom of speech and something that is damaging and corrupting to our society?

Photo of David Davies David Davies The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Assistant Whip

I agree with the hon. Member: there are, and have to be, limits on freedom of speech in a civilised society. We cannot have people abusing it in order to incite violence or hatred against other groups, so in that sense, I agree.

I would like to bring this debate back to Wales and the Muslim community. I recognise that the Muslim community in Wales and elsewhere has faced intolerance and discrimination. In fact, that point was raised with me by the Ahmadiyya Muslims whom I met in Cardiff. They said to me that on occasion, when they have tried to get a taxi to their mosque, they were told by the driver that they would not be taken. Afzal Khan will probably know what I am getting at here. All of us, especially those of us in Government, must say that we will never tolerate anti-Muslim hatred in any form, and will seek to stamp it out wherever it occurs.

We have supported Tell MAMA with just over £4 million between 2016 and 2022 to monitor and combat anti-Muslim hatred. We have a proud tradition of religious tolerance in the law, and we have committed to creating a strong and integrated society in which prejudice is not tolerated. People must always be free to express their religious identity and to live without fear of harassment and crime because of it. We launched the places of worship scheme, which is designed to reduce the risk and impact of hate crime at places of worship and associated faith community centres, and we have provided funding for protective security measures, such as CCTV, fencing and intruder alarms, to places of worship and associated faith community centres that are vulnerable to hate crime. Some 241 grants worth £5 million have been awarded to places of worship across England and Wales, 84 of which were awarded to mosques.

We in the Wales Office have supported the work of the UK Government in bringing people from Afghanistan to the United Kingdom, including to Wales. Jessica Morden, who has had to leave, would be able to describe being in touch with us in the Wales Office, and how our officials did everything they could to help in a small number of cases. Thousands of Afghans have supported NATO forces in Afghanistan in recent years, and we acknowledge the dangers posed to them and others as a result of the transition of power in that country. I am proud of the role that the UK Government have taken in supporting Afghan citizens, and the admittedly much smaller role that the Wales Office has played in supporting a few of those families. We will exceed our initial aim to resettle 5,000 people through the Afghan citizen resettlement scheme in the first year. In the four months since Operation Warm Welcome was launched, we have worked across 10 Government Departments, with devolved Administrations and with around 350 councils and local agencies, as well as with charities and volunteers.

I had slightly more time than I thought, but I have said most of what I want to say. In conclusion, this has been an example of the kind of positive debate we do not see enough of in the House of Commons. Broadly speaking, we are all basically in agreement. The hon. Member for Newport West began by talking about the enormous contribution that the Muslim community has made in Wales. She extolled the virtues of Newport. I absolutely agree with what she said.

All Members have spoken about the importance of making sure that Muslims in this country and in Wales do not face discrimination or hatred as a result of following their religion. I agree 100%, and am more than happy to work with any hon. Members in the House to that end. I make many visits to Wales. If any Members of Parliament from Wales wish to ensure that an invitation to another mosque comes to me—especially if food is involved—I am sure we will look very favourably on it.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:43 pm, 23rd February 2022

I thank everybody who has participated this afternoon. I agree with the Minister that it has been a good-tempered debate—much better than the last one we had, in November. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Newport East (Jessica Morden), for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), and for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). I thank Jim Shannon and my hon. Friend Stephen Doughty for their helpful interventions, and I thank the Front Benchers as well.

We have celebrated, commemorated and honoured our Muslim communities. We in Wales are very proud of our strong and long links with our Muslim brothers and sisters. I listened very carefully to the Minister’s account of why the definition of Islamophobia has not been signed by the Conservative party—I am still not convinced. I did ask some specific questions, but I will follow up in writing so that those queries are not lost. I thank you, Ms McVey, for your fair and thoughtful chairing this afternoon. I pay tribute to the Muslim community across Wales. We are stronger together and diversity enriches us all.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the Muslim community in Wales.

Sitting suspended.