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Antisemitism in the UK

Volume 745: debated on Monday 19 February 2024

With permission, I will make a statement on antisemitism in the United Kingdom.

Last week, the Community Security Trust published its latest report on antisemitic incidents. It made for deeply disturbing reading. It showed that there were 4,103 instances of anti-Jewish racist hatred recorded across the UK in 2023. That is the highest annual total ever reported to the Community Security Trust. It is a 147% rise from the 1,662 antisemitic incidents the previous year, and 81% higher than the previous yearly record of 2,261 incidents, reported in 2021. Most shockingly, more than two thirds of the incidents reported last year occurred on or after 7 October, when Hamas perpetrated its barbaric terrorist attack on Israel. The report also indicates that antisemitism began spiking before Israel’s military response had begun: the week immediately following 7 October saw 416 antisemitic incidents reported to the CST, which is higher than any subsequent week.

The CST’s findings, which tally with increases in offending reported by the police, are nothing short of a disgrace and an outrage. Examples highlighted in the report are shocking and reprehensible. I urge all Members to read the report because it shines a light on the scale and character of this disgraceful problem. The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that members of Britain’s Jewish community are suffering a level of hatred and abuse which is frankly shameful.

There is no excuse for the behaviour outlined in the CST report or seen in some of the shocking incidents that have occurred recently. The situation in the middle east does not and will never give anyone the right to harass or intimidate others. I repeat, no one ever has that right. This Government will not stand for antisemitism of any kind. It is important to note that the police have comprehensive powers to deal with abhorrent conduct of this nature. For example, in the case of public order offences, where there is proof of racial or religious hostility on the part of the offender, offenders will be charged with racially or religiously aggravated versions of those offences, which will result in an uplift to their sentence. Furthermore, inciting racial hatred is an offence under the Public Order Act 1986, and anyone engaged in that appalling behaviour should expect to be arrested. Whenever and wherever criminality involving antisemitism occurs, this Government expect the police to investigate the incident fully and work with the Crown Prosecution Service to bring the perpetrators to justice.

We have been clear both before and since the 7 October attacks that we will do whatever it takes to keep Britain’s Jewish community safe. We have taken strong steps to confront the poison of antisemitism head on. We have increased funding to bolster security at Jewish schools, synagogues and other sites. A total of £36 million will be made available for these crucial protective measures across 2023-24 and the following financial year.

The Community Security Trust is an essential partner in our efforts to keep the Jewish community safe, and I pay tribute to it for the brilliant work that it does. The Home Office meets regularly with CST staff and co-operates closely with them. We keep dialogue open constantly, and both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have regular meetings with them. None the less, it should sadden us that these kind of precautions are necessary in the UK, in 2024. The work of organisations such as the CST is more important than ever, and we must remain vigilant. That includes sending the message loud and clear from this House—I hope from the whole House—that any instances of criminal behaviour will be identified, and those responsible caught and punished.

We are working closely with the police to ensure that hate crime and expressions of support for terrorist organisations are met with the full force of the law. The idea that anyone could celebrate or valorise Hamas for the appalling terrorist atrocities that it perpetrated on 7 October is beyond comprehension. It goes completely against the values of this country. Last month, we proscribed Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation that actively promotes and encourages terrorism and is responsible for spreading antisemitism. Hamas itself, of course, is already a proscribed organisation. Anyone who belongs to, or invites or expresses support for, a proscribed organisation is committing an offence. The penalties upon conviction are a maximum term of 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.

The right to protest is of course a fundamental part of our democracy, but that right cannot be exercised in a way that intimidates others or invokes fear in them. It is totally unacceptable for a small minority to incite hatred and commit crimes. The police have powers to deal with that, and we expect them to act. Where further powers are needed, we will not hesitate to act, which is why we recently announced a new package of measures to crack down on dangerous disorder—in particular, that committed at protests.

The CST’s findings on incidents within the sphere of higher education were especially disturbing. No one should be subject to antisemitic abuse while at university. Every effort must be taken to prevent hatred from flourishing in schools, universities and colleges. That is why we announced a further £7 million of funding to help to tackle antisemitism in education.

We are equally unwavering in our stance towards hatred and abuse directed at British Muslims. The Government have been in regular contact with representatives of the Muslim community, and we are aware of an increased number of reports of anti-Muslim hatred as well. That is of course unacceptable, and we have made additional funding available for protective security measures at mosques and Muslim faith schools.

Last month, we marked Holocaust Memorial Day. Just as we remember the horrors of the past, we must remain alert to present-day dangers. Antisemitism is an ancient hatred, which has reared its ugly head in the most abhorrent and evil ways throughout history. The CST’s findings show that we have much more to do if we are to rid our society of this poison, but the Government will never stop trying. We will never give up on this fight. It matters too much. Of course, that extends to ensuring that Members of Parliament are protected from acts of similar hatred, which some have suffered. I am thinking particularly of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), who is in the Chamber, whose office suffered a terrible arson attack just a few weeks ago.

To the antisemites, we say this: “You will not win. You will be shown up for the despicable racists you are.” To our Jewish friends and colleagues, I say this: “We stand with you. We understand your fears and we share your pain. We will protect you—today, tomorrow and always.” I commend this statement to the House.

I welcome the Minister’s statement, and advance sight of it. The appalling and intolerable rise in antisemitism in Britain in recent months, as set out in the report of the Community Security Trust last week, is a stain on our society. We must never relent in our work to root it out—something that I know the whole House will want to affirm.

