I beg to move,
That this House has considered UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
First, I thank every member of the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate, as well as all those Members who indicated their support for it.
Every year on 21 March, the United Nations marks the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination through a series of worldwide events. That is because 21 March was the date of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, when police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid pass laws. The day was proclaimed six years later, through a United Nations resolution on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, adopted on 26 October 1966. Although the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination itself was a few weeks ago, I am delighted that the House is now able formally to mark it with a debate in this Chamber.
As a Muslim MP and a proud advocate of tolerance, peace and integration, the issue is close to my heart. As the first ever Muslim Mayor of Warrington and MP for Warrington South, I have always understood the value of embracing difference and bringing communities together. Almost 96% of Warrington’s inhabitants are white, but I have never been made to feel like an outsider. The people of Warrington have made me a welcome part of their community ever since I went to live there with my family more than 20 years ago. I have been proud to call Warrington my home ever since.
Sadly, we know that not all ethnic minorities are as fortunate as I have been to live in such a hospitable, tolerant environment. If all communities were as welcoming as Warrington, there would be no need for us to have this debate. As it is, many forms of racism and discrimination are on the rise. Disturbing, violent trends of antisemitism and Islamophobia have become more and more frequent. I have already mentioned the horrendous attack on the Muslim community in New Zealand last month. A Jewish place of worship in Pittsburgh was subject to a similar attack five months earlier—the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in US history. Both killers were clear in their hatred of both Jews and Muslims. Both subscribed to the far-right “great replacement” theory, which casts Muslims and other minorities as invaders of western societies and a threat to white, Christian majorities. It seems appropriate that the specific theme to mark this year’s UN international day for the elimination of racial discrimination is mitigating and countering rising national populism and extreme supremacist ideologies. In the wake of those horrific far-right attacks, I am sure that Members will agree that the theme could not be timelier.
Those are not just sporadic attacks in far-flung corners of the world; they represent part of a wider trend and their impact has been felt much closer to home. Just two weeks ago, the trial of a neo-Nazi who had plotted to kill a Member of this House was concluded. The plotter had been a member of the fascist National Action group. During the trial, the prosecution told the court that National Action had engaged in a campaign of
“racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic propaganda through which it sought to stir up a violent ‘race war’ against ethnic minorities and others it perceived as ‘race traitors’.”
I echo Mr Speaker’s sentiments last week in commending the courage and integrity of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) when faced with that vile hatred. She has demonstrated that Members of this House will not be cowed by a violent and hateful creed.
In the face of such vile hatred, it is all too easy to give in to despair, but I recall the words of Jo Cox, who from these Benches insisted that
“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 675.]
Her words, and indeed her life, serve as an inspiration for us all. We saw Jo’s ethos in action even in the immediate aftermath of both the Christchurch and the Pittsburgh shootings. Muslim groups raised more than $200,000 for bereaved families at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is now raising money for the victims of the New Zealand mosque attacks. I cannot think of a more fitting illustration of Jo’s message, with diverse communities coming together to reject racism, bigotry and hatred.
In my own constituency, local people of all faiths and backgrounds also came together in a local mosque to commemorate the victims of the Christchurch shootings. I am sure that many Members are able to recount similar initiatives in their constituencies, with countless examples of communities coming together to reject evil and hatred. It is a reminder, even in the darkest of moments, that if we come together to promote peace, tolerance and mutual understanding, bigotry will never prevail.
If we are to counter this threat, we must seek to understand its origins and the conditions that allow it to flourish, for there can be no doubt that white nationalist, far-right violence is firmly on the rise. In the US in 2018, every single one of the 50 extremist-related murders were linked to the far right, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In the UK between 2017 and 2018, the number of white suspects arrested for terror offences outstripped those of any other ethnic group for the first time in more than a decade. In Germany, official figures suggest that nine in 10 antisemitic crimes in 2017 were carried out by members of far-right or neo-Nazi groups.
How are we to make sense of this phenomenon? The UN produced two reports in August 2018 that investigated on a global scale contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The reports argued that the “new forms of media” are partly responsible for the rise in nationalist populism and described how they
“aided or amplified the influence of nationalist populism”.
One study has suggested that American white nationalist movements saw their Twitter following grow by more than 600% between 2012 and 2016. These non-traditional media platforms have been used to revive fascist ideas thought to have been consigned to history.
We need to look again at the responsibility of large technology companies and how these platforms are regulated. Given the size of platforms such as YouTube and Facebook, they have an obligation to ensure that hatred, bigotry and misinformation—I emphasise that misinformation is the key—are not allowed to flourish on their watch. In recent years, we have seen the rise of far-right social media personalities who now have the ability to reach unprecedented numbers of people online. Not only are these individuals allowed to peddle their hatred to huge audiences, but they are able to profit from doing so.
