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Volume 450: debated on Thursday 12 October 2006

3. What assessment he has made of the number of racist incidents among students in higher education; and if he will make a statement. (92859)

We do not make this assessment centrally. We have, however, established robust legal protection against racism and as a result individual universities should have clearly identified procedures in place for dealing with racist incidents. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 places a general duty on university governing bodies to promote race equality in their institutions.

The Minister has, I know, read the report of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism, which talks about systematic racism going on in universities. It refers to a brick being thrown through the window of a Jewish student and a poster bearing the words “Slaughter the Jews” pasted on a Jewish student’s front door. This is being done by some extreme Islamic groups. The report’s main conclusion is that the response of vice-chancellors is at best patchy. What can the Government do to try to ensure that there is a consistent approach to combating anti-Semitism and all racism in all of our universities?

I am aware of the report; I gave evidence to the inquiry. I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a great interest in these issues. I urge all vice-chancellors to take anti-Semitism and all forms of racism very seriously. The Government have placed strong legal obligations on all public bodies to tackle racism. The work that the equality challenge unit is doing with universities is the best way to spread good practice and tackle the issue.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. Does he agree, however, that one of the issues, as I have learned from speaking to students, is a reluctance on the part of some students to report incidents in the first place because they are not convinced that they will be dealt with properly by university authorities?

I certainly hope that my hon. Friend’s concerns are misplaced. We have to create a climate of confidence, and the report by the all-party inquiry makes an important contribution. It is important that the Government take the lead and make it clear that we expect universities to take these issues very seriously.

Will the Minister and the House join me in condemning the BNP in Broxbourne who target young people with their racist lies and filth? Will the House also join me in congratulating the young people in my constituency on turning their back on that nonsense and ensuring that we have happy, settled schools in Broxbourne?

I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman. His constituency borders mine. Members of all political parties must challenge the filth and hatred promoted by the BNP. We need to rebut its lies, smears and innuendo, and we need to work at that together. I congratulate the young people who have ignored what the BNP is putting forward.