The more than 4,000 incidents in 2023 alone are an urgent reminder of the responsibility that we all have to stamp out the scourge of antisemitism wherever it is found. I join the Minister in thanking the CST for the remarkable and tireless work that it does each day, alongside the police, to keep our Jewish community safe. Having supported and worked with it over many years, I know the incredible forensic work that it does in monitoring antisemitism, and the physical protection that it provides for Jewish schools, synagogues and other community events. We owe it our thanks.

We welcome and support the Government’s commitment of additional funding for the CST. The incidents that it reports include a violent, abusive attack on a Jewish man on his way home from synagogue, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and a 200% increase in antisemitic incidents at universities. Just 10 days ago, a Jewish student residence in Leeds, Hillel House, was vandalised with antisemitic graffiti. For the years they are studying, universities are students’ homes. No one should ever feel unsafe in their home, or wherever they are. Everybody has the right to live in freedom from fear.

The CST’s report also found the number of online incidents of antisemitism rising by 257%—an ancient hatred being resuscitated through modern means, to proliferate and promote extremism. I agree with the Minister that it is unconscionable that one of the steepest surges in antisemitism came in the week following Hamas’s barbaric terrorist attack on Israel on 7 October—the deadliest day for Jews since the holocaust—with individuals in this country celebrating those scenes of unimaginable horror. There must be zero tolerance for the glorification of proscribed terrorist groups on Britain’s streets. We support the proscribing of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and ensuring that those who commit antisemitic hate crimes always face the full force of the law.

In the weeks following 7 October, I met the CST together with Tell MAMA, which monitors Islamophobia and has also identified a huge increase in Islamophobic incidents and hate. They were united in their call for an end to hatred and prejudice, to antisemitism, and to Islamophobia. We must never allow the terrible events and conflicts in the middle east, which cause deep distress across our communities, to lead to increased tension, hatred, prejudice, abuse or crimes in our communities at home. I welcome the points that the Minister made about ensuring that extremist incidents on marches are also addressed with the full force of the law, but I press him to go further in a few key areas.

First, the counter-extremism strategy is now eight years out of date. There are reports that the work has been delayed again. When will the Government come forward with an updated strategy? The Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Government’s own experts have warned that there is a gap in the law around hateful extremism that is allowing toxic antisemitic views and conspiracy theories to be spread, and making it harder to police them. I have asked this of Ministers before: will the Minister update us on what action is being taken?

Will the Government also urgently look again at the decision that Ministers took around a year ago to downgrade the reporting of non-crime hate incidents, particularly around Islamophobia and antisemitism, to ensure that those who engage in vile and vitriolic religious hatred can always be properly monitored and identified by the police?

Finally, I ask particularly about online antisemitism, which has increased. We have seen a huge increase on X, formerly Twitter, at the same time as some of its monitoring and standards have been downgraded. Have the Government raised that directly with Elon Musk and X? I urge them to do so, and to set out how the Online Harms Bill will address that, because there are real concerns that it will not go far enough to address the changes.

We stand ready to work with the Government on this. Those on both sides of the House will want us to stand together with Jewish communities across the country, in solidarity against hatred, prejudice and antisemitism in all its forms. All of us must stand together and say that antisemitism must never have any place in the United Kingdom.

I thank the shadow Home Secretary for her comments and questions. She asked about protests. I agree that it is completely unacceptable for people to seek to intimidate others, to incite racial hatred or to glorify terrorism. In fact, it is illegal. The police have made 600 arrests at protests since 7 October, and we in Government are urging the police to use all their powers to ensure that hatred is not incited in the course of the marches that have happened.

The shadow Home Secretary rightly asked about online safety, where a great deal of hatred is fomented. We are engaging with online platforms on a regular basis; I think the Home Secretary is due to travel to California next week to discuss these issues, among others. From memory, schedule 7 to the Online Safety Act 2023 contains a list of priority offences, one of which is inciting hatred. When that part of the Act comes into force, large social media platforms will be under an obligation to take proactive steps in advance, not retrospective steps after the event, in order to prevent priority offences from taking place. That will include hate crime of the kind she mentioned.

The right hon. Lady asked about non-crime hate incidents. The changes to the guidance were designed to ensure that minor spats between neighbours, or expressions of essentially legitimate political views, do not end up wasting police time by getting recorded. Where things do not meet the criminal threshold but might be useful in pursuing a criminal investigation later, they will still be recorded. To be clear, inciting racial hatred is a criminal offence under sections 17 and 18 of the Public Order Act 1986; causing harassment, alarm and distress through threatening and abusive language, or causing fear of violence, is an offence under sections 4, 4A and 5 of that Act; and there are various other criminal offences as well. Those things meet the criminal threshold and are therefore not affected by any change to non-crime hate incident recording rules in any event.

Updating the law and the approach to extremism is kept under continual review. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spends a great deal of time considering the question of extremism. In relation to criminal law, just a week or two ago we announced various changes for which we intend to legislate via Government amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill when it comes back to the House on Report in a few weeks’ time. Those measures will tighten up a number of areas relating to protest, including removing the “reasonable and lawful excuse” defence to various public order offences, making it easier for the police to have a blanket prohibition on face coverings, which are often menacing but also make it difficult to identify people committing criminal offences at protests. We will make it an offence to climb on key war memorials, which is grossly disrespectful, and introduce other measures as well. We keep things under continual review, so if further changes to the law are needed, the right hon. Lady can be assured that we will make them.

