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Volume 725: debated on Thursday 10 March 2011


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the report of the Community Security Trust recording the second highest annual total of anti-Semitic incidents in 2010.

My Lords, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom is a very depressing reminder that this unacceptable behaviour remains a cause of great concern. In December, the coalition Government published the three-year-on response to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, which highlighted the steps we have taken to tackle and reduce anti-Semitism. In addition, the cross-government working party to tackle anti-Semitism will be taking forward future work.

I thank the Minister for her constructive reply. Does she agree that this ancient hatred is most pernicious when it takes root in the minds of young people and that she should therefore urge vice-chancellors to take steps, as is their duty under the law, to stop incidents of hate speech on campus? Will she also tell us how she proposes to prevent race and religious hatred material imported from overseas being used in faith schools, including out-of-hours faith schools?

My Lords, the last place that we want anti-Semitism to take a hold is in our schools or universities. We expect universities to have measures in place to ensure that their students are not subject to threatening or abusive behaviour, and those institutions have a strong legal framework to help them to deal effectively with this. With regard to people coming in from outside and talking on campuses, again, a range of guidance, providing a practical framework, is available to higher education institutions to help them to support tolerance. All these subjects remain part of the work being done by the working party to ensure that, if further guidance is needed, it is provided.

My Lords, I am a member of the all-party group inquiring into anti-Semitism. Will the Minister have regard to two somewhat different concerns, although they are both about diffuse anti-Semitism rather than specific acts of violence, which are recorded by the Community Security Trust? I have in mind both the plethora of hate speech on the internet, which in a sense is, sadly, publicly available and the recent report by the Sunday Times to the effect that the word “Jew” is now being used as a term of abuse and opprobrium in the playground. That kind of conduct cannot be acceptable. Can I have my noble friend’s assurance that Her Majesty’s Government and all decent-minded people will work their hardest to see that it does not take root?

My Lords, we must do all we can to ensure that the use of words such as “Jew” in a way that causes people to feel upset or afraid is not taken up for threatening, antagonistic or hatred purposes. Of course, schools must stamp it out at the very earliest stages so that no child ever considers it to be an acceptable way of talking about someone.

The internet is another area of great concern, and it is also quite difficult to handle because we do not always have ways of tackling the problem. The task of removing hate from mass media channels, such as the internet, is daunting and challenging, but we have to look at how we can do so. Many states still view the balancing point differently from the United Kingdom, and that makes the task much more difficult because they do not all see the same pressure and impact. However, we continue to look for opportunities and ways to deal with the problem. In fact, what is on the internet goes beyond hate, and very soon we will have to find a way of obliterating and blotting out such unacceptable material.

My Lords, does the Minister think that the promotion of multiculturalism will help us to meet these challenges?

My Lords, there are two ways of looking at multiculturalism. One is the bringing together of communities and cultures, and the other is where disparate groups keep their cultures separate. Whichever way you look at it, I do not think that multiculturalism is going to have anything to do with hatred. My view is that hatred is generated not by culture but by fear, and there is a need for groups to be brought together. If, as I am sure he has done, the noble Lord looks at the report, he will find mention all the way through of incidents in which two or three people get together and are horrible. They use the word “Jew” and then assault or impact in some way on others. Therefore, I do not think that multiculturalism has anything to do with this.

My Lords, the statistic quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, is both shameful and deeply worrying for the future. Will the Minister affirm the importance of religious education in schools as being one of the crucial ways in which there can be a deepening of understanding between faiths? Will she also commend the work of the Council of Christians and Jews in tackling issues of anti-Semitism?

Yes, of course, I confirm our support for that. All education must now ensure that any sense of hatred, any antagonism to any religion, is ruled out.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the lead commissioner on religion and relations for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We all agree that it is completely abhorrent that anyone should be intimidated on the grounds of their race, colour, gender, sexuality or religion. That applies also to famous fashion designers. The trust report shows that there are spikes or rises in anti-Semitic incidents that are related to tensions in the Middle East. With current events in mind, will the Minister please set out what is being done to ensure that communities, particularly those of different faiths, are brought together to ensure that we promote the British tradition of tolerance and understanding?

My Lords, I acknowledge the work that the noble Baroness has undertaken on this matter. We support everything that she has done.