Traditional forms of media have also been complicit in fuelling these racist narratives. During the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, at the very moment when African men, women and children were drowning in the Mediterranean, The Sun published a column describing these people as “cockroaches.” That is shocking and disgusting coming from a national newspaper. The columnist went on to argue:
“What we need are gunships sending these boats back to their own country.”
These were desperate people risking their lives, and often their children’s lives, to flee a desperate, desperate conflict. Nobody wants to leave their country unless they are desperate, and those people were desperate because of the conflict, because of the wars and because of the lack of input from the world. What kind of cruel, inhuman response is it to suggest meeting them with gunships?
Those comments were denounced by the UN’s human rights chief as akin to antisemitic Nazi propaganda. Indeed, this dehumanising rhetoric poisons public debate. For too long, ethnic minorities have been scapegoated in our national press. The media have an indispensable role in our democracy, but it must come with great public responsibility.
Racism in the workplace also continues to be a major problem in the UK. A recent survey by Prospect, the trade union, found that nearly half of ethnic minority workers have witnessed racism in their workplace, with a quarter of black and ethnic minority employees reporting that they have been racially abused.
Just this weekend there were four separate reported instances of alleged racial abuse before, during and after premier league and football league matches, which appears to emphasise a problem highlighted during the week by England international Danny Rose. Tragically, in 2019, Rose was forced to admit that he
“can’t wait to see the back of football”
because he is so disgusted by the racism that blights the game. I commend the example of high-profile individuals like Danny Rose and Raheem Sterling for speaking out and taking a stand against this vile abuse, but it is not good enough for us simply to wring our hands whenever this issue is raised and depend on the courage of a vocal few.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I apologise for arriving late.
My hon. Friend has touched on such an important point. We have seen some of our sportsmen, particularly our young black British sportsmen, having to undergo racial abuse while they are proudly playing for their country—England. Does he agree that they have shown great courage and dignity in speaking out against the racism they endure? Frankly, we thought that racism was back in our history, but it is still present and remains within the game of football today.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no need for any sort of racism in any society, especially in sport—it is unbelievable.
We need to systematically eradicate all forms of racist abuse from public life. There should be an absolute zero-tolerance policy towards racism, yet governing bodies like UEFA dole out minor fines and partial stadium closures when teams are subjected to racist abuse. It is nowhere near good enough.
Finally, young people have a pivotal role to play in defeating new forms of racism. Ever since I became involved in politics, I have been inspired by the example of young people seeking to make the world a better place to live. We have recently seen the climate change protests by young people all over the world, teaching us the importance of tackling climate change for future generations. But young people are also on the frontline and at the receiving end of much of this new and pernicious rise in racism, particularly online.
Many young people are adopting extreme and racist views as a result of the content they see online, day in and day out. We can do more to combat this in our schools. Young people must be better equipped to identify new forms of misinformation and bigotry if we are to prevent these poisonous ideas from taking hold of future generations. The fight against bigotry and racism begins in the classroom. This is one of the many reasons why our current underfunding of schools is a national scandal. How can we expect future generations to build on our hard-won victories against racism and intolerance if we starve their schools of funding and resources?
I say to far-right racists: ethnic minorities are not going anywhere. We deserve to live, work and raise our families in peace in our own country. The fight against racism and all forms of discrimination is a mainstay of peace and social cohesion, especially in our increasingly diverse society. With this in mind, I hope the Government commit to marking this day each year, so that we are able to celebrate our diversity and remember those who have committed their lives to fighting racism for a better future.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) on securing this debate and on his speech, especially the last few sentiments he expressed, which were greeted around the House with calls of “Hear, hear!” He has spoken for all of us in his denunciation of all forms of bigoted racism, and he has spoken for the whole of our community in resoundingly saying that those who hate will not win.
My hon. Friend is quite right about the speech by the hon. Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid); it was particularly nice to hear that Warrington South is so inclusive. Does my hon. Friend agree that the difficulty with hate abuse, racial abuse and intolerance in general is that comes not just from the far right, as disgusting and abhorrent as that is, but from the far left and across the spectrum? We should be against it wherever it comes from and wherever it is directed.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Yesterday’s lead story in The Sunday Times was a shocking catalogue of antisemitism inside the Labour party, which I am sure all decent Labour Members feel is as abhorrent as my hon. Friends and I do. The reality is that we live in a time when antisemitism and Islamophobic behaviour are increasing.
I am grateful that this debate has coincided with the release of the Government’s Online Harms White Paper, the consultation on which is now under way. It is essential that we counter hate wherever it raises its ugly head. We must be united against all forms of intolerance. We must work together across the parties and across our communities to build a world in which everyone has equal protection of their rights and equal access to justice, education and economic opportunity, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, sexuality or race.