It is this Government’s view that antisemitism is a scourge that must be fought online, on the streets, through the law and through the courts. I am sure the whole House will be united in that fight.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his hard work and genuine commitment to seriously tackling this issue, and I was pleased to work with him and CST last year. The reality is that the Jewish community has been demonised and targeted, is scared and has been let down by the authorities. The Jewish community needs its champions and friends to speak in its defence without fear or favour. Lord Ian Austin, who sits in the other place, is one such courageous advocate who has campaigned for decades against antisemitism and Islamism. Does my right hon. Friend share my deep concern about organisations such as Midland Heart, which has suspended Lord Austin as its chair merely for his speaking against Islamism, terrorism and antisemitism?

Let me first pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend for her work during her time as Home Secretary. We worked closely together, and I can tell the House that the Jewish community had no stronger advocate in the Government on these issues, particularly during the events of the autumn. I agree with what she said about Lord Austin. I have read the tweets that he sent, and it strikes me that there is nothing unreasonable about them. He was criticising Islamism, which is a form of extremism. That is obviously not the same as the Muslim community more widely, as everybody knows. I do not think that the actions proposed by Midland Heart are in the slightest bit reasonable. I join my right hon. Friend the DLUHC Secretary in urging Midland Heart to urgently reconsider what it has done. Lord Austin is a tireless campaigner against racism, was a great servant of this House when he was here, and does not deserve the treatment he has recently received.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. The sharp rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in the UK is extremely concerning, and the SNP extends our heartfelt sympathies to victims of antisemitism and all forms of hate crime.

In today’s statement, I see references to “funding to bolster security”, “caught and punished”, “the full force of the law”, and “a maximum of 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine”, none of which I disagree with in any way, shape or form. We need to implement the law robustly. However, I am a bit concerned that there is only one line in the statement that talks about education. It says that £7 million of funding will be delivered “in education”, but I would like it to say “through education”, because surely we can eradicate antisemitism through education. Through incarceration, it becomes a lot harder.

Part of Scotland’s strength is our diversity. We value Scotland’s Jewish communities and other faith and belief communities. We recognise the important role that they play in making Scotland a safer, stronger and more inclusive society in which everyone can live in peace and work to realise their potential. In June 2017, the Scottish Government formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. Formally adopting the IHRA definition demonstrates the Scottish Government’s determination that there should be no place in Scotland for any form of antisemitism or religious hatred that makes our communities feel insecure or threatened in their daily lives.

The Scottish Government’s recently published hate crime strategy sets out their strategic priorities for tackling hate crime, including antisemitism. It was informed by the communities with lived experiences of hate crime. It makes a number of commitments, including ensuring improved support for victims, improving data and evidence, and developing effective approaches to preventing hate crime. If I have one ask of the Minister, it is to reconsider how much money we are putting into educating people, so that we can all eradicate this heinous crime.

The hon. Gentleman asks about education. I made it clear in my earlier remarks that, in the autumn statement on 22 November, the Government announced a further £7 million of funding to help tackle antisemitism in education and ensure that support is in place for schools and colleges. In addition to that—since he asks about education—on 5 November the Department for Education announced a five-point plan to protect Jewish students on university campuses, which included a call for visas to be withdrawn from international students who incite racial hatred, asking vice-chancellors to act decisively against staff and students involved in antisemitism, and meeting the Office for Students, the independent regulator, to find out what more it can do to make it clear that antisemitism and racial hatred incited on campuses should be referred to the police, and to explore an antisemitism charter in higher education. I accept the point that education at school and universities is important, but that is an area where the Department for Education is taking a lot of action in England. I would certainly urge the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland to do the same.

Vicious campaigns of antisemitism are occurring in many universities in this country. Jewish students have visited me to tell me about it, and some of the accounts are bone chilling. The failure of the Metropolitan police to deal with some of the fascist-style racists in the London marches has been a historic disgrace that has unleashed more attacks. The aggressive hounding by protesters of MPs, especially Labour MPs out campaigning and a Conservative colleague at his home, is a real threat to the democratic process.

I am concerned about reports of a magistrates court judge liking an antisemitic post on social media, having passed an extremely lenient sentence on protesters convicted of terrorism offences. This judge apparently trains junior members of the judiciary and is involved in judicial appointments of other judges. Should that not result in a full, deep investigation, with a past docket of cases being checked for bias and a potential suspension, pending the interim report?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question. Ministers are very clear that where behaviour on marches crosses the criminal threshold—inciting racial hatred, causing fear of harassment, alarm and distress, terrorism offences or glorifying proscribed organisations—we expect the police to take robust action and to make arrests. They have made about 600 arrests so far. In fact, some brave police officers were injured in the course of trying to make an arrest in London on Saturday.

I echo and strongly endorse my right hon. and learned Friend’s point about Members of Parliament. No Member of Parliament, as a democratically elected representative of the people, should be subject to harassment or intimidation. As he said, some Labour MPs have been, which is completely unacceptable. We have seen the incident at the office of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), which was completely unacceptable—in that case, I believe arrests have been made. And, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) suffered a terrible incident at his home address just a few days ago. All that is unacceptable and illegal, and I expect the police not only to protect MPs, but to identify and arrest the culprits afterwards.

In relation to the judge, the judiciary is of course independent. Matters of judicial conduct are subject to investigation by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office. From the account of the incident that I have heard, and which my right hon. and learned Friend gave, that is the kind of thing that I would expect the JCIO to investigate.

