Skip to main content

Integration and Cohesion

Volume 459: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2007

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Olner. I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce this debate on integration and cohesion in Britain.

I am sure we all agree that public discussion about integration and cohesion has travelled a long way in recent years—from Lord Parekh’s commission for the future of multi-ethnic Britain, to Ted Cantle’s report on the 2001 riots, to the Government’s new, or fairly new, Commission on Integration and Cohesion. The discussion has not ended up where one might have expected at the beginning of 2001. There has been an unmistakable new interest in integration among opinion formers such as the BBC journalist George Alagiah, the Pakistan-born Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir Ali and Trevor Phillips, who is to head the commission for equality and human rights.

This debate allows the House an opportunity to explore all aspects of that developing public discussion. I want to concentrate on an important part of it—relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain—before asking whether there is merit in Cantle’s main recommendation, which the Government have not to date taken up: the development of a statement of allegiance that would follow what Cantle described in his report as

“an honest and open national debate”.

The events of 9/11 and their consequences have had an unmistakable impact on relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain since 2001. In Britain, they have included the Dhiren Barot conviction, Richard Reid’s attempted shoe bomb atrocity, the Abu Hamza affair—and, of course, the horror of 7/7 as well as the events of 21/7. I am the Conservative Member with the largest number of Muslim constituents and my constituency also felt those consequences last summer in the form of the alleged aeroplane bomb plot; two of my constituents currently face serious charges in respect of that.

Last autumn, I offered the House my analysis of barriers to integration as they affect British Muslims. They include racism and Islamophobia, lower life chances, intergenerational conflict, the failure of the multiculturalist consensus, foreign policy and, perhaps above all, the impact of ideology. In its most stark form, that ideology is one of terror—hence 9/11 and 7/7. In its less brutal form, it rejects terror in Britain but embraces separation. Separation, of course, inevitably leads to a lack of integration and cohesion and the “parallel lives” of which Cantle warned.

A common term for the ideology is “Islamism”, a term sometimes used by Ministers. It is worth noting that some separatist Islamic groups in the tradition of al-Banna or Mawdudi use the term to describe themselves. However, many Muslims are unhappy about it and argue, understandably enough, that the use of the term tends to conflate that ideology with Islam itself. It is perhaps necessary to reiterate that the two are not the same. Islam is an ancient religion, whose history and practice seem to me just as various, complex and multifaceted as Christianity’s. The separatism that I have mentioned is in essence a modern political ideology, and I want to give the House a flavour of it.

Earlier this year, I discovered from a Channel Four “Dispatches” programme, “Undercover Mosque”, that a DVD featuring a preacher called Abu Usamah was being distributed from my constituency. In the programme, Abu Usamah was quoted as saying:

“No one loves the kuffar”—

that is, the non-Muslim—

“not a single person here from the Muslims loves the kuffar, whether those kuffar are from the UK or the US. We love the people of Islam and we hate the people of kuffar, we hate the kuffar”.

Abu Usamah also said:

“God has created the woman, even if she gets a PhD, deficient. Her intellect is incomplete, deficient. She may be suffering from hormones that will make her emotional. It takes two witnesses of a woman to equal one witness of a man.”

He went on to say:

“Do you practise homosexuality with men? Take that homosexual man and throw him off the mountain.”

I shall not weary the House with any further quotations, but it is important to demonstrate what this ideology of separation is like. It favours an ultimate political settlement in Britain in which the barrier between the sacred and the secular is torn down and different people are governed by different laws. As Dame Pauline Neville-Jones wrote in her recent report “Uniting the Country”, even those ideologues

“who eschew violence advocate...a social order…not compatible with modern western ideas of individual freedom, the equality of men and women, fundamental human rights and democratic government under the rule of law”.

I stress, of course, that this ideology is rejected by the majority of British Muslims.

When I last had the chance to address the House on these issues, I said that it is important to diagnose the cause of an illness—in this case, the to-some-degree poisoned relations between Muslims and non-Muslims—before attempting to treat it. Today, I want to set out some ideas that might help to find a cure.

I am delighted to see the Minister in her place, because I want to ask her some questions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) in his, because he is an acknowledged expert in this field. I am also grateful for the presence of my hon. Friends the Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and for Newark (Patrick Mercer), and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), who is a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. It is a pity that there is not greater representation on the Labour Benches.

In my view, the origin of such a cure lies in strengthening the unwritten social contract that exists between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain. Under that contract, non-Muslims are obliged to recognise that Islam is now a permanent presence in Britain, that British Muslims have lower life chances than the non-Muslim majority as a whole, and that those life chances must be raised as part of any programme of social justice. In turn, Muslims are obliged to face up to the fact that Dhiren Barot, Richard Reid and the perpetrators of 7/7 claimed to act in the name of Islam, however unjustified that claim is, and recognise that the separatist ideology that I described earlier must not merely be condemned—it must be actively challenged, confronted and rooted out.

First, I want to deal with ways of raising Muslim life chances. According to the Office for National Statistics, Muslims are more likely to be lower paid than Christians, but the relevant figure, like others that point to Muslim disadvantage, must be read carefully. According to a study called “Religion and economic activity in the South Asian population”, 41 per cent. of Indian-originated Muslim adults are in full-time work, compared with 26 per cent. of Pakistani-originated Muslim adults and 23 per cent. of Bangladeshi-originated Muslim adults.

Those figures help to put some of the statistics about Muslim disadvantage in context. Indian-originated Muslims often come from a more prosperous background than Bangladeshi-originated, Pakistani-originated or Kashmiri-originated Muslims, so the figures suggest a hierarchy of disadvantage. As Munira Mirza wrote in her “Living apart together” report for the think-tank Policy Exchange—in my view, the leading think-tank on Islam and Muslim-related matters—

“Policy-makers talk about helping ‘Muslims’, but levels of social disadvantage actually relate more closely to ethnicity than religious grouping, and even more importantly, to socio-economic class.”

In other words, it is only common sense to recognise that Muslims who speak English as a second language, or not at all, and who come from more deprived backgrounds are less likely to enjoy good life chances than Muslims who speak fluent English and come from more prosperous backgrounds. Homes and schools are therefore vital locations for the levering up of life chances, especially given that no fewer than a third of British Muslims are under 16.

Some questions need to be addressed. Do parents who can speak English always encourage their children to do so at home? Do parents champion the value of education as a source of opportunity and not seek to discourage young women from entering the labour market should they wish? Are the expectations that some schools have for Muslim pupils too low? Is enough done to encourage parents to enter the teaching profession or to come forward as governors? How can integration possibly be helped by the planned reduction of support—although I understand that that is being reviewed—for the teaching of English to new migrants?