My hon. Friend talked about the Government’s White Paper. Does he agree that the White Paper is particularly urgent because social media is normalising utterly toxic and reprehensible behaviour? We need to lay down a marker that it is not acceptable in real life, it is not acceptable online and it is certainly not normal. We must reject it.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. We live in the age of the false ideology of hate. We all experience it as Members of Parliament. It is clearly and utterly unacceptable.
Let me reflect on these words of Martin Luther King:
“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be...this is the interrelated structure of reality…all mankind is tied together…in a single garment of destiny.”
Those are inspiring words and thoughts.
May I conclude my brief remarks with reference to the experience that we have had in the Stirling constituency when it comes to embracing those who are different—and thank goodness for it? Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Islamic centre in Stirling with the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), and we had the opportunity to speak to those who had gathered for Friday prayers. It was inspirational for me and my hon. Friend to be present.
It brought to mind an experience I had some time ago when an imam shared with me this simple idea: as beautiful as a bouquet of flowers of a single type is, how much more beautiful is a bouquet of many varieties of flower? That is the vision of our society that I hold on to. In front of me in the Islamic centre in Stirling were stalwarts of our community. They run successful businesses and play a very active part in all aspects of the life of the various communities that make up the Stirling constituency. I am proud of them. Undoubtedly, to echo the sentiment of the hon. Member for Warrington South, they are part of us and we are part of them; we belong together; our home is their home and their home is our home.
I will conclude with a brief reference to the enrichment that comes through the arrival in Stirling every year of a fresh group of international students. They come from various countries, traditions and faiths, bringing colour and vibrancy to Stirling. Our lives are enriched by what they bring to our community. That is the nature of our society in modern Britain. We should rejoice in that. I invite the House to rejoice in those differences, because they make us what we are.
There is very little in what the hon. Gentleman says that I disagree with. Does he agree with me that racism is not just interpersonal, but systemic? It is difficult to sit and listen to the words he is saying when we know of the record of this Government—of the Prevent agenda, of the Windrush generation, of the “Go Home” vans. What he has said is fine, but racism is systemic and is often perpetrated by the state.
I said clearly that we should counter racism and hate wherever it raises its head. I find it rather rich that the hon. Lady would take this opportunity to attack Conservative Members, especially in the light of the state of the Labour party so graphically illustrated in yesterday’s report in The Sunday Times.
As a black woman, I find it is very important that we do not belittle or disregard the issues that face us. We saw a hostile environment with the Windrush generation that was criminal. As the granddaughter of the Windrush generation, I think the hon. Gentleman has to admit that that was caused by his Government and no other.
I did say that there were five minutes each. We are now running on to eight minutes. I am very concerned about other speakers. I do not want to introduce a time limit, but if Members cannot stick to five minutes, I will make sure they go to the bottom of the list in future. I do not want to have to do that.
Let me make it clear, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it is not my aim to incur your displeasure and go to the bottom of the list, so I will try to limit interventions.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) for bringing such an important debate to the Chamber today. It is unfortunate that we do not have long to debate such an important matter, but we are where we are. At the end of March, we observed the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but that is not the only reason that this is such a timely debate. In this country, where we pride ourselves on our tolerance, we still see alarming levels of racial discrimination and hatred. Even as we implore other countries to do more to tackle racial discrimination, we ourselves must never be complacent and must always do much more.
Nowhere is this alarming racial discrimination and the disturbing lack of action to tackle it seen more clearly than in the rise of the far right in this country. We are seeing the resurgence of fascist ideologies and extremist groups that we fought off decades ago. They are now returning with the same hatred for other races, ideologies, backgrounds and religions.
I thank my hon. Friend for his generosity. I want to echo his words, because the Brexit debate seems to have given new groups the feeling that they can speak in racist terms. On Saturday, the North East Patriotic Front demonstrated in Newcastle. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that they were outnumbered more than 10 to one by those fighting against racism and Islamophobia. As we have seen repeatedly over the decades, every new example of the rise of the far right needs to be combated by each new generation.
I thank my hon. Friend. Let us as a House come together to celebrate the fact that in the face of hatred and division of any kind, we stand in unity and make sure that those who seek to divide us never ever succeed. We reaffirm that principle here today.
Just last month, the Security Service and the Met police identified far-right terrorism as a key threat to the safety of our country, with the police having stopped a number of far-right terror attacks over the past few years. The Hope Not Hate “State of Hate 2019” report echoes that, finding not only a continued rising trend in traffic to far-right websites and in followers of far-right social media accounts, but that the far right is getting younger and more extreme. I will not mince my words: we are witnessing a dangerous resurgence of Nazi ideology. When we talk about racial discrimination today, we cannot avoid that topic.