As the Minister knows, the Home Affairs Committee has been carrying out an inquiry into the policing of protests. We have been particularly appalled to hear evidence of the huge increase in incidents of antisemitism perpetrated in the wake of the 7 October terrorist attacks. The CST has recorded that 43% of antisemitism incidents last year explicitly referenced the Israel-Palestine 7 October attacks and the conflict in Gaza. Attacks on Jewish and Muslim communities here in Britain in response to overseas conflicts are never acceptable. What more can be done to stop the exploitation of such overseas conflicts and the effect that it has on community cohesion in this country?

The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee asks a very good question. It disturbs me deeply, as I am sure it does many Members, to see conflict occurring elsewhere in the world playing out on our own streets and leading to tension, to put it politely, and to a lot more—often hatred—being incited domestically. As I said, there is no excuse whatsoever for the events in the middle east, in Gaza, to lead to antisemitic hatred on the streets of the United Kingdom. That is completely unacceptable, and I am disturbed to see people engaging in that kind of behaviour.

Across the House, we as political leaders need to make it clear to our communities that that behaviour is not acceptable and not consistent with British values, and that our laws will be rigorously and robustly enforced. We have values here of tolerance and mutual respect; we abhor terrorism, violence and intimidation. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that we do not want to see that anywhere on our streets, and no one—no matter how strongly they feel about what is happening in Gaza—should behave in a way that is intimidating or incites racial hatred. If we all, across this House, speak unanimously with one voice on that topic, it will be heard by all communities in this country.

When British Jews woke up on 7 October to the pogroms and the associated rapes, butchery of children and hostage-taking, we expected sympathy from people on the streets of Britain. Instead, we have seen people attacked for speaking Hebrew, Jewish businesses attacked, Jews assaulted, and hate marches on our streets. As we saw again this weekend, the fellow holding the sign to remind marchers that Hamas are a terrorist organisation was the one who was dragged off and had his collar felt by the police, while people continue to march through the streets with cries for jihad and intifadas and in support of the Houthis.

What everyone says in this place is all fine, but the reality is that the demonisation of the world’s only Jewish state is playing out in the demonisation of Jews in this country. In our universities, the embedding of antizionism— in and of itself pure Jew hate in many cases—is being wrought on Jewish students. So although the measures that have been outlined are fine, there is a deeper problem in our society: Jews do not feel safe in this country. More must be done to tackle the real root cause of Jew hate.

I was as appalled as my hon. Friend when some people—a small but none the less significant minority—reacted to what happened on 7 October with a deeply disturbing jubilation. That is sick, it is unacceptable and, depending on how it is expressed, it is frankly illegal, because encouraging acts of terrorism or acts by a proscribed organisation, which Hamas are, is a criminal offence. As I have said, there is no excuse whatsoever for that kind of behaviour. I was as sickened as he was, and as I am sure the whole House was, to see that some people—some of our fellow citizens—reacted to what happened on 7 October with apparent jubilation instead of with horror and sympathy.

In relation to the police response, 600 arrests have been made at the various protests that have followed 7 October. We have repeatedly met police—I have lost count of the number of meetings that we have had in the past three or four months—to urge them to use the full extent of the law and to show zero tolerance to people who break the law and incite racial hatred. As I say, 600 arrests have been made.

In relation to individual incidents, there is sometimes more to them than meets the eye, but I will ask for an account of the incident that my hon. Friend referred to. He is absolutely right to say that no member of the Jewish community, whether on the streets of central London, at university or at school, should suffer fear and intimidation. The truth is that, in the past few months in particular, they have suffered fear and intimidation, and that is unacceptable. We expect the police to use the full force of the law to stop that, and I know that the House will speak with one voice in condemning it unreservedly.

Does the Minister agree that the attack on the constituency office of my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), was an utterly unacceptable attack on democracy? It is a matter of great sadness that this Parliament will lose a fantastic MP because of the intimidation associated with his being prepared to stand up for his Jewish constituents and for Israel.

I am pleased to report to the House that arrests have been made in relation to the appalling attack on the office of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green, and I understand that the perpetrators are currently on remand in prison. It is a tragedy that someone with his exemplary track record of public service feels that he is unable to stand for Parliament again, partly as a result of the intimidation that he has suffered, particularly the arson attack on his office. As I am sure Members from across the House will acknowledge, he has been a fearless advocate on behalf of his many Jewish constituents. It is a loss to them and to Parliament that he will not contest the next election. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that no other Members end up feeling that way. I do not want—I am sure that none of us does—to live in a country where democratically elected representatives feel any form of fear or intimidation. That is not how democracy works. In this country, we settle matters at the ballot box, not through intimidation tactics or violence on the streets. That is a principle that each and every one of us must defend to our last breath.

I do apologise; I called two Members from the Government Benches, so I will now call two from the Opposition Benches.

I welcome the strong statements made by the Minister and the shadow Home Secretary. I hope that, in tackling the deep-seated antisemitism to which the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) referred, we can work in a united way across the House, and not seek to make cheap political points on any individual cases.

We have had attacks on Jews in theatres in London; we have had attacks on Jews in campuses, particularly in Leeds and Birmingham, as other hon. Members have said; and, as the right hon. and learned Member for Northampton North (Sir Michael Ellis) said, a judge has failed to penalise three people for glorifying terrorism in London. People in all sorts of sectors, locations and areas across our country are worried that antisemitism is spreading. The Government’s response needs to be co-ordinated. When will a new hate crime action plan be published? The last one, despite consultation in the interim, was published five years ago.