So, raising Muslim life chances, especially the life chances of Muslims from poorer backgrounds, is necessary if the unwritten social contract between non-Muslims and Muslims in Britain is to be strengthened. However, although improving life chances is necessary for that to happen, it is not sufficient. Marc Sageman’s study of 172 al-Qaeda operatives around the world suggests that there is no simple link between lower life chances and separatist ideology. Indeed, he found that many operatives were from relatively wealthy backgrounds. The horror of 7/7 helps to prove that point: Mohammed Siddique Khan was, after all, a qualified teacher and a graduate of Leeds Metropolitan university.

Therefore, in the interests of integration, I turn to ways of rooting out the separatist ideology that I described earlier. The Government alone cannot do so, but ministerial leadership is crucial. According to recent reports issued over the Easter break, the Minister’s Department will lose its lead role in relation to British Muslims to the new office for security and counter-terrorism. The Minister is shaking her head, but it is important that she clears that matter up today. After all, her Department has only been in charge of this matter for about a year and placing relations with British Muslims in a security context will obviously have big implications.

Mention of the Department leads me to reflect on Government policy as a whole since 7/7. It is fair to say that the entire political and media establishment was caught off-balance by the horrendous events of that day. The Government’s initial reaction was to set up the “preventing extremism together” project, but there is some controversy about how many of its recommendations have been implemented. That approach has clearly been superseded by the new Commission on Integration and Cohesion. There have been reports that Ministers want to raise the age at which spouses can enter Britain from 18 to 21. Will the commission consider that matter and report on it in June as part of its findings?

The Government’s approach to preventing extremism needs to be synoptic, but it is hard to see such an approach at the moment. For example, the Department for Education and Skills—partly in reaction to a legal case involving a girls’ school in my constituency—has recently issued guidance on school uniforms, which makes it clear that schools are entitled to bar the niqab or veil if they wish. However, the Department of Health refuses to issue similar guidance. I asked about that matter after the Royal Preston hospital was reported last year to be modelling a gown for patients based on the burqa, which, as hon. Members know, is not worn by most Muslim women in Britain. The answer that I received was that national guidance was inappropriate. Perhaps the Minister will explain why guidance appropriate for schools and teaching staff is not appropriate for hospitals and medical staff.

Terror groups are reported to be targeting universities and prisons. What guidance is issued to prison governors on the receipt of extremist literature by prisoners and is enough being done to encourage college principals to follow the example of universities such as Birmingham, which checks visiting speakers’ credentials in advance? More broadly, many of our constituents will ask why it took so long for the Danish embassy protesters who shouted support for terror to be charged, and why the loophole that allowed Abu Hamza to pass on property from prison is still unplugged.

I turn from preventing extremism to its flip side, which, of course, is supporting moderation. Having tried to give a flavour of what extremism is like, I shall now provide a flavour of what moderation is like by citing an event that took place at the Palace of Westminster before the Easter recess when I was privileged to co-host a reception for the Sufi Muslim Council. The SMC is unambiguously moderate and campaigns against extremism. It wants to see citizens from all backgrounds living together under one common law. It believes that British Muslims can live privately under sharia law in the same way that Jews, for example, can live privately under their own religious law. It rejects placing entire areas of Britain under state-run sharia law, which extremists such as Abu Izzadeen advocate. Just as importantly, it also rejects permitting different religious groups to live under different state laws—the system that operated in India under the empire, and which is championed by such Islamists abroad as Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. I believe that organisations such as the British Muslim Forum, to which the three main mosques in my constituency are listed as affiliates, broadly take the same moderate view.

In the light of that, can the Minister confirm that the Muslim Council of Britain is no longer being treated as the main representative voice of British Muslims? According to Dr. Mirza's research, only 6 per cent. of British Muslims believe that the MCB speaks for them, and only 1 per cent. believe that the Muslim Association of Britain, which is usually regarded as the British arm of Hamas, speaks for them. Can the Minister explain, therefore, why the MAB was given the same status as the MCB, which at least has a large number of representative organisations affiliated to it, and the BMF on the steering group of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Body project, which is looking at the future of British mosques?

Indeed, can the Minister confirm whether the Government would like the MCB, the MAB, the BMF and the SMC—I apologise for all these acronyms—to be rolled into one representative body for British Muslims? If so, is the amalgamation of such divergent organisations really practical, and do Ministers believe that a single organisation can provide a reliable link to all British Muslims—the highest figure is 1.8 million—a proportion of whom do not attend mosques regularly, if at all?

Before Easter, the Secretary of State announced details of a £6 million pathfinder fund to prevent violent extremism which, as the Minister knows, was described as a hearts-and-minds drive. There is a case for using public funds for that purpose, but it is essential that non-Muslims do not feel that they are losing out, and that the use of that money is closely monitored. What safeguards have been put in place to guarantee that the regional forums against extremism, which are part of that drive, cannot themselves be taken over by extremists?

Ultimately, building moderation and cohesion is not the responsibility only of the Government. For example, public broadcasters have a responsibility, by interviewing extremists with the same curiosity and rigour that they traditionally bring to bear on democratic politicians. Mosques have a role to play by opening themselves up to outside visitors, as the main mosque in High Wycombe has a history of doing. The mainstream Islam taught in those mosques has an indispensable role to play in the fight against separatism and extremism. A significant feature of the study of al-Qaeda operatives to which I referred earlier is that most of them were not raised in religious homes where such mainstream Islam was practised. Indeed, Dhiren Barot is a convert to Islam from Hinduism. Wahabi publishing houses produce a mass of books, tapes and DVDs both here and abroad, but Britain's Sufi mosques do not usually have access to the same resources. I am not suggesting that the state should chip in, but many British Muslim business people are active in community and charity fundraising, and there is no reason why more effort should not go into a publishing drive by moderates. I should be interested to know whether the Minister is doing anything to encourage that.

I have attempted to set out some ideas to help to prevent extremism and to support moderation. There is no perfect means of doing that and no perfect solution; indeed, there is no inevitability about finding solutions to these problems. If enough non-Muslims embrace race separatism, the doctrine of the British National party, and enough Muslims embrace religious separatism, the obviously repellent doctrine of Bin Laden and Ahmadinejad and, in a more subtle form, of Qaradawi, then—to borrow a figure of speech from Yeats—things will indeed fall apart.

None the less, like the Minister I am sure, I remain an optimist as politicians must. It can all too easily be forgotten, amid all those difficulties, that in each day of every year in the communities that we represent British Muslims and non-Muslims live alongside each other peacefully. What is certain among all the uncertainties is that fashion changes. During the first half of my adult life, the fashion in the mainly Muslim world was for Arab nationalism and socialism. In the second half, it has been for religious separatist political ideologies that distort and pervert Islam. Perhaps the best course that British citizens can take, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, is to wait for the fashion to change—as it will sooner or later—and in the meantime persistently and patiently make the case for our common inheritance: individual freedom, the equality of men and women, fundamental justice, and democratic government under the rule of law. I believe that the role of Muslim women, in particular, will be crucial to making that change.