We also cannot avoid the fact that racial discrimination has been encouraged and the far right emboldened, normalised and even legitimised by the media and others who must share the blame. In very many instances, broadcasters and newspapers have given air time and column inches to those who spread hate, giving them the means to do so in the name of balanced coverage. Nothing is balanced about the far-right, extreme views of those who seek to divide us and share more with neo-Nazism than with a modern, tolerant society, so that practice must end. We must give no platform to those who spread hatred.
Furthermore, we must not just call out and shut down racism, hatred and extreme far-right fascist views where we see them, but press authorities to do much more. Right now, they are doing nowhere near what is necessary to tackle the resurgence of fascism, with a dangerous over-reliance on tip-offs or mistakes by extremists. That was demonstrated most recently in the case of National Action, which was brought down and brought to justice through the work not of agencies but of Hope Not Hate. I pay tribute to that organisation, which has a long-standing track record of fighting against racism. It continues to do that work. However, we should never be in the situation of third sector organisations doing more to combat extremism than those we should trust to keep us safe.
I have a lengthy speech but, looking at the clock, I see that time does not permit it. However, I join my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South in paying tribute to Raheem Sterling. As a House, we should come together on that, because he has made his views absolutely clear. On the way here, while I was writing my speech—a lot of which I have not been able to deliver in the debate, tragically—I saw that statement on the television. He made it clear that racism will not defeat any sportsmen, on or off the pitch. I pay tribute to him.
I too pay tribute to the hon. Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid), who made a powerful speech. I congratulate him on securing this vital debate to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. I know it was on 1 March—we have had to wait—but the debate is none the less worth while.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned his own welcoming town. I want to reflect briefly on my town and the way in which it is now a diverse community—very different from what it was. Many people look at Solihull from a west midlands perspective and think of it as quite well-to-do—there is a joke that a crash in Solihull is what someone has between two Land Rovers—and traditional, meaning white in that respect.
In reality, however, Solihull like so much of the west midlands is changing enormously. What tends to happen is that people do well in Birmingham and other places, then come to and are welcome in our town and add vibrancy to it, as it expands exponentially due to the influx of people. We now have a higher than national average of BAME—black, Asian and minority ethnic—communities, and strong and vibrant Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities, as well as Greek, Jewish, Jain and Zoroastrian ones. There are so many, I could almost take the remaining three and a half minutes of my speech mentioning them.
Solihull is a fantastic embodiment of diversity in the west midlands, and of success in that diversity, but we face our challenges. Of late, those challenges have been writ large in our town. Quite recently, we had the horror of pigs heads being left outside the Hub, a Muslim community and education centre on Hermitage Road in Solihull, by far-right activists, all because people of the same faith had decided to come together in order to bring about education and something positive in the community—absolutely shocking, as some of my hon. Friends have said.
We also have worries and concerns about antisemitism. Some in my Jewish community have spoken to me, often confidentially, about their fears right now about the rising tide of antisemitism. I will not indulge in anything party political on that—I trust, I know and I am sure that every Member of this House is absolutely horrified by the twin pillars of evil, Islamophobia and antisemitism. We stand with our communities on that.
What do I think is at the root of those changes in Solihull? Social media has been mentioned, and we had the White Paper today. That will be only a part of a broad, patchwork approach that we will have to take as a Government and across western civilisation to managing something that is as great as the creation of the printing press. I am reminded of the fact that after the invention of the printing press in the 15th century Europe indulged in two centuries of civil wars, partly as a result of that greater communication and the way ideas could be communicated, often disturbing to the status quo.
That is the challenge that we face with some of the keyboard warriors in our society who let dark thoughts come out of the darkest recesses of their minds. Also, as groups become more empowered, the counter-stroke becomes sharper, and people react more violently in their language and behaviour.
What do we do to counter that? First, we need education, not just in our schools and colleges but in our communities—in places such as the Hub in Solihull and the Shree community centre in Sparkbrook near my constituency. We also need to say to each other, to say as a society, “I will not let racism pass. I will not stand there when these comments are made. I will tackle it, and I will do what is right.” Frankly, that is what will make our society work, and work in the long term.
I thank the hon. Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) for securing this debate. I agree with everything he said in introducing it. It is completely right to talk about attacks in the US and elsewhere. He and the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) were also completely right to talk about the growth of racism on the far right and the dangers of the growth in populist nationalism.
As we have just heard about Solihull, there have been shocking attacks on mosques in the city of Birmingham. We all have to be vigilant about that. I am in touch with the mosques in Dudley to express my solidarity with Dudley’s Muslim community and to ensure that they have all the security assistance that they need.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Eleanor Smith) is here, because about a year ago she, I and the hon. Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) stood in the biggest room in the hotel in which, 50 years earlier, Enoch Powell made his shameful “rivers of blood” speech, and we celebrated the unity and diversity of communities in the west midlands. Since then, I have stood with members of the Muslim community in Dudley when they have been targeted by the British National party or the English Defence League. I have stood up for constituents in Dudley who, like people elsewhere in the country, were victimised because they were part of the Windrush generation.