I share the right hon. Lady’s horror at the various events highlighted in the Community Security Trust’s report, including an incident at a theatre where a Jewish man was essentially hounded out—a disgraceful and despicable act that has no place in a civilised society such as ours. She mentioned the case that the former Attorney General, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton North (Sir Michael Ellis), raised. I spoke to the current Attorney General earlier today, and I understand that the Crown Prosecution Service is reviewing that case as well; it deeply concerns me, as I know it concerns the right hon. Lady.

Our strategy in relation to extremism is something that the Communities Secretary continues to consider, but the approach the Government have taken is one of action, rather than words. For example, we have legislated via the Online Safety Act, which contains some very strong measures, as I said to the shadow Home Secretary a few minutes ago. When I was technology Minister, she and I discussed at some length the measures needed in that Act to combat hate—measures based, in fact, on some of the terrible experiences of antisemitism that the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) has herself suffered. I have talked about the increased funding for the Community Security Trust, the Department for Education’s plan in universities and schools, and the extra money for the Holocaust Educational Trust, so the Government are taking action rather than simply expending more words. However, as I said, this is an issue that the Communities Secretary is extremely alive to.

Sadly, we have seen a trebling of antisemitic incidents on university campuses between 2022 and 2023: the CST recorded 67 incidents on campuses in the month following the horrendous attacks of 7 October, compared with just 12 in the same period the previous year, and we have heard from other right hon. and hon. Members about the terrible reports of antisemitic graffiti and harassment of Jewish students coming out of Leeds and Birmingham universities earlier this month. That is why my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I very much welcomed the £7 million to tackle antisemitism in schools and universities that the Government announced in November, which the Minister has referred to. However, since then, we have had no update on how many applications have been made to that fund and how the money has been allocated. When will we get an update on some of the many actions the Minister has outlined, and particularly on how that £7 million has been allocated so far?

I would be very happy to come back to the hon. Lady and other Members with an update on that question. It is an evolving situation, but I echo her comments. It is particularly concerning when universities—the training grounds for the next generation—appear to have been hijacked in some places by antisemites: when Jewish students are being intimidated and harassed and Jewish societies have their meetings picketed, with people standing outside shouting abuse and worse. That is completely unacceptable, and we should all support the Department for Education’s work in this area and call on university vice-chancellors to show absolutely zero tolerance for that kind of behaviour—to stamp on it hard wherever they find it.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, and join him in paying tribute to the work of the Community Security Trust. Today, however, the most senior Liberal Democrat councillor in Harrogate and Knaresborough has been exposed for tweeting horrendous antisemitic comments for the past five weeks. She had hundreds of followers, including many senior local Liberal Democrats; she tweeted over 500 times on the subject, and those tweets were read over 10,000 times, so it beggars belief that no Liberal Democrat knew what she was saying. They must have known, but in the five weeks she has been tweeting, they did nothing until it was exposed in the media today.

In our politics, we have seen antisemitism in meetings; we have seen it online; we have seen it in Rochdale; and now we have seen it in Harrogate. Does my right hon. Friend agree that political leaders—indeed, everyone in every political party—must act immediately if they encounter antisemitism in their midst, not wait to see whether anyone notices?

Yes. My hon. Friend is quite right: it is incumbent on political leaders, from whom many other members of the community take their lead, to act immediately, not just when antisemitism gets exposed in the media or when pressure builds, and not because it is convenient but because it is right. Whether it is the example in Harrogate that my hon. Friend gave or, indeed, the recent example in Rochdale, acting immediately from principle is what counts, not just reacting to public pressure a few days later.

Jewish people in my Greater Manchester constituency have had to endure a 163% increase in antisemitic hate crime, as detailed in the CST’s annual incidents report. Some of that is blatant targeting of Jews; in other cases, it is much more sinister, targeting Zionists. When we see a banner saying “Zionists not welcome”, we know what it means: “Jews not welcome”. Let us call it out for what it is: anti-Zionism is antisemitism.

The Jewish community in my Bury South constituency have benefited from the Government’s additional £3 million to increase the already extensive security provisions. I thank the Government again for that temporary funding, but would they be prepared to continue that funding, and —given the extensive threats to the Jewish community—consider making it permanent?

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Very often, anti-Zionism is nothing more than anti-Jewish sentiment; it is antisemitism, and we should call it out where it happens, as he has quite rightly done.

The extra money for the Community Security Trust will apply in the current financial year; it will be a £3 million increase to £18 million in total. It will also apply next year, in financial year 2024-25, and it will be kept under review thereafter.

As one of the two Members of Parliament for the Metropolitan Borough of Bury, I support exactly what my colleague, the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), has said. It is important not to cheapen this debate, and we do not want to do so, but how political parties deal with antisemitism within their ranks is crucial and sends an important signal to the country about how this Parliament treats the issue. Does my right hon. Friend share, therefore, my genuine disappointment about the weak, flip-flopping and changing position of the Labour leader, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), concerning the remarks of Labour’s now ex-candidate for the Rochdale by-election? Martin Forde KC, who compiled a report for the Labour party on bullying, sexism and racism within its ranks, has described those remarks as “clearly antisemitic”.