I said earlier that I would come to Cantle’s proposed statement of allegiance. It perhaps illustrates a way of thinking that holds that Britain is now so diverse as to require the replacement of our unwritten constitution with written contracts. Since 1997, constitutional change has brought us to a halfway house somewhere between our old constitutional settlement and a new future that has yet to be revealed. Looking at recent election turnouts, it is fair to say that that halfway house is not particularly popular. One of two routes is now open to the recovery of ownership of the political system by the people.

The first route is via a fully fledged written constitution that is endorsed ultimately by a referendum, of which Cantle’s statement of allegiance could be a part. The second is via direct democracy, by giving more power to the people rather than to unelected judges through the greater use of referendums. Discussion about integration and cohesion in relation to Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain turns out to be part of a wider discussion about the future of faith communities, which the recent debates about faith schools and gay adoption have touched on, and indeed about relations between us all. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friends and to the Minister’s reply.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) on obtaining this important debate. He has a great interest in such matters. As he rightly said, his is the Conservative-held seat with the largest number of Muslims, and in that as in so many other ways I am second to him, as I have a large and diverse Muslim population in my constituency. I am keen to move away in my remarks from dealing exclusively with Islam and Muslim matters, but inevitably they will form part of our discussions both today and in the future.

My hon. Friend made an extremely interesting speech and a 90-minute debate is by no means long enough to address the whole range of issues. However, I wish to touch on some of the aspects that have been mentioned. In addition to my 73,000 residential constituents, some 40,000 non-UK nationals live in my constituency. They range from the wealthiest of business men to some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers—both ends of the spectrum to which my hon. Friend referred. We must also bear in mind the 1 million or so people who visit central London daily either to work or as tourists.

In the borough of Westminster, which also encompasses part of the constituency of the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), some 56 per cent. of residents were born in the UK, compared with an English average of some 91 per cent. and a London mean of 73 per cent. I fall within the minority, as I was born in a British military hospital outside the UK.

New folk arrive in the area daily, and issues of cohesion and integration are at the forefront of everyone’s mind. People come to this country looking for work, homes and a better life than they would have had from whence they came. Much of the more recent influx has come from eastern Europe. Over the past six months I have had the opportunity on several occasions to speak in and, in fact, lead debates in Westminster Hall on aspects of A8 and A2 nationals coming from eastern and central Europe. Many others have been resident in the area for some time and are now making their way out to homes in other parts of London and the nation at large. I maintain that neighbourliness is alive and well in my part of London. Part of the secret has been the continuation of community identities along the lines that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe pointed out.

This time last year, the leader of Westminster city council, Simon Milton, launched a one-city vision to create excellent services and stronger communities. He emphasised the importance of taking action over the next five years to ensure that Westminster remains an open and tolerant city. I appreciate that the Government have done much along similar lines and have helped to finance some local initiatives. The Minister will discuss that in her contribution later. My hon. Friend referred to a dichotomy. My view is that initiatives must be community-based. They cannot simply be the result of an ex cathedra judgment of a local or national government but must be very localised if we are to make progress.

We must create a city in which people are linked together by more than geography, and we must stress the importance of building on shared values and aspirations. Elements of that include the importance of English language tuition, which my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) will discuss later. I have always taken the view that public money should not be spent on tuition in other languages but that, as far as possible, an almost limitless fund should be available so that people who come to this country can learn English at the earliest opportunity. A lack of English is the most important potential barrier for those who come to this country. They can make a full contribution, not simply economically but in every other way, if they are able to learn English, and we must encourage that at the earliest opportunity.

We are also keen to engage residents from overseas in the democratic process as a whole, to create a common set of aspirations and to develop representative resident and business associations. I heartily endorse all those local considerations, and I believe that there have been improvements in the social behaviour and tolerance of people living in central London and thus, ultimately, in the integration and cohesion of all those who live in the area that I represent.

I am blessed by having in my constituency a very large Chinese community, which is based mainly in Soho and its surrounds. London’s Chinatown is the traditional heart of the Chinese community in Great Britain. There is also a very large Bangladeshi community in my constituency. In the week of Bangladesh’s national day, I salute the contribution of Bangladeshis to the local communities in south Westminster and in the City of London square mile.

After a few years of residency, many of my constituents feel that they belong to small central London villages. For example, there are no fewer than 30 active residents associations scattered within the seven square miles that make up my constituency. I am convinced that one of the great charms of this part of central London is the fact that so many of its residents care deeply about the neighbourhoods in which they live, and the frenetic activity of many residents associations plays an important role in ensuring that, by and large, we enjoy a high quality of cohesion and integration in our civic life.

However, those same communities feel under attack from the remorseless tales of street violence in London and the seemingly never-ending anxiety about terrorist attacks in the central area. Two of the 7/7 bombs went off at Edgware Road and Aldgate stations, two geographical extremes of my constituency. In the aftermath of the July 2005 terrorist atrocities on and under the streets of London, much national soul-searching has rightly taken place. The question that remains unanswered is how and why modern Britain has bred from its home-grown ranks so many anti-British fanatics. I believe that the notion of multiculturalism that has been promoted in our country in recent decades has been largely discredited. We need to assert the core values of identity, integration and cohesion more strongly. That will be possible only if we embrace this nation’s laws and customs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe rightly pointed out some of those issues, and I would like to discuss them in more detail. I recognise that other hon. Members wish to speak in this important debate, but I would like to talk about our core values, and about how they have been shaped over centuries to allow us to be a nation of freedom and respect for others.

I take as my starting point Martin Luther’s defiance of the all-powerful Roman Catholic Church, which took place as long ago as 1517 and heralded the Reformation. The importance of those events to the intellectual development of what we may regard as western society and ideas cannot be overstated. Up until that fateful year almost 500 years ago, there had been a universal, established Christian Church that was, like traditional Islam today, intolerant of any dissent to its power. The threat of excommunication was in no way conducive to independent thinking, scepticism or a broad range of academic and artistic speculation. By chance, within two decades, under King Henry VIII, England had also struck out, so burgeoning intellectual freedom formed the basis of the British state that we understand today. I believe that that freedom has been at the forefront of the vast array of developments in science, the arts, philosophy and political thinking which has moulded western European and global civilisation ever since.

The passion for secular democracy, individual liberty, freedom and equality before the law, religious toleration and pluralism is, I believe, at the heart of what it is to be British. It might be depressing to think this way, but let us make no mistake: those values are not compatible with much of the Islamic teaching that we hear about today. I do not dispute what my hon. Friend had to say about ensuring that the more moderate aspects of Muslim and Islamic thinking are also put across, but it is, I fear, a stark reality that much of that religion’s teaching is incompatible with the values that have grown up in the past 500 years.

Collectively, we in Britain seem to have lost the confidence to assert our sense of identity. Ironically enough, the first wave of post second world war immigrants were in very little doubt as to what Britain stood for. Many of those people were products of British colonial rule and came to settle in what was then regarded as the mother country.