This is also the anniversary, almost to the day, of when Britain’s Jewish community came together in the square across the street to protest against racism in the Labour party. I am afraid that we have to address that. We lose our legitimacy in complaining about other people’s racism if we are not prepared to deal with the problems in our own parties. I want to tell the House about Susan Pollock. She was born in 1930 in Hungary and was imprisoned as a teenager in Auschwitz. She now spends her time travelling the country telling young people about the evils of racism and prejudice. I first met her when she came to Dudley to talk at our annual holocaust commemoration. The second time I met her —an Auschwitz survivor in her late 80s—was in the demonstration across the road. It was the first political demonstration she had been on in her life. I have left the Labour party, but I spent 35 years in it, and I found that deeply shocking and shameful.
It is terrible that a culture of extremism and antisemitism has resulted in the Labour party’s being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I think that is really shocking. In The Sunday Times this weekend, we heard about a failure to take proper disciplinary action against hundreds of members accused of antisemitism—people who said things like
“‘Heil Hitler’, ‘F*** the Jews’ and ‘Jews are the problem’”.
They have not been expelled—it is absolutely shocking—even though complaints had been received a year ago. A councillor in Lancashire has been let back into the party after fuming about Jewish media attacks and the Rothschild family.
If I complained about everybody who said that sort of stuff to me, I would have no time to do anything else, but I complained about one member last year, because he also threatened violence at my office, which is in a building that also contains a women’s aid centre. This guy questioned the numbers killed in the holocaust and said that 6 million was the magic number. He told the Jewish community to “Put up or shut up.” He talked about “Zionist scum”, and used really obscene remarks that I will not repeat. I complained about him last August. Despite repeated emails and requests, eventually—unbelievably—he was finally suspended in February. He is still a member, as far as I am aware. I really hope that the party is listening and will deal with that.
I think that the chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, Jonathan Goldstein, was completely right this weekend to condemn what he called “corruption” within Labour. He said that those who covered it up should be “relieved of their duties”. He said:
“Last July, I called the Labour Party institutionally racist against Jews. Today’s revelations in the Sunday Times make clear for all to see just how accurate that statement was.”
Even the Deputy Speaker—sorry, I mean the deputy leader, the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson). Actually, I am sure you are just as appalled as I am by all this, Mr Deputy Speaker. The deputy leader of the Labour party said yesterday:
“This makes for deeply shocking and depressing reading. Labour members and the Jewish community will not understand how, many years on from the first concerns about anti-semitism being raised, we have not got to grips with it.”
It is profoundly shocking to me that a political party that I joined as a teenager to fight racism has become embroiled in a scandal like this. It has be dealt with much more seriously. The Labour party must respond properly to the reasonable requests made by the Jewish community more than a year ago, and must boot out the racists for good. As Jonathan Goldstein said this weekend, “Enough is enough.”
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), who gave a speech of extraordinary fluency and power. Everybody in this House knows that racism is morally and intellectually bankrupt. That is the easy bit to say. The difficult bit to face up to is that there are clear examples that show that it is on the rise. We might have lulled ourselves into a false feeling of security that there is an iron rule of social progress that determines that it should wither, but it has not. We are seeing much more of it; it has not been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Hon. Members have talked about what the possible reasons are for that, and we have talked a bit about social media, but it is worth highlighting why social media is relevant. It seems to me that the reason is this. Individuals can exist in communities that are otherwise beacons of tolerance, and yet the online community is more important to them than the real-world community that they live within. When people talk about loners, in the past that might have been individuals alone with their books, but now those loners are behind a screen, finding individuals elsewhere in the world who have similar outlooks and warped perspectives. The critical point is that this allows such individuals to normalise atrocious and appalling behaviour, to say unspeakable things about which they then find succour and comfort elsewhere in the world, and to drive each other on to ever more unspeakable thoughts and, in some appalling cases, actions.
What are the solutions? Time does not allow any great opportunity to expand on these, but I invite the House to consider three things. First, we have to do everything possible to ensure that individuals can build real-world experiences of interacting with people of backgrounds and faiths. One of the things that has struck me so powerfully in Cheltenham is to see people of all backgrounds coming together through the National Citizen Service, for example, meeting people with whom they might otherwise never expect to have any contact and finding, in the inspiring words of Jo Cox, that we have of course more in common. Increasingly, however, it requires the hand of the state to intervene to ensure that such opportunities are available. We saw that during the community day held in Winston Churchill gardens in Cheltenham, with people of all faiths interacting and being enriched through that experience.