As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) a few minutes ago, it is incumbent on political leaders—particularly those who aspire to the highest office in the land—to act quickly and from principle. I am disappointed that after the comments of Labour’s former Rochdale candidate became public, it took a number of days for the Leader of the Opposition to act. I would suggest that he reflects soberly on that; I am disappointed that it took so long, and on reflection, he is probably disappointed with himself as well. It might be useful if he said so publicly.

The figures from the CST are absolutely horrific. Antisemitism is absolutely unacceptable; hate crime, including Islamophobia, is absolutely unacceptable; but does the Minister think there is sufficient capacity within the police to investigate the full range of issues that are being raised? What is the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in preventing the discrimination that can contribute to this hate?

I think there is enough resource in policing. As I may have said once or twice before, we have record police officer numbers—a total of 149,500 or so was reached in March last year—so we do have sufficient resources. The police are prioritising this issue, and of course, they can work with the EHRC to take criminal action where the EHRC identifies examples of antisemitism.

Following the battle of Cable Street against Mosley’s blackshirts, the Public Order Act 1936 introduced measures that severely restricted the ability of Nazi-type movements to march in predominantly Jewish areas. Is the Minister satisfied that the police of today are sufficiently aware of the powers they have to stop marches taking routes that go through areas that are predominantly associated with a threatened community?

Yes, I am, and the police do it. For example, on Saturday, a convoy was planned from the north of England to north London, many parts of which have Jewish communities. The police stopped that convoy because they were concerned that it would inflame tensions and that the convoy would engage in intimidatory behaviour.

Under sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, the police also have powers to place conditions on both processions and assemblies where they feel they will lead to disorder, and they use those conditions; in fact, they used them at the weekend. The marchers originally planned to go right up to the Israeli embassy in Kensington, but conditions were imposed to prevent their getting within undue proximity of that embassy. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), who is sitting next to me on the Front Bench, made direct representations to the police on behalf of her constituents, raising concerns about the marchers’ plans. The police have those powers, and have used them more than once, as recently as this weekend.

The Minister will be aware that the largest Jewish school in Europe—JFS—is in my constituency, and I want to thank the CST for its vigilance and service on behalf of all the students and their families. Sadly, only last month a student was physically attacked by a group of youths outside the school, and those youths goaded the student about the situation in Palestine. Would the Minister agree that nothing can justify such an attack on an innocent schoolchild, and does he accept that, whatever one believes about the actions of the Israeli Government, racism and anti-Jewish hatred must not be allowed to hide behind any political mask?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The events in Gaza, or indeed anywhere else in the world, provide no basis, reason or excuse at all to inflict racist abuse on citizens in this country. There is no justification whatsoever for antisemitic attacks on Jewish people in this country because of what is happening elsewhere in the world. What happened to that boy outside the Jewish free school, JFS, in his constituency and what has happened—sadly, tragically—to thousands of members of the Jewish community in recent months is totally unacceptable and totally without excuse, and the police should act to make arrests where that happens.

I pay tribute to the Community Security Trust, which is based in the Hendon constituency, for the work it does—not only the full-time staff, but the volunteers. Sadly, the number of offences we have seen does not surprise me. The continued protests on the streets of London are simply normalising antisemitism in the United Kingdom, but what bothers me the most are offences on university campuses; and more and more of my constituents are telling me that their children will not be going to university as a result. Some 245 universities have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, but others continue to refuse to do so. Does the Minister agree that there is no logical reason why any vice-chancellor would not do so?

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work of the Community Security Trust, as well as to Mark Gardner—its chief executive—and all its staff and volunteers, and the people who fundraise for it. The trust’s work has never been more important than it is now.

I agree with what my hon. Friend has said about universities. I can see no reason at all why every vice-chancellor and every university should not adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and I call on them today to do so. There is no excuse whatsoever for failing to act. I endorse and echo the five-point plan set out by the Department for Education to get this issue on campuses tackled. It is deeply disturbing, and I want to see vice-chancellors and other university leaders do a lot more to stamp out the scourge of antisemitism, which is all too present on our country’s campuses.

This weekend, my heart broke to see some 20 officers and multiple police vans stationed outside my synagogue, and that this was deemed necessary for our protection. The conflict in the middle east is being used to radicalise people against British Jews online, in our schools and universities, and on our streets. Additional security funding is welcome, as is the funding for education settings, but what financial support and resource will be provided to local authorities for projects working across our faith and community settings at a local grassroots level to bring communities together, rather than allow them to be driven further apart?

The hon. Member is right to say that grassroots work is needed. The £7 million I referred to earlier is part of that, and organisations such as the CST, which the Government substantially fund or provide with quite a lot of money—£18 million a year—do good work in this area as well. I echo her sentiment and that of others: there is no excuse, no reason and no possible justification for targeting Jewish people in this country, and the full force of the law must come down on anyone who does so.

I cannot have been the only one, the weekend before last, to have watched with a mixture of horror and incredulity as several Labour Front Benchers were sent out to justify retaining their Rochdale candidate, only for their leader to reverse his position 48 hours later based on the comments at a meeting and to praise himself for his decisive action. Then they had to suspend their candidate for Hyndburn for comments at the same meeting. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is serious about having changed his party, as he repeatedly claims, does my right hon. Friend agree that he should publish a full list of the attendees of that meeting and a full transcript of what was said by whom, so that voters in the north-west can know who they are voting for and what they actually believe?