I fundamentally agree with my hon. Friend that it is un-British of us to simply codify our values in law, but we are in a state of flux, not least because of the halfway house of constitutional reform brought about by the Government in the past decade. One reason why we have never had a written constitution in this country and why the Conservatives are instinctively opposed to signing up to one via the European Union is that the English way—we are different from the Scots in some respects—has been for a slow, piecemeal evolution of laws and customs. English law has never been formulated as a coherent set of rules by a body of technical experts. Despite all of the centralising pressures coming from an established Church, academia and an ever more powerful state, our law—the common law—has evolved gradually over time, as have the core values that make us what we are. Unlike other countries, we have not sought to oblige our people to speak the national language, although I appreciate that that is changing; we have not looked at the idea of making a vow of allegiance or of showing some respect to the flag, which is the norm in the United States. Our infinite flexibility is in many ways a wonderful strength. Our customs and values are practical and are based on an ongoing reality so when circumstances change, so too can laws and customs.

Order. May I ask the hon. Gentleman to realise that two of his colleagues hope to speak and that I want to allow plenty of time for the Minister and the official Opposition spokesman to answer?

I believed that only one other hon. Member wished to speak and that the winding-up speeches would start at 12 o’clock. Have no fear, Mr. Olner: I do not wish to hog a further 90 minutes, but I take on board what you said.

As I was saying, the rule of law is a particularly British concept. Our society is based on the notion that we all abide by the same rules whatever our wealth or standing. The rule of law is an attractive concept to those from abroad who settle here. Often it stands in stark contrast to what many people from far afield, and indeed many closer to Britain, are accustomed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe is aware, my mother comes from a part of Germany that is now in Poland. In the first 15 years of her life she lived first under Nazi dictatorship and then under Communist rule before coming to the west and being able to appreciate those values.

Our legal system, however, is very confrontational, and determined to give the defendant a fair trial. I know that we all have concerns about that in relation to terrorism matters, but it is a fundamental truism in terms of what the British legal system exists to achieve, in comparison with many continental systems, which are designed to reveal the truth, and therefore concern themselves with the interests of the state rather than those of the individual.

We are also a secular society, in that our sovereignty resides in the Queen as a constitutional monarch, with Parliament. The British way has never been to appeal to some higher spiritual jurisdiction. Our laws are made exclusively by the Houses of Commons and Lords and interpreted by an independent judiciary. For historical reasons we have an established Church, but no one should make the mistake of thinking that that indicates anything approximating to a theocracy. Pluralism and religious tolerance have been part of the British constitutional settlement since the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

I must confess that as an Englishman from birth and a Londoner all my adult life I believe that many of my opportunities and dreams have no limit. I recognise fully that that is a stark contrast to countless thousands and millions of people in Britain, some of whom are of course in my constituency. Like my hon. Friend I am an optimist and excited by the challenges facing me and our country in a fast-changing global economy. As a man in early middle age I confess that I sometimes envy those half my age and younger. Their dreams and imaginations will be even more expansive than mine. With vision, leadership and a passion for all that the future holds, we live in a world that holds the most exciting of opportunities, which, only a decade or two ago, no one would have imagined. Global travel has become commonplace. In our debates on aircraft and pollution it is important to realise that global travel is one of the most important ways of enabling people to see different cultures and consider the issues of cohesion and integration that we are debating. The opportunity to travel so far abroad is now within the grasp of many people in this country.

Rather than obsessing in debate about multiculturalism we need without delay to counteract the sense of humiliation and grievance, and the culture of victimhood, that has beset so much of the Muslim world and so many young disaffected people growing up in our inner cities. That growing band of disaffected people, who feel that they have in some way been brought up unfairly, and want to strike back angrily at the society that has borne them and nurtured them, has developed its own sense of victimhood and is independent of much else in society. The new Britons who rail against the society in which they grew up and were educated compare remarkably unfavourably with many immigrants to these shores in the past century, many of whom were escaping horrors in their erstwhile societies. Much of the Arab world has failed to give its young people the political and intellectual leadership that would encourage them to take a more positive path. Meanwhile, we in the west, who have problems among our own young people, should not play up to that culture of historical grievance.

Many parts of the world remain backward, economically and politically, and many of our young people will identify with those failing countries, whether they are in the Arab world, Africa or parts of the Caribbean. I can only imagine how some young people feel now, as perhaps second or third generation British citizens, in a country whose institutions constantly play up to their feelings of discrimination, whether real or imagined. The sense of alienation and humiliation makes, I believe, for a most unstable mix, and for a breeding ground for some of the extreme violence to which my hon. Friend referred.

I believe, as ever, that much hinges on education. I suspect that there will be agreement in the Chamber about that. All our young people need to embrace the history and development of the culture of this country. They need to learn that freedom and fair play have been won after many centuries of pain and railing against a fundamental authority. We must stop apologising for past ills and encourage all our citizens to look forward and rejoice in this country’s lack of restrictions and its ability to give its people self-determination and self-responsibility.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field). I do not think that my speech will be as wide ranging, and I hope that it will be a bit shorter—with respect. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Olner, and to be opposite the Minister, for whom I have great respect. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) on having gained this incredibly important debate. Unlike my two hon. Friends who have spoken, I have only a small Muslim community—and indeed only a small ethnic community—in my constituency, but it is amazingly influential.

I pay tribute to the Al-Karam school, and in particular to Pirzada Sahib, who runs it. He has been instrumental in so much Sufi thinking in this country and in the British Muslim Forum. I spend a lot of time with Pirzada Sahib, and I hope that I have learned much from him. He has certainly attempted to teach me a great deal; whether it has succeeded is of course another matter.

I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State for International Development, in his speech a few days ago, eschew the whole concept of a war on terror. That is an important statement for him to make. I fear that the media tried to make some sort of political point out of it. I do not know whether that is what the right hon. Gentleman intended. To stop Islamist fundamentalists spreading throughout this country and the world, it is crucial that we cease to consider the campaign—even that is not a good word—to counter terrorism as some sort of war. It is not. Such ideology must be countered by another form of ideology, based essentially on tolerance, understanding and above all else—to echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster—on education. To continue thinking of it as some sort of military campaign is quite wrong.

I was very impressed in some ways and horrified in others—I shall come to the horrific bit in a moment—by the Government’s counter-terrorist design, the plan or strategy Project Contest. Project Contest has been around for several years. As everybody in this room should know but probably does not, it depends on four different strands of thought and action, the so-called four Ps: prevent, prepare, protect and pursue. Intellectually—I am sure that the Minister will agree—I can find no fault with that. The rigour that has gone into designing the strategy is pretty good, and it is difficult to criticise, but I fear that the implementation has been woefully lacking.

This is not a new theme of mine, but it needs to be brought into the public domain yet again. After the 7/7 attacks, the Prime Minister’s delivery unit was asked to carry out a rolling audit of Project Contest. It was a secret process, or certainly a discreet one. It started, I believe, soon after the July attacks and reported, I think, sometime in September 2005. We got to know about it only because a leaked document appeared a few weeks later. It was published in October.