Secondly, in Cheltenham—forgive me for mentioning it again—the security services are intensely important. At GCHQ, we have some of the finest minds anywhere in our country, and one of their key tasks is to root out violent extremism of the far right or of the far left and bring it to justice.
Thirdly, the social media companies need to get their house in order. I strongly welcome the White Paper that has been issued today, which will lay down a marker. If material that is likely to inspire hate and intolerance comes to be on their platforms, they have a duty to take it down within a reasonable period, and if they do not, the state will take action and it will hit them where it hurts—in their pockets.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about both GCHQ and the tech giants. Does he agree that to be more able and to be seen to eliminate racial discrimination from platforms and technology, the tech giants and others, including GCHQ, should better represent the diversity of the country in which they are rooted?
Yes, of course that is absolutely right. When I referred to the tech giants, I was thinking about Facebook and Instagram. Our security and intelligence agencies, such as GCHQ, should of course be diverse, and I know that it takes that extremely seriously. However, the most important point, if I may say so, that I note when I meet people from GCHQ is their absolute common determination—whether they are black, white, gay, straight or whatever—to tackle and root out this hate-filled behaviour and bring it to justice; they are utterly determined in that quest. I have found it extremely moving and uplifting to hear their determination to achieve precisely that.
With those remarks, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will conclude, but thank you for the opportunity to speak.
May I say that many of us will sympathise with the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin)? I think he has spoken for the people on his Labour side of the House, and I hope that people on my Conservative side of the House would do the same if we had things like that in our party.
I want to approach this in two ways. The first is to give publicity to someone whom I do not think deserves it, but who is dangerous—Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, also known as Andrew McMaster, as Paul Harris, as Wayne King and now as Tommy Robinson. He is apparently a special adviser to the present leader, Gerard Batten, of UKIP. This man Stephen Yaxley-Lennon has been convicted over the years of assault, threatening behaviour, common assault, false identity documents, mortgage fraud—the judge said that it came to £640,000—and contempt of court. I am leaving aside any other current charges that may be around. I say to all my constituents, “If you are fed up with the Tory party, don’t go to a party like UKIP that takes him in as a leader’s adviser. If UKIP changes and throws him out, by all means, but until then, don’t. He’s dangerous, and the people he associates with are dangerous as well.”
The second thing is a total change of thought, but it follows up a point made from the Opposition side of the House. For people to get good jobs, they need good education. I have been helping a maths teacher who is Ghanaian. He is a really good maths teacher, and when he left a particular school, its results fell. He has been pursued by a number of people in a vendetta that has caused him to be arrested twice in the last few months, to lose his job and to be hanging around for possibly up to another nine months while the Teaching Regulation Agency and the Disclosure and Barring Service consider whether he is fit to teach. He clearly is fit to teach. He should not have been treated like that, and I do not believe that, had he been white, he would have been, either by the police or by the education authorities. I regret that the Department for Education was involved in causing him to have his last job withdrawn.
I spend a lot of time working with people who have problems. The ones that are most difficult to put right are those that involve Sikhs or other people from the subcontinent. We all know about Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, the paediatrician who was, in my view, treated very unfairly by investigators, by prosecutors and by the General Medical Council.
The hon. Gentleman and I share many views about human rights and religious persecution. Does he agree that this great, diverse nation—the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—has a broad culture and historical background that brings in people from around the world, but that what brings us together is the love, respect and tolerance we have for one another? If that is at the core of our nation, we have a way of going forward.
My last example is the case of Gurpal Virdi, the excellent former police sergeant who managed to find himself on trial for a week and a half at Southwark Crown court on totally bogus charges. I wrote in advance to the Crown Prosecution Service, the Metropolitan police and the Home Office, but none of them seem to want to have an inquiry into how it all went wrong. I will return to that after Easter. I have other examples, but with those words I will resume my seat.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) on securing the debate. I am genuinely grateful to be able to align myself with the comments by him and by the many other speakers from across the Chamber, who approached the debate with the correct tone. As well as the hon. Gentleman, we heard from the hon. Members for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), for Solihull (Julian Knight), for Dudley North (Ian Austin), for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley)—and, miraculously, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) snuck in there. He never misses an opportunity.
The theme for this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is
“mitigating and countering rising nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies.”
That is one of the biggest flashpoints of racial discrimination. We have to look at the situation we find ourselves in. We fail to recognise the serious ramifications for the general public of our surrounding ourselves with Brexit. The language and general policy making exhibited by this place send a message loudly and clearly to people across the country and give them the genuine feeling that they are not welcome.
Those are not just my words; they are the words of my constituents who attended a surgery for EU nationals. They told me they no longer feel welcome, valued or recognised for their contributions to the UK. That message comes loudly and clearly from this place, and we must all do more to recognise and address that. Frankly, no one outside this Chamber can bear to hear the word “Brexit” any more or cares whether a Lords amendment is coming back, but they do care fundamentally about the messages we send and about the long-term impact of racism.