My hon. Friend is quite right; I agree with what he has said. The Labour leader—the Leader of the Opposition—should publish a full list of who was at that meeting and a full transcript to show that he is serious about tackling antisemitism, and I call on him now to do that. He should have reacted much sooner. It should not have taken 48 hours to suspend a candidate who had said obviously antisemitic things. I am deeply disappointed by that inexcusable 48-hour delay, but he now has a chance to make at least partial amends by publishing that list and transcript.

I welcome the comments today from the Government in clamping down on the astonishing and worrying spike we have seen in antisemitic incidents since 7 October. Antisemitism is vile and disgusting, and it infects every area of society—including, sadly, politics—and where we see it, we need to root it out and remove people from the process. To that end, I have written to the Minister for Women and Equalities, the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), asking if we can have a cross-party discussion about how we deal with the problem in politics —because we cannot pretend that it does not exist; it does. I wrote to her in November and again last week, so can the Minister please take forward that suggestion, and see if the Minister for Women and Equalities will convene a cross-party discussion on the issue?

Of course, there are many all-party parliamentary groups and other cross-party groups taking an active interest in this area, and I am sure that the Home Affairs Committee will consider it as well. I think I am going to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) at some point later this evening, so I will happily remind her about the hon. Lady’s letter.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House and making this important statement. Does he agree that even more alarming than the sheer number of antisemitic incidents now being reported on a daily basis is creeping tolerance across so much of our national life and so many of our institutions—universities are just one example—of an acceptable level of antisemitism, so long as it is dressed up in a bit of Israel hatred? Does he agree that that is what we need to be focusing on tackling, because at the moment, as the CST report demonstrates, this country is moving in a very serious and dark direction?

Yes, I agree completely with my right hon. Friend. We need to show zero tolerance to all forms of antisemitism. It is incumbent on everybody—particularly Members of Parliament, but everyone in civil society, including university vice-chancellors, teachers and lecturers, as well as people in the workplace—and every single member of our society has an obligation to call out antisemitism when they see it, and indeed any racism when they see it; unless people are willing to do that, there is a danger that it creeps in, as my right hon. Friend has just said. I think it starts with Members of Parliament calling it out in their own constituencies, and doing so publicly. That is what zero tolerance means: never turning a blind eye, never turning the other cheek, and never crossing the road and passing by on the other side. It means always calling out antisemitism and racism wherever we see it. That is an extremely important message.

As has already been said, the CST report includes shocking figures about the rise in antisemitism in university settings. The Union of Jewish Students has warned repeatedly about a climate of fear for Jewish students on campus, and the incidents in recent weeks will only have deepened that fear. Can the Minister say a little more about what he and his Government colleagues will do, working with our universities, to ensure that Jewish students can feel safe and secure during their time studying?

As we have discussed already, Members across the House are particularly concerned about what is happening on university campuses. As I have said a couple of times, the Department for Education has a five-point plan, which it set out just a few weeks ago and which includes withdrawing visas from international students who are inciting racial hatred. Anyone who is not a British citizen who incites racial hatred or commits criminal offences in this area should be removed from the United Kingdom. People who come to this country need to respect our laws, and our citizens and their rights and dignity, and people who are not British citizens should be removed either under the Immigration Act 1971 or section 32 of the UK Borders Act 2007 if they incite racial hatred; I know the immigration Ministers will take action there.

We want vice-chancellors to do more and have written to them asking them to do so. We have had meetings with the Office for Students—the regulator—to make sure it is doing more to clean up what is happening on campuses; we are doing more to make sure that criminal referrals—from universities to the police—are made when antisemitism happens; and, as I have said, I think and the Department for Education thinks that every single university should sign up to the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Does my right hon. Friend know that synagogues in the west end of London are being targeted by these so-called protesters, and that this has happened not only once or twice but now on multiple occasions—to the extent that they are even looking to see what time the services finish so that old people, the young, parents and so forth are being terrorised? This is not supporting Palestine; this is antisemitism—this is attacking Jewish people. I hope my right hon. Friend will call in the commissioner and sort it out.

My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. Gathering outside a synagogue with the purpose of intimidating people coming out is completely unacceptable. That is not protest; it is deliberate intimidation, and it has no place on our streets whatsoever. The police have substantial powers to act in this area; I will not recite all the various sections and Acts, but the police have numerous powers to act. We have regular meetings with policing leaders—one is coming up in just a few days—and I will certainly be raising this point. If my hon. Friend could send me a couple of examples, I would be very happy to raise them with the Metropolitan police in the coming days.

I thank the Minister for his statement, for his robust answers and for his strength of purpose in supporting Jewish people across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; he is very clearly doing that. Have discussions taken place with the devolved Administrations, in particular the Northern Ireland Assembly, regarding a support fund for those who feel unsafe in their current homes and need help to move to a safe place, bearing in mind that we are now in a scenario where Jewish families are staying indoors—afraid to go out unless it is essential—due to so-called peace protesters who are making our streets feel unsafe for a section of our community?

There is nothing peaceful about deliberately intimidating Jewish people going to synagogues, as we discussed just a moment ago, and I would be happy to look into the question of the funding available for devolved Administrations to do work in this area.

The shocking rise in antisemitic attacks reported by the CST is bad enough, but the trouble is that that was last year and the escalation has continued into this year. People in London suffer the hate marches literally every Saturday—with banned organisations displaying their flags, placards that are clearly antisemitic and vile slogans uttered—and after those so-called peaceful protests disperse, some protestors go and intimidate people in the restaurants, bars and theatres throughout London, so much so now that my Jewish constituents are afraid to go into central London on a Saturday for fear of what they will suffer. There is a solution to this, and that is that anyone who is breaking the law should be arrested by the police. We did that in 2011, when there were the problems of the riots. Those people should be arrested, put through courts—overnight if necessary—with clear police evidence, and then jailed for their crimes. It is not acceptable that such intimidation can take place on our streets, when our people feel unsafe.