The Prime Minister’s delivery unit—the Prime Minister’s own audit body, which had been unleashed on Project Contest—reached the following conclusions at the end of 2005, which I paraphrase. The strategy is immature. Forward planning is disjointed or has yet to occur. Accountability for delivery is weak, activity is not connected or coherent and—here is the rub—who is in charge? We measure meetings and reports, not real-world impact. In other words, the Government condemned their own strategy in September 2005.

The breath was knocked out of me just a few weeks ago when the Home Secretary, while discussing the Home Office’s evolutions, changes and new organisation, seemed to suggest that Project Contest would remain in force unchanged. Indeed, he went on to say that the first strand, which we are discussing today—the “prevent” strand—would continue to be the responsibility of the Minister’s Department. I know that she agrees with and understands that, but is it not like sending a car in for an MOT test, being told, “I’m sorry, your car has failed to come up to scratch to run on the road,” and saying, “Okay, give me the keys and I’ll carry on driving it”? Nothing has been done about Project Contest since September 2005 when it was roundly condemned. Yet here we are with the Home Secretary saying that the “prevent” strand of this moribund strategy continues to be the responsibility of the Minister and her Department. I would be fascinated to hear the Minister’s comments on that.

I note the comments that have already been made about the pathfinder fund and other initiatives, which I will not go into in any more detail because they have been properly made already. However, let me continue to expand on the theme of cohesion and integration. I do not know how many others inside this Chamber were stunned by a comment made by the Prime Minister a couple of days after the 7/7 attacks. He came to the House and, for the most part, made a very good speech, but one particular comment struck me as being completely remarkable. He said that in the light of the bombings, we had to start a programme for Muslim outreach. Start a programme for Muslim outreach in July 2005? I wonder what sort of debate we would be having today if the aircraft plots of last summer had come to fruition and 3,000 or 4,000 people had been killed. Aircraft from this country would have exploded over the American mainland not only killing people, but fracturing the relationship between the United Kingdom and the US. In what climate would we now be debating? Would we not be asking about the Prime Minister’s 12-point plan—one of the products that came out of the 7/7 bombings?

I will not bore the Chamber by going through the plan point by point, but will the Minister comment on two specific points? First, can she expand on the points that have already been made about a commission to advise on better integration of those parts of the Muslim community that are less integrated than others? Exactly how far has that work got as part of the Prime Minister’s much vaunted 12-point plan? Secondly, could she explain the point about the ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir and its successor organisation Al-Muhajiroun? I was under the impression that the Prime Minister was the Prime Minister and that his word was law. Why has Hizb ut-Tahrir not been banned? Surely the Minister fully understands what an insidious organisation it is, what it does to cohesion and integration inside this country, and how it nurtures so much of the divisive and dangerous thinking that has already been described.

I have detained the House long enough. However, I find it extraordinary that in the light of the July 2005 plots—let us not forget that there was one successful attack and a planned attack that could have killed many more people—and in the light of several other failed attempts and the brilliantly intercepted but none the less deeply dangerous plan to attack aircraft last summer, many of the perpetrators of which came from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe and all of whom were British born, and in the light of the full and comprehensive understanding of the Government that we must try to prevent such atrocities, I am appalled and surprised by the fact that Project Contest continues to be in force, by the paucity of thinking that has gone into the Home Office reforms and by the fact that there has not been an appointment of a single Minister for security. It leaves me completely aghast and I should be grateful for an answer from the Minister.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) on the very thoughtful and comprehensive view that he has brought to the debate. In preparing for the debate, I had the opportunity to review what he said in the Queen’s Speech debate last autumn. He has covered much of the same ground today, and very felicitously if I may say so. He has left the Minister with some questions that I hope she will have the opportunity to answer. I certainly do not want to eat into her time.

I should like to underline the hon. Gentleman’s point that there is no one-shot solution to this issue. When he spoke about the Queen’s Speech, he said that we needed to get the analysis, the prescription and the treatment right. That is exactly right. I should like to take that medical analogy a little bit further and remind the Minister and the House that curing illness is two thirds about happiness and well-being and only one third about the pills and the treatment that people get. As far as our society is concerned, I think that we sometimes concentrate a little bit too much on the action points and not quite enough on the happiness and well-being point, which is what will come to our rescue in this complex situation.

It is a complex situation. The situation in Wycombe is different from that in Westminster and the situation in Burnley is different from that in Brixton. We make a mistake if we think that there is one national prescription or one national analysis that will deal with all the complexities that we face in all those different situations. Although the focus of our debate has been Muslims and social cohesion, we need to recognise not just that there is complexity between the different faith communities of those of different ethnic backgrounds. To focus solely on one solution in one area, then presume that we can apply it everywhere else, will almost certainly not be successful.

It was interesting to hear the speech by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field). I agree with him that a lot of it has to be about community initiatives, not centrally imposed top-down solutions. I was less comfortable with his visit to the constitutional never-never land of Britain in the olden days, which I want to comment on in a minute or two.

The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), who has suffered a little bit of turbulence recently, made a strong point in saying that we should get away from the language of the military: wars and campaigns and so on. Again, we need to understand that we are in a complex situation. We have friends, a few enemies and a large number of people who are neutral or agnostic. The language that we use will be of great importance in coming to a successful conclusion.

I want to spend a minute or two dealing with the historical realities versus the British myth, because a lot of the conversation that I hear in this building and in the media has a patronising tone about how Muslims need to shape up and fit in with British society, with an underlying assumption of some golden model of British society that has a historic inevitability about it that is wholly admirable and wholly desirable. I remind the House that 500 years ago, the Catholics were trying to blow this building up, but of course we do not think about it quite in those terms; we think of Guy Fawkes. A consequence of their attempt was a purge of Catholics in this country that exceeds anything that we have contemplated in the debate so far. Much more recently there was another attempt to blow up this House, which killed the then hon. Member for Eastbourne. On that occasion we did not have a purge against Catholics, which shows that in 500 years we have learned something in this society about understanding the difference between terrorism and an ideological belief or a religious conviction.

I remind hon. Members that we recently celebrated the fact that 200 years ago an Act was passed in this place for the abolition of slavery. We were all happy to celebrate that. William Wilberforce has of course been held as a champion of that cause, and he was an Anglican. It might be wondered why non-conformists, for instance, played no part in that parliamentary victory, and the answer is simple: they, like Catholics, were excluded from the House, which was open only to members of the Church of England. Any impression, therefore, that there was a golden age of integration and cohesion in England is completely inaccurate. Furthermore, although this is perhaps of marginal significance now, we cannot have a Catholic king, let alone an Islamic one.

You might wonder, Mr. Olner, which direction I am coming from, so let me say that I am a Baptist—a non-conformist. The Baptists were the first religious group in western Europe to argue for religious toleration—even for Catholics—and that was at a time when this country’s laws forced them to worship in Holland. When we talk to our Muslim colleagues, therefore, who have a very multifaceted faith just as Christians do, we need to be a little more sensitive and just a little less arrogant in what we say and presume.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I take on board what he has said. The point that several Conservative Members have been trying to make is not that everything has been perfect in Britain for the past 500 years, but that integration and cohesion require a sense of common purpose, common values and common aspirations. Those values evolve with time and with each wave of immigration, and large waves of Muslim immigration, for example, will inevitably have an impact on them going forward.