The fact of the matter is this. We often value the virtue of freedom of speech. As the hon. Member for Worthing West rightly highlighted, there are too many opportunities for the far right to gain a platform and, worryingly, it has gained an even greater platform through the Brexit process. We in this House have created that problem by having a debate in the Chamber but not debating or listening to anyone outside it. No wonder the public have lost confidence.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the rhetoric used by the media and, sadly, sometimes by politicians—including the man who occupies the White House—is built on racial superiority? As the footballer John Barnes said recently, the basis of racial discrimination is the hundreds of years of—I hope people will forgive me for saying this —European white superiority.
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady, and she is right to highlight that. Whether through football or our conversations in this place, in the media or on social media platforms, the message that we send to the world—and that world leaders send—implying that those things are acceptable has a clear resonance in society and cannot go unaddressed.
Before, during and after the Brexit referendum, there was a distinct growth in the volume and acceptability of xenophobic discourse on migration, foreign nationals and refugees in everyday life. None of that is aided by the fact that the media are quite happy to promote that discourse. As I have said, last month I held an EU nationals surgery. Among the themes was the fear for the future, security of foreign pensions and distrust of the settlement scheme. Those I spoke to genuinely felt like this Government did not want to make them feel welcome, but was instead putting them through a laborious bureaucratic process. I can only share that frustration. What kind of message does it send to someone who has spent their entire life in Scotland, raising their family, working and paying their taxes, to discover that they have fill out a form to qualify to remain in the UK after an unknown deadline—a moving goalpost? Many of those who have felt hounded by the UK Government were desperate for more information about what their rights would be. I am sorry to say that I could provide them with no more clarity about that than most of us in this House can provide about today’s business. If we do not even know what we are doing from one day to the next, what chance do people in general life have to understand?
To return to the point of today’s debate, in Scotland we do not want to see any EU nationals living in our country leave. As a party, the SNP has recognised the valuable contribution of EU nationals to Scotland and to our public services. Ultimately, those public services could collapse and we could lose the rich cultural contributions made by our friends and neighbours, who have come to be a part of our lives and our world, and part of the UK. They should feel welcome here in the UK. The message from the First Minister could not be clearer: we want you to stay in the UK, we value you and we welcome you. I wish to put on record my gratitude, my heartfelt thanks and my appreciation for the contribution made by those of my constituents in Lanark and Hamilton East, and those across the UK. I sincerely hope that they will stay and make Scotland their home.
I understand that I have to hurry up, so I leave hon. Members with this parting thought. Scotland has benefited from the rich diaspora across the UK. We have a rich tapestry, and I would hate to see it lost because of the language and messaging of this country. The Home Office has a responsibility to send a loud and clear message to EU nationals that they deserve to feel and should feel part of the UK, and they should remain and we want them to remain. The Government have to send that message instead of perpetrating the racist language that is ultimately being given through subliminal messaging in the programme of this Government.
I know that there is not a lot of time left to sum up—you may need to stop me if I get close to time, Mr Deputy Speaker—but I want to thank and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) on today’s excellent debate. If we look at the diversity around the House, we can see that there are lots of people who want to contribute. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate to take place. It is a shame that we do not have enough time to really do it justice, which is why we must ensure that next time the debate takes place in Government time.
As my hon. Friend mentioned, the theme for today is mitigating and countering rising nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies. We all have to work harder, through our actions and our words, if we are to combat that. Do we say things that are inclusive or dismissive when we speak? Is the environment that we create embracing or hostile? Why is that important? It is important because if we create a hostile environment, we fuel hate and right-wing ideologies. We have to underscore the dangers of populism on both the left and the right. National populism must keep sight of the ways in which multiple intersecting identities transform the experience of racial discrimination.
We have heard some great speeches today from across the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) talked about the growth of young right wingers and how dangerous they are.
I want to take a moment to talk about Dylann Roof, 25, who shot nine black people dead in a church; Alex Fields, 20, who killed Heather Heyer. Robert Bowers was an exception as he was 46 when he killed 11 Jewish worshippers in a synagogue; Brenton Tarrant, 28, was responsible for the Christchurch, New Zealand shootings, murdering 50 people and attempting to murder 39; Thomas Mair shot and killed our friend Jo Cox; and Jack Renshaw, just 23, a convicted paedophile tried to kill my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper). Hope not Hate saved her life. Jack Coulson, 19, is in prison for the threats made against the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). These are all young white right-wing extremists. Both here and in the US we have sadly witnessed a surge of intolerance, a growth of the far right and increasing hate crime towards minority communities. We must not become complacent in the fight for equality or allow any of our hard-fought rights to be rolled back.
