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Speaker’s Statement: New Zealand Terror Attacks

Volume 656: debated on Friday 15 March 2019

In respectful memory of the 49 people who horrendously lost their lives in the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, and of the apparently dozens who were injured in the attack on the two mosques, as well as in solidarity with the people of New Zealand and Muslims around the world, I humbly suggest to the House—I know that both sides of the House are on the same page as me in this regard—that we hold one minute’s silence at 11 am. I think that some colleagues will want to say something about this matter now, before we get on to today’s business, sitting in private or any of that. I therefore call Minister Ben Wallace.

Let me say to the House on behalf of the Government that we send our sincere condolences to the victims and people of New Zealand for their loss, and that they have our offer of any assistance required to deal with this repugnant attack. The UK stands shoulder to shoulder with New Zealand against terrorism, and we will not falter in our commitment to uphold the values of tolerance, religious freedom and democracy that we both hold so dear.

Later today, the Home Secretary and I will be speaking to police counter-terrorism leaders and the security services to discuss what further measures we can take to protect our mosques and communities from any threat here in the United Kingdom. No one should be in any doubt that our police and security services treat all threats the same and all terrorists the same. No matter what community, religion or background they come from, a terrorist is a terrorist, and we shall deal with them exactly the same.

I thank the Minister for the clarity and passion with which he has addressed the House. Colleagues will not be surprised to know that I intend to write to my opposite number in New Zealand, and I know that I will be able to do so conveying the sympathies of the House and the collective outrage of the House at this bestial slaughter.

As the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, I thank you, Mr Speaker, for what you have just said. I also thank, most deeply and sincerely, the Security Minister for what he said about reassuring our own Muslim community in this country. Any of us who understand the Muslim community will understand why what has happened in Christchurch will be felt deeply by Muslims in this country and right across the world, but we do not have to be Muslim to understand their loss, and their sense of grief and fear; we just have to be fully paid-up members of the human race.

Mr Speaker, I warmly endorse what you and the Security Minister have said. Through you, may I express our solidarity with the Prime Minister of New Zealand, all the people of New Zealand and Muslims right across the world? In the wake of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice not just in this country but right across the world, let us say plainly and simply that we are not blind to what is going on; we have been here before on many different fronts and in the face of many different types of prejudice.

Let me also say, I think on behalf of the whole House, to the people of New Zealand: you are not alone in confronting hatred and prejudice. We understand what happens when people are bystanders to hatred and prejudice, so we walk alongside you and with you. Being a good ally is not just knowing when to stand with or beside you; sometimes it is knowing when to stand in front of you, when there is a battle to be fought.

It is time for all of us in this House, across the country and around the world to think about the hatred and prejudice facing not only Muslims but lots of minorities, and to understand what it genuinely means to be an ally and never to be a bystander. As we have seen painfully in Christchurch, this is where hatred and prejudice lead, but this is not necessarily how it needs to end.

This poisonous barbarity will not prevail; I think we are all clear about that. I deeply appreciate the words of the Minister and the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting). In saying what they have said, and doing so in the way in which they have, they have spoken for millions—if not hundreds of millions—of people around the world. I think colleagues will understand that there is a particular piquancy about me calling the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope).

May I, on my behalf and that of my constituents, express our sympathy and solidarity with the citizens of our twinned city of Christchurch in New Zealand? This grotesque manifestation of religious hatred is beyond comprehension, but as the Minister intimated, it requires us all to redouble our efforts to promote the virtues of tolerance and religious freedom as the best weapons against the outrage of terror.

I stand in solidarity with all those who have spoken, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your words. I have the great honour and privilege of representing a constituency where there is a large faith community of many faiths. I want to say to the Muslims in my constituency, as Jacinda Ardern said this morning to Muslims in New Zealand: we are you, and you are us, and this hatred is not us; it is not for us. I know the pain that my Muslim constituents will feel. The thought that people could walk into a place of prayer and face this is unbearable. It will give my constituents comfort that you have extended your thoughts to them, Mr Speaker, and that the Security Minister is attending to this. I wish to add my thanks to him and ask him to do everything he can to ensure that those in mosques across this country feel safe not just today but forever, and that they are welcome, because they are us and we are them.

On behalf of the Labour party and Opposition Members, I wholeheartedly concur with the Minister and all Members who have expressed their deepest sympathies to those in New Zealand. As you said, Mr Speaker, we should all stand shoulder to shoulder with the Government of New Zealand, the people of New Zealand and Muslims there, here and across the world. The Jewish theologian Martin Buber said that solidarity cannot be found in a mosque, synagogue or temple, but is found in the space between people. It is the duty of all of us, in every legislature across the planet, to reduce the space between people so that the great Abrahamic religions can operate in peace together across the world.

I beg to move, That the House sit in private.

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 163), and negatived.

Royal Assent

Before we proceed with the first piece of business, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2019

Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019

Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019

Stalking Protection Act 2019

Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2019

Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2019.

I am obliged, Mr Speaker. You just announced that my Parking (Code of Practice) Bill is now an Act of Parliament. It will bring fairness to motorists around the country when they park in private car parks. I want to place on record my thanks and appreciation to Members on both sides of the House who gave the Bill their support, thus enabling it to become law.

That is entirely proper. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his success. I note what I have always known: that he is a real House of Commons person. He always has been, and he remains so.