I entirely agree. Indeed, in the second part of my comments, I want to address the fact that things have changed and developed exactly as the hon. Gentleman says. We have learned the lessons, and one of those lessons, which is reflected in the different way in which this country reacted when Guy Fawkes tried to blow this place up and when the IRA successfully blew up part of this place and killed an hon. Member, is not to conflate Muslims or Catholics with terrorism. At a time when it is commonplace to say that we want immigrants to know more about British history and to understand our background, we have actually forgotten our history and our background, and I sometimes wish that the Government would pick up on points such as those that I have just made.

As regards the action that the Government have taken, I very much welcome the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, which was a sensible mechanism to put in place and which has the opportunity to explore the issues and introduce recommendations and possibly remedies. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats have made a submission to it and we look forward to its output in due course.

I am less impressed, however, with some of the other things that the Government have done. The Secretary of State’s recent six-point plan is a case in point—good intentions, but poor analysis. To return to my earlier analogy, the idea that the solution to the bomb that killed Airey Neave was closer supervision of Catholic churches would be seen as totally absurd, and the idea that the correct response to bombs on buses in London is to supervise mosques is similarly totally absurd. Of course, if supervision is introduced and is successful—I do not know what that means, and nobody can actually tell me what it is supposed to mean—those who do not like it will do exactly what the Baptists did 400 years ago: go to prison or go overseas. The state may therefore attempt to control the way in which people practise their beliefs, but that route will lead to failure.

That brings me to a point raised by the hon. Member for Wycombe. He apologised for producing a long string of acronyms—I must say that I lost my way as he went through them—but there are many different representative organisations for different parts of the Muslim faith. If the idea is that we can have an automatic, state-imposed council of Churches for the Muslim faith in this country, I have to say that that is as absurd as suggesting that the Government could impose a council-of-Churches model on the Christian Churches of this country. The diversity is enormous and of course the membership and the commitment of people from a Muslim background to any one or, indeed, any at all of the different branches of the Muslim faith is not by any means assured.

That brings me to the point on which I wanted to conclude. There has been much discussion of separatism and parallelism and whether that is a good or a bad thing. I think we should accept that it is a neutral thing. The Government do not propose to take action against the Plymouth Brethren, who keep themselves completely separate in this country. They do not participate in the political process, they do not intermarry with other groups and so on. I am sure that I shall be told that that is an absurd point because the Plymouth Brethren pose no threat; they have not been blowing up buses. Of course all that is true, but then why do we think that the right approach is to bring mosques into some kind of pro forma way of relating to this country and our society? Are Muslims not permitted to have an equivalent of the Plymouth Brethren when that is permitted for Christians?

I ask that question because sometimes the discussions that I hear seem to be leading people into a quagmire that cuts absolutely across what the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said about this country, its unwritten constitution and its capacity to accept diversity, to take on board different values and to recognise and have mutual recognition for them. We need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve and not allow ourselves to be overcome by discussion of particular mechanisms for achieving it, which might be more costly.

Of course, there is the point about the dress code. I wanted to hear in the Tea Room what the hon. Members for Wycombe and for London and Cities—I cannot get that right; let us call him the hon. Member for London—wanted to have as the dress code option. In Britain, do we want a written constitution? I do not think so. If we do want a written constitution, should it say something about our dress code?

When I was in the third year in secondary school, boys were sent home for wearing trousers without turn-ups because that was not permitted. By the time I got to the sixth form, they were being sent home for wearing turn-ups, because that was not permitted, so I have some difficulty with an authoritarian system that dictates what people should wear. Of course people have to wear clothes that permit them to carry out their public functions, but please let us not get carried away by an outward symbol that we presume means something else. Let us look at what the something else is.

The last part of the evidence that the Liberal Democrats submitted to the Commission on Integration and Cohesion said that

“we would simply add…the importance of one intangible and inexpensive ingredient—talking. Informally, socially, casually. Learning that the other person is human, has shared aspirations and an interesting family and cultural background. Seeing past the collective myth to the personal reality.

Acts of Parliament and large sums of money may well be needed to make progress, but it will all be wasted if that informal and personal dialogue does not take place thousands of times a day right across the country.”

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Olner.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) on securing the debate. As the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) pointed out, my hon. Friend made a brilliant speech in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, in which he outlined the scale of the challenge that our society faces. That challenge is not one of religious separatism, but one of ideological division, and here I must take issue with what the hon. Member for Hazel Grove said in his fascinating, wide-ranging, but in some respects misconceived remarks. He was right to stress the importance of community initiatives. He was, as ever, right to stress the importance of pluralism and to recognise that one size does not fit all when we are dealing with the various problems that we have all had an opportunity to analyse in the debate. However, he was wrong to suggest that the problem is an explicitly religious one, and to draw the historical comparisons that he did.

I should point out that, when the hon. Gentleman said that we no longer believed in one version of British history that saw us moving towards a golden future, he was disavowing a grand Liberal tradition. That version of history, which saw us moving towards a more liberal future, which used to be known as Whig history, and was the product of Macaulay and Trevelyan, used to be the guiding light of his party. It is a pity that it is no longer. One of the insights of Macaulay, Trevelyan and other Whig historians is that what has made Britain great is not just our respect for pluralism and tolerance, but a belief in liberty, rooted in our historic institutions. Those institutions are challenged by the specific ideology outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe.

Islamism is distinct from Islam. Islam is a great faith that has nourished millions for hundreds of years. To this day it contributes intellectually and spiritually across the globe to enriching the lives of a great many people. No one on the Conservative Benches would want to criticise Islam as a faith. Indeed, it has enriched this country. Islamic scholars and tens of thousands of British Muslim citizens make Britain a better and more tolerant place today, but the best of those—in fact, the majority of them—also recognise that those who call themselves, sometimes, Islamists or jihadists, or who use another name, such as Salafists, and who follow the specific Islamist ideology are following a 20th-century totalitarian aberration that is intended to undermine the very tolerance that makes Britain both a safe and a warm house not just for its Muslim citizens but for all citizens. If we are to ensure that toleration will survive in this country, and protect pluralism and liberty, we need to be aware of the precise nature of the threat. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe deserves praise for drawing attention to that challenge in this House and elsewhere.

The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to address his remarks to me, and of course I acknowledge the points that he was making about the hon. Member for Wycombe, who has rightly set out his stall on the matter. I hope that I conveyed the point that I wanted to make, which is that confronting the extremists is not the major job that we have. We must address the society.