My hon. Friend is quite right; members of the Jewish community do feel intimidated going into central London, particularly when the marches are happening, and that is not right and is not acceptable. No one should feel that intimidation when simply coming into the centre of our capital city. He is quite right in what he says about applying the law. There are numerous relevant laws. He mentioned displaying banners of proscribed organisations such as Hamas and now Hizb ut-Tahrir. Displaying those flags and emblems is a criminal offence and we expect the police to make arrests. Inciting racial hatred is a criminal offence. Causing someone to suffer harassment, alarm or intimidation through threatening or abusive language is a criminal offence. Causing someone to fear violence is a criminal offence. We expect the police to apply those laws not sometimes but always. They have made 600 arrests so far already, and we are meeting them on a highly regular basis, including later this week, to make sure that those laws continue to be robustly applied, not just sometimes but always, for all of the reasons my hon. Friend has just eloquently laid out.

Let us be clear: antisemitism, like other forms of racism, has no place in the UK or elsewhere and the perpetrators of antisemitism should face the full force of the law. Does the Minister agree that, because an accusation of antisemitism is so serious, it must not be made either lightly or casually? We must have cool heads and not label groups or communities as antisemitic, because that merely causes more division and more problems. We have to be very careful how we use this word if we want to maintain the public’s trust that people are not being falsely accused of antisemitism.

No one today in this House, on either side, has labelled any group collectively as antisemitic. This is about individuals and their behaviour, and where individuals harass or intimidate members of the Jewish community, where they engage in antisemitism and where anyone engages in racism, we will call it out, and where it is illegal, the police will make arrests and prosecute it. This is about individual acts, which all of us I hope collectively condemn. No one is tarring an entire community at all; no one has done that on either side. This is about calling out, tackling and where appropriate prosecuting individual acts of antisemitism. They have sadly become only too frequent in recent months, and the whole House should unite in standing against that.

There is a growing and deeply unpleasant trend of personalising protests. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) has been subjected to that recently, as have other Members of the House. Just to raise his particular case, 80 or so protesters were screaming right outside his door, with a police car between them and his house, for over two hours. The police did nothing. I personally think that is wrong, and that the police need to get a grip and start arresting these people for being intimidating. That is all it was: intimidation. It was not a lawful protest in my view. Does my right hon. Friend the Minister agree that the police are not doing enough to crack down on such appalling behaviour?

What happened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) at his house was completely unacceptable. It was intimidation; it was an attempt, I would suggest, to coerce a Member of Parliament and inhibit him from doing his democratically elected duty. I am sure everyone in the House would unreservedly condemn the behaviour of that mob outside my right hon. Friend’s house.

Various legal powers are relevant, including section 42 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, which gives the police the power to direct people outside a person’s house to move if they are behaving in a way that causes harassment, alarm or distress. That would clearly have applied in this case. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, who is in his place, and I wrote to chief constables on precisely that point on 16 February, just a few days ago, raising concerns and calling for robust action. I believe we are having a discussion on that topic in just a few days’ time. Members of Parliament at their home addresses, constituency offices and surgeries need to be protected because they are doing their democratic duty. Where people seek to intimidate them, the police need to take extremely strong action, because aggression against Members of Parliament is an act of aggression against democracy itself and in my view that makes it particularly serious.

I welcome everything my right hon. Friend has set out today and that the Government are trying to tighten the law where necessary, but evidence suggests it is not yet working. Every week we see protests and people marching through London with placards with antisemitic, conspiratorial tropes—the same things we saw in October, November, December and January. We know that antisemitism is still running rife on university campuses, in schools and in our communities. I urge my right hon. Friend to look not just at how we deal with prosecutions and crime, but at how we tackle the root causes and how we get into our schools, educate people and try to rid society of this evil scourge once and for all.

My hon. Friend is right. Where the law is broken, whether that is inciting racial hatred, intimidation or harassment, the police must act and make arrests, and they have arrested 600 people already. That is necessary as a law enforcement response, but he is right that we need to tackle the ideology at source. We need to make sure that schools are teaching young people the right thing and explaining what British values of tolerance actually mean. The Department for Education is doing work in that area, as is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who is in the Chamber. We need to make clear to every member of our society that antisemitism and anti-Jewish racist hatred have no place in these islands of ours. We must eradicate it wherever we find it.

This report from the Community Security Trust is deeply troubling and depressing, as I think in some respects are aspects of our politics. There is the fact that today a well respected Member of this place is leaving because of anti-Jewish hatred. At the same time, we have a by-election that has effectively become a competition for who can be the biggest antisemite. That is deeply chilling. Does the Minister agree that it is incumbent on all political leaders and all political parties to show moral strength, stand up for what is right, take on hatred and not allow any element of their party to be captured by hatred, whatever the short-term electoral or political temptation?

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Political leaders in particular have a special responsibility to act quickly, to act decisively, and to act not when it is expedient but when it is right. I was disappointed, as I have said, that the Leader of the Opposition took 48 hours or longer to act in the case of the Rochdale candidate. There is no excuse for that sort of delay. We all have an obligation to do the right thing and to do it quickly, whatever the circumstances.