Almost every piece of progressive legislation in the UK was delivered by a Labour Government, including the Race Relations Act 1968 and the Human Rights Act 1998. Meanwhile, current legislation means that people can only bring a discrimination claim on the grounds of one aspect of their identity. We must do better. Section 14 of the Equality Act 2010 must be enacted so we can bring forward cases on multiple grounds of discrimination.
There are challenges, but it is important to celebrate our diversities and most people have used this opportunity to celebrate in their own constituencies. We must strive not for tolerance in society, but for acceptance. Too much have we talked about tolerance.
I know time is very short, but the words and language of Members in this House is so important. The N word is never acceptable. I am still waiting for an explanation as to why the N word was used at a particular meeting. As I say, we must be very careful. We must be exemplary in our attitudes in this place. Nationalists and populist Governments often deploy a range of tactics to disen- franchise groups portrayed as outsiders, including racial and ethnic minorities. We, including the Government, have to do better.
There are so many things I would like to mention, but I know I have to take my seat. I thank all Members for mentioning my constituent Raheem Sterling and the work that he has been doing to call out racism in football and society. He is saying that when we talk about racism and hate crimes we must talk about these issues fairly. There is no point in the names I read out being referred to as people with mental health illnesses and other people as terrorists. They are all terrorists. They are all evil nasty people.
The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) quoted Martin Luther King—one of my favourite quotes—on the interrelated structure of reality, but I will end on something else that Martin Luther King said:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
He also said, and I hope we can take a bit of this away with us today:
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
It is a privilege to respond to a very fine debate to mark the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. I fear, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I have far too little time to respond to the range of points that were made in this important debate. I acknowledge the case that was made to mark the day on a regular basis, every year.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) and the Backbench Business Committee on securing time on the Floor of the House to debate this important subject. The hon. Gentleman made an exceptionally powerful speech. I was delighted to hear him explain, as a former Mayor of Warrington, the hospitable and tolerant nature of his home city, and the call he made for peace and tolerance.
There were excellent speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), for Solihull (Julian Knight), for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and from the hon. Members for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), for Dudley North (Ian Austin), for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) and for Brent Central (Dawn Butler). Common themes arose. There was an iteration of the observation of the rise of extreme far-right and fascist views, which we all agree have no place in our society. There was an observation about the prevalence of such views on social media, and comments welcoming the “Online Harms” White Paper that the Government published today. I encourage all right hon. and hon. Members to write in with support for the approach being taken in the White Paper.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling said one of his local imams wants a society that represents a bouquet of different flowers; those words were particularly powerful. I also acknowledge the point made about citizen service, the International Citizen Service and the role that can play in community engagement.
The hon. Member for Brent Central made a powerful speech in which she read out a list of names. There is a live debate about whether we should dignify those people by naming them, and so ensuring that their names recorded for posterity in Hansard. I am jealous of her for having as a constituent Raheem Sterling, and I pay tribute to the exceptional work he and others are doing in the world of football.
The 1960 Sharpeville massacre led to the establishment of this international day, but only yesterday I was in Kigali, Rwanda, to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi. As we look across the world today, it is upsetting and absolutely wrong that since 1960 we have continued to witness incidences of intolerance, discrimination and violence on the basis of race, ethnicity and nationality. The hon. Member for Warrington South rightly mentioned incidences of religious hatred, because the horrific cases in New Zealand and the synagogue in Pittsburgh are so fresh in our minds. We all want cohesive communities across this country and in every country in which every individual feels safe from discrimination and hate. We all have a responsibility to fight racial discrimination and strengthen our communities, but, as many have said, Governments have a specific responsibility.
The Prime Minister made clear her determination to tackle racial discrimination from the very first day she took office. The racial disparities audit has revealed racial disparities in our country, and its work in highlighting them will help to end the inequalities and injustices that members of ethnic minorities can face when they access public services and the jobs market. Every individual should be able to fulfil their potential through their enjoyment of equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities. Since 2017, the Government have taken action in education, employment, health and criminal justice. We have also made strides in our international work. We are determined to root out racial discrimination both at home and abroad.
I reassure all colleagues of the Government’s absolute commitment to the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. We will continue to tackle these issues both domestically and internationally. We are fully committed to building safe, strong and united communities.
I am pleased that we have had this debate. It is heartening to see Members from both sides of the House joining in recommitting Parliament to the fight against racism. I thank to every Member who spoke or intervened in the debate. I also thank the Minister for her contribution and for reiterating the Government’s commitment to fighting racism, although I am a little confused about why the Government felt this issue was within the Foreign Office’s remit. Surely it is a matter for the Home Office.
We need to remember that our voices and contributions matter. If our institutions and policies are not doing enough to stem the tide of a resurgence in racism, we need to end complacency. If we in our hearts can imagine a better world, let us keep on fighting for it and eliminate racism from our society forever.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.