Both go hand in hand, and we cannot effectively champion the interests of moderate Muslims and of our pluralist, tolerant and liberal society, unless we show a determination to tackle extremism. It is the extremists who, in the past, have crowded out from the debate the moderate voices in the Muslim world. I am thinking particularly of the voices of female British Muslim citizens, which have been stilled and silenced as a result of extremists operating not just in mosques but more broadly in our society.

I want to say a word of appreciation about my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and congratulate him on his speech. He brings huge expertise and great integrity to the debate. In his professional career before he joined us in this House he spent many distinguished years serving this country and defending its interests. While he has been in the House he has proved himself a dedicated public servant, and whenever he speaks on such issues it behoves all of us to pay close attention to the expertise and integrity that he brings to bear on them, as he did so effectively today.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) on his speech. Rather than inhabiting a constitutional Never Land, all that he did was stick up for those Enlightenment values that are the best protection for all minorities. In that respect I am delighted that his comments found a ready answering call in all my hon. Friends’ speeches.

When we are talking about integration and cohesion it is important for all of us to choose our words carefully and to tread with care. With your permission, Mr. Olner, I want to make a brief apology to the House. On a previous occasion, in December 2005, I had an opportunity to question the Home Secretary about his strategy for preventing extremism. I believe that several individuals whom the Government had asked to work with them on preventing extremism were themselves linked to extremist groups. I took the opportunity to raise in the House the names of some of those individuals. One of them, a gentleman called Ahmad Thomson, is a Muslim convert who was involved in holocaust denial, and I believe that it was right to draw attention to his involvement and that of several others whose enlistment by the Government in their fight against extremism seemed to be mistaken.

However, even as I was pointing out that the Government had made a mistake, I myself made a mistake. One of the individuals to whom I drew attention was Mr. Khurshid Ahmed. I remind the House that the gentleman to whom I drew attention has exactly the same name as another Khurshid Ahmed who is indeed linked with extremist activity, and who operates primarily in Pakistani politics but also has a link with institutions in this country. The Khurshid Ahmed who served on the preventing extremism together group is an admirable individual. I have now had the opportunity of meeting and working with him on several occasions.

When I discovered my mistake, I immediately wrote to Mr. Ahmed and to the Home Secretary to apologise and to put the record straight, but I have received representations from Mr. Ahmed’s Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin), who asked me to use any opportunity to place on the record in Hansard an acknowledgment of my mistake and to underline what I said in my letter, which was that Mr. Ahmed has done considerable work to further integration and cohesion in our society, and that he deserves nothing but the highest praise for his many years in public life. I am happy to use this opportunity to state on the record, for the benefit of Hansard and those outside, my appreciation of Mr. Ahmed’s work and of the calm, diligent way in which the mistake was brought to my attention by the hon. Member for Dudley, North, whose own contribution to fighting extremism in his area of the west midlands also deserves to be noted with credit by the House. I placed copies of the letters that I wrote in December 2005 to the Home Secretary and to Mr. Khurshid Ahmed in the Library earlier today.

I mentioned that it is important to acknowledge our mistakes, and I believe that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in her conduct since taking on responsibility for integration and cohesion matters, has acknowledged that the Government made errors in the past. She did that not in a breast-beating way, but in an appropriately respectful fashion. Before sitting down and allowing the Minister to reply to the many questions that have been put by my hon. Friends, I would like to acknowledge that the Government have moved but also to indicate that there is still some way to go.

I believe that the Government have accepted that, before the fateful events of 7 July 2005, they had fallen down on the job when it came to questions of integration and cohesion, and of extremism, specifically within the Muslim community. They have acknowledged that the principle of the covenant of security—that unless someone is actively engaged in violence against the state, their activities would be tolerated, no matter how extreme their preaching—was a mistake. More than that, I believe that the Government have acknowledged that some of their chosen partners in the Muslim community and elsewhere were not as well chosen as they might have been.

The Secretary of State was absolutely right to point out recently that Muslim organisations that boycott holocaust memorial day should no longer receive public money. I also note with approval that recently she has been showing a willingness to work with the Sufi Muslim Council, the British Muslim Forum and especially the Fatima Women’s Network, all of which are more moderate Muslim organisations.

The Government’s greater openness to working with moderate, mainstream organisations is to be welcomed, but it provokes a couple of questions. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe pointed out, the Government still seem to be taking a disjointed and far from synoptic approach. I mention one area that he did not, which comes under the rubric of the Department for Education and Skills. Why is it that the Government’s adviser on the teaching of Islam in higher and further education, Dr. Ataullah Siddiqui, is linked with the Islamic Foundation and the Markfield Institute of Higher Education, both of which are institutions that were set up by the Jamaat-e-Islami party, an explicitly Islamist organisation, and its supporters? In other words, why is the man who is charged with checking extremism on Britain’s campuses in fact linked with a body that was set up by a separatist Islamist organisation?

Secondly and more broadly, I welcome again what the Secretary of State said about seeking to encourage mosques to register with the Charity Commission and, as a result, receive not only help with fundraising, but a higher level of oversight and help with governance. What, however, do we do with mosques that explicitly reject that kind offer because they wish to carry on with extremist preaching and teaching? How do we ensure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said, that the flood of extremist Wahabi literature and, indeed, Saudi money into certain mosques is effectively checked so that the process of indoctrination in an extremist ideology is scrutinised and we deal effectively with teaching that might encourage a new generation of people who believe in separatism and division?

In that regard, I am very interested in my hon. Friend’s question about the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board. Why is the Muslim Association of Britain—the UK branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organisation—on an equal footing with the British Muslim Forum and the Muslim Council of Britain? Why is Finsbury Park mosque, which used to be the haunt of Abu Hamza, now run by the Muslim Association of Britain’s Dr. Azzam Tamimi? Why, having got rid of one extremist, do we have another version of extremism in control?

I have a final request for the Minister. I appreciate that time is pressing and that she has a limited amount of time in which to answer all our questions, but can she prevail on the Secretary of State and the Cabinet to ensure that we have a full-day debate on this issue in Government time? Given the setting-up of the commission, the Secretary of State’s announcements and, crucially, the prospect of significant changes in the Government machinery for dealing with this most sensitive of issues, as well as the Government’s fitful record of implementation, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newark referred, we need the Government to give a clear statement in their own time on precisely what the new strategy is. That will give those Opposition Members who wish to see them and our multi-ethnic society succeed an opportunity to make an effective contribution to this ongoing process.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) on securing this important debate. In direct response to the final point made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), let me say that the hon. Member for Wycombe raised the issue of a future debate with the Leader of the House during business questions, who said that it was under consideration. This debate, too, will bring the issue to my right hon. Friend’s attention.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to debate issues of integration and cohesion in the UK and to outline the significant work that is under way to build integrated and cohesive communities in which all are welcome and able to flourish. The debate also gives me the opportunity to dispel some of the myths that exist and which hon. Members present have, unfortunately, reiterated. I am therefore grateful to be able to put the record straight.

I doubt that I shall be able to answer all the many questions that hon. Members have raised, but before I seek to do so, I want to set out what the Government are doing. I give a commitment, however, that I shall write to hon. Members if I do not have time to respond to the issues that they have raised, and hon. Members may wish to prompt me on various issues following the debate.

