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Online Hate Speech

Volume 787: debated on Thursday 30 November 2017


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer delivered in the other place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

“Britain First is an extremist organisation which seeks to divide communities through its use of hateful narratives which spread lies and stoke tensions. The deputy leader of Britain First is subject to a pending criminal trial, accused of religiously aggravated harassment over the alleged distribution of leaflets and the posting of online material. British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents—decency, tolerance and respect. We will stand with them in doing so. That is why we launched our counter-extremism strategy in 2015 and why we launched the hate crime action plan just last year.

This House should be clear that this Government will not tolerate any groups which spread hate by demonising those of other faiths or ethnicities, and which deliberately raise community fears and tensions. We have also been clear that President Donald Trump was wrong to retweet videos posted by the far-right group Britain First. But when we look at the wider picture of the relationship between the UK and America, then I know how valuable the friendship is between our two nations. As the Home Secretary, I can tell the House that the relationship between our countries—the unparalleled sharing of intelligence between our countries—is of vital importance. It has undoubtedly saved British lives. That is the bigger picture here and I urge people to remember that”.

My Lords, first, the Prime Minister was absolutely right to make it clear that President Trump was wrong to tweet videos from the extremist group Britain First. Such actions are no help in the fight against terrorism.

Secondly, does the Minister agree that the United Kingdom always has and always will fight terrorism wherever it comes from, with our police, security services and military keeping us safe 24 hours a day, and that people of faith—whatever that faith may be—and people of no faith coming together in communities, respecting each other, celebrating our differences and learning from each other, is equally important in fighting terrorism and the spreaders of hate? Will she and her colleagues in government look again at what they can do to remove these vile sites, such as that of Britain First, from the web?

I completely agree with the noble Lord. We will always fight terrorism, and we will fight it together in whatever form it takes. We should remember that our different communities and different faiths played a part in both the wars that we have fought together. As a society, we will not tolerate any divisions that seek to penetrate our communities. On the noble Lord’s point about going further to tackle activities on Twitter and other social media sites, Twitter now takes down 95% of illegal activity, but on the point about us working together as two nations, it is because of the US that we were able to talk to the CSPs about taking down such content from Twitter and other platforms, and we will continue to do that. We now have the online hate crime hub, Tell MAMA, which allows people to report Islamophobia, and the Community Security Trust as a repository for people to report anti-Semitism and related activity. We are absolutely determined to drive out all forms of hatred within our country, and this country should be rightly proud of the tolerance and respect that it has for other faiths and other communities.

My Lords, in his tweet criticising our Prime Minister, President Trump talked about “radical Islamic terrorism”. Does the Minister agree that there is a difference between Islam, a religion, and Islamism, a violent political ideology that seeks to overthrow democratically elected Governments and liberal values, and that the expression “Islamic terrorism” is both a contradiction in terms and deeply unhelpful? We must clearly differentiate between violent criminals and the followers of a religion.

The noble Lord is absolutely right to make that distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism. I make the point that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country are law-abiding, peaceful people who abhor Islamist extremism. The Prime Minister has always been clear that where these ideologies exist, they must be tackled head on. That is precisely what the UK Government are doing at home and in co-operation with our international partners. For example, I previously mentioned the co-operation to remove terrorist content from websites. The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out the distinction. We must all see what has happened for what it is.

Further to the last point made by the noble Lord, does the Minister agree that in addition to abhorring violence, the vast majority of Muslims in this country make an immeasurable contribution to the life of this country, for which we should be profoundly grateful and which needs to be expressed by this House?

I am delighted to express on behalf of this House, as I am sure noble Lords agree, that not only do Muslims abhor violence—it is part of the teaching of the Koran—but they helped us in wars that we have fought. I have first-hand experience of how they helped in the aftermath of some awful events in this country, not only the terrorist attack in Manchester, when Muslim taxi drivers were on hand giving their service for free, but after the floods in Manchester when the Muslim community helped to provide food and shelter to people who were in need. It brought communities together, and we should remember that.

My Lords, could we gently suggest to the President of our greatest ally that if he would make the White House a tweet and Twitter-free zone, he would make an immeasurable contribution to the peace of the world?

I recall the words of the former Prime Minister about “too many tweets”. I shall not repeat what he said but, yes, we must all be careful about what we tweet and the effect that it can have on the wider community. We should tweet with care.

I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate that I would not comment on ongoing considerations of proscriptions. But they are kept under regular review.

My Lords, can we assume that President Trump tweets only messages he has thought carefully about and agrees with? If so, he has endorsed a Nazi group with a vicious record of attacks, racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Surely there can be no question of a state visit until he has expressed at least some remorse about this.

My Lords, I would not want to make any assumption about how people think when they tweet. As for the state visit, the invitation has been extended and accepted, but a firm timetable has not yet been finalised.

My Lords, do the Government agree with what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said in Paris last September to the effect that it is wrong to pretend that Daesh has nothing to do with Islam and that we will not defeat Islamism until we understand Islam? What are the Government doing to further that understanding?

My Lords, it is absolutely correct that Daesh has nothing to do with Islam. Daesh seeks to promote its ideology as a form of Islam, but actually it is nothing to do with Islam, which is a peaceful religion.

My Lords, could my noble friend pass on congratulations to the Prime Minister on her immediate and robust response to the hate-filled tweets that President Trump seems to have endorsed? Could she also pass on the pride I feel that our country and Government are so respectful of all religions, and of people of all faiths and of none, and that we are proud to live in a country that is so tolerant?

I agree with my noble friend. The Prime Minister acted quickly and robustly. There could be no confusion about what she said and, yes, this country respects all religions and I am proud of the country that I live in.

My Lords, the Minister said that the state visit has been offered and accepted. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, the government Minister for Faith, less than 50 minutes ago said that he would be unable to welcome the President of the United States because of the tweets. With the Home Office being responsible for community cohesion, would she and other Ministers in the Home Office also be unable to welcome the President of the United States?

My Lords, the point has been made both in the other place and here today that we must think about the relationship between the US and the UK as incredibly important. I described how the US was instrumental in the Home Secretary being able to visit the CSPs to encourage them to take down illegal material from Twitter. I reiterate the point that the invitation was extended and accepted.