First, we need to recognise the enormous progress that has been made on this issue. Equality between individuals and good relations between communities are much better than they were in the 1950s and 1960s. Immigration has brought huge economic and other benefits to our country, and our cultural life has been enriched beyond measure by people who have made their home here. However, we also know that diversity can bring tensions and that big challenges remain, particularly as new pressures, brought about by increasing globalisation and EU expansion, are felt in our neighbourhoods. Such pressures can be exploited in extremist thinking and rhetoric, whether by radical Islamic groups or far right parties.

In the face of such challenges, integration and cohesion are fundamentally about a simple question: how can we live together in all our diversity, with our different backgrounds and beliefs? That simple question encompasses a set of more challenging issues for us to think about as we consider the kind of society in which we want to live: one that is at ease with itself, confident and united in diversity; and one in which we continue to respect difference, but at the same time ensure security and a sense of solidarity.

To get to that place, it is crucial that all sectors of our society—private, public and voluntary—as well as communities themselves, continue to work together towards a common goal of integrated and cohesive communities. I appreciate the comments made by hon. Members today that this is not just a matter for Government. Although the Government clearly have an enormously important role to play, it is essentially also a matter for communities.

I start by stating that one of our core principles regarding cohesion is that the focus on local communities should be critical. The integration of new communities and the promotion of cohesion between existing groups, although driven by national events and changes, is largely experienced at a local level. The global changes that shape our lives are often best met with local solutions and on that point, I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell). What happens in one community is not the same as what happens in another and we need to have responses that work at a local level.

The machinery of government changes that took place in May last year, which the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) conveniently seems to have ignored, were critical for creating a stronger focus on cohesion at a local level because responsibility for community cohesion was transferred to the Department for Communities and Local Government. Clearly, that took place some time after the report of September 2005 from which he read. That transfer of responsibility is why the DCLG is helping to develop the local infrastructure to support our partners in their effort to build cohesion, first, by making cohesion an integral part of local government’s role as the leading strategic body in the local area, which is a role emphasised in the White Paper “Strong and Prosperous Communities” published last October. The White Paper recognises that local authorities are best placed to understand the particular challenges that their areas face, and to work with communities and local partners to decide how to respond.

Secondly, the Department wishes to ensure that we understand what works at a local level, and I endorse the comments rightly made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath about Khurshid Ahmed from Dudley, who I know personally. One of the aspects of the work that he has done with the Government is to demonstrate what works at a local level. There are some good examples of work taking place in areas such as Dudley from which we can learn.

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion, about which I hope to say more later, has the role of examining how to develop a local and practical approach. The commission will make recommendations in June on how, six years on from the disturbances in the northern mill towns and two years on from 7/7, we can build resilience to tensions and conflict in our communities.

Finally, we are looking across Whitehall to identify what other structures have a role. For example, we are considering the role of schools in promoting community cohesion through a curriculum and ethos that supports diversity and promotes a sense of common identity. By showing pupils how different communities share common experiences and values we hope to make them feel part of a broader regional and national community. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 places a duty on governing bodies of schools in England to promote community cohesion, and for Ofsted to report on the contribution made by each school. That legislation will come into force in September this year and I hope that it will build on the good work that many schools are already engaged in. I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Wycombe about the importance of people having influence by becoming school governors in their communities.

Infrastructure is only part of the story. Those involved in building cohesion on the ground also have a vital role. For example, people working in the voluntary and community sectors are critical in building social capital and forging bridges between communities. Local charities, youth volunteering groups, and sports teams all have a role to play in bringing communities together and promoting the sustained and meaningful interaction that is at the heart of strong, cohesive communities.

Faith communities also contribute to social and community cohesion through the values and activities that underpin good citizenship, such as, altruism, respect for others, ethical behaviour and community solidarity, alongside strong examples of inter-faith work and outward-facing activities. The work of those organisations is taking place within a broader framework set from the centre, which includes a robust commitment to equal opportunities for all. As hon. Members will know, from October this year the new commission for equality and human rights will be in place. That is a fundamental part of saying that equality is an issue for everyone and that we must eliminate racism from our society.

The Government have, in recent years, strengthened our legislative framework, and—this has not been discussed today but is of concern to hon. Members—welcomed the recent all-party parliamentary inquiry’s constructive and comprehensive report on anti-Semitism in particular.

Continued support for those organisations taking a stand against Islamist extremism is important. Cohesive communities can help in our efforts against extremism of all varieties, but our work on preventing violent extremism in the name of Islam requires something else as well. We know from our experience of 7/7 that even in the most apparently cohesive communities pockets of extremists can be operating. That is why my Department launched its “preventing violent extremism” action plan earlier this month, which is first and foremost about winning the struggle for hearts and minds, and supporting Muslim communities in building their resilience to extremists’ messages. It will effect a significant change in the Government’s work to tackle radicalisation, including a £6 million fund to support local community-based projects.

I shall respond to some of the issues that the hon. Member for Wycombe raised about the “preventing extremism together” project, which has been misrepresented. The project was put together in September 2005, and the report that only a few of its recommendations have been implemented is simply not correct. The working groups came together—I was part of them in my ministerial role—and the first steps were taken at that point to put together a set of practical recommendations to build a partnership between the Government and Muslim communities.

I shall respond to a question from the hon. Gentleman about a matter that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath also raised. The Government are not seeking to have one Muslim organisation to talk to. The reality of all groupings—we have been into the history of a number of other religious organisations—is that every community has many facets, and the Secretary of State has made it clear that it is important to work with organisations that support us in our role, that want to ensure that we actively tackle extremism and that are part of the drive to deal with the issues that concern us all. The truth is that the latest stage of our work and the action plan that the Secretary of State presented recently is supported by a whole range of Muslim organisations and scholars who see it as an enormously important step that we must take in our further work on the matter.

May I continue, because I fear that I may not be able to deal with some of the important issues that have been raised?

I shall deal with the points that the hon. Member for Newark unfortunately set out incorrectly. Let us be clear about Project Contest. The Home Secretary held a review of the counter-terrorism strategy in autumn 2006, and the result was cross-Government agreement that the DCLG was best placed to lead on “prevent” in building resilient communities. The creation of a new office dealing with sectarianism and terrorism has again been confirmed in the House, and the DCLG will continue to have that role, which was first put in place in May 2006. It will have an important role in working with other Departments on the whole Project Contest strategy, of which “prevent” is one part.

Unlike the Conservatives, whose view is that the issue could be dealt with by just one Minister and one Department, we recognise that it is hugely complex. It is important that not just the changes to the machinery of government in 2006, but those that are now coming forward mean that Departments will continue to act and to work in the roles that best suit those Departments and their overall brief.

Finally, the Commission on Integration and Cohesion is enormously important and we must be clear that it will look at a range of issues, including shared civic value, but there is no intention at this point—