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Community Cohesion

Volume 774: debated on Monday 18 July 2016


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to bring together all communities following the result of the European Union referendum.

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lady Mobarik, and with her permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, I am sure the whole House will wish the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, all the best in her new role. Britain has a claim on being the most successful multifaith, multiracial democracy in the world. This Government support programmes that bring communities together in celebrating what unites us. We are stepping up efforts to tackle the scourge of hate crime, and fighting disadvantage and extending opportunity, which is the surest way to build strong and cohesive communities.

My Lords, deep divisions within our communities emerged during the EU referendum. Since then, we have seen a worrying rise in racist and xenophobic behaviour and language. This exists alongside deprivation and a sense of exclusion for some. I commend Her Majesty’s Government for their efforts thus far on community cohesion, but what actions are being taken now towards a more integrated approach, whereby social and economic well-being and community cohesion are tackled collectively?

My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will welcome the fact that we are working on a hate crime action plan, which will increase the importance of the reporting of hate crime and provide stronger support for victims. We are making progress on this. It is true that post the referendum there was a spike in hate crime reporting, but thankfully that has levelled off. That is not to minimise the challenge. As I say, we are working on a hate crime action plan and taking action forward in that way.

My Lords, the Minister may be aware that, yesterday afternoon, Hammersmith council organised a demo and meeting on the theme of hope not hate. Do the Government realise that local authorities have a key part to play in this? They might need a bit more help. Will the Government give that help and support to local authorities in tackling hate crime?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. HOPE not hate does a considerable amount in this regard and I follow what it does very closely. We are supporting local authorities and working with them through organisations. I recognise the importance of working with local authorities, and today I have asked that we contact the Greater London Assembly to see how we can work successfully with it across London, too.

My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge and welcome the fact that many people have come together to oppose the rise in hate crime and to show their revulsion at what has been going on? Will he say whether the role of the media should now be looked at more closely? Over the weekend in the Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie wrote a column criticising a Muslim broadcaster reporting on the news, because she wore a headscarf. Apparently it was inappropriate for a woman wearing a headscarf to report on the terrible attacks in Nice. Surely this cannot be tolerated in our society. Will the Minister condemn it?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right about people coming together to tackle hate crime. I was particularly impressed to hear of a movement called Salaam Shalom in Nottingham, which is supported by the Government, bringing together the Jewish and Muslim faiths. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness about the many excellent role models that we have of Muslim women. She referred to one; we all remember “The Great British Bake Off” and so on. It is time to celebrate the diversity of our society and recognise that when we are united, we are strongest.

My Lords, much hate crime arises out of ignorance and suspicion. We all know that in a fog even familiar objects, such as a lamppost or a dustbin, can assume frightening and threatening proportions. Does the Minister agree that a much greater effort needs to be made to remove that ignorance and bring about a much better understanding of what different religions are and what they stand for? Unfortunately, much interfaith dialogue over the years—and I have been involved in it—is just about being nice to people without exploring the actual teachings and finding commonalities on which we can build understanding. Does the Minister agree that the search for commonalities and building on them is essential?

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. He is absolutely right that it is about much more than just coming together and talking to each other; it is about understanding each other better. Many interfaith groups do this very successfully, both in England and in the devolved Administrations. Again, I have asked the department to look at this to see how we can get best practice across the United Kingdom by learning what happens in the entirety of the United Kingdom. However, he is right that we have to conquer ignorance, in the sense of not knowing, in order to move forward on this key issue.

Does the Minister agree that senior politicians, and members of the Government in particular, have a responsibility not to use language that encourages this? During the referendum debate, some adverts and one or two statements—one from a current member of Government, I am afraid—gave people permission to bring out their feelings about ethnic minorities. Frankly, if such feelings are not encouraged, they tend to stay hidden.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that across the board we all—politicians in all parties, as in the other House—have a role to play and a responsibility to use appropriate language and come together to ensure that we move forward in tackling hate crime together.

My Lords, on 29 June, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, read a Statement to the House in which he said that new, additional funding would be made available to tackle these issues at community level. How much new funding has been made available, and which community groups have been given this money?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that the Casey review will soon report on boosting opportunity and integration. We will wait for the publication of that report before making any definitive decisions on the amount of funding. The noble Baroness will know that we already put a significant amount into organisations such as: Near Neighbours; Tell MAMA, which stands for Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks; Holocaust Memorial Day, and so on. However, we will make a statement in response to the Casey review when it is published.

My Lords, the Minister refers to ethnic minorities, but he will appreciate that this is an issue not just for ethnic minorities but for anyone from the EU who currently lives and works here. A friend who works in Westfield shopping centre reports an increased number of attacks—not physical attacks but abuse, rudeness and unpleasantness—to staff from the EU. Does he accept that it would be helpful if the Government urgently made sure that EU citizens living here in the UK could be assured of their place in this country? At the moment, they are scared to report such attacks and abuse, because they are not certain about their own status.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that it is not simply an issue for ethnic minorities, although that is one very visible and significant aspect of this, but about EU nationals, and indeed about visitors to this country from the EU and elsewhere. We are looking at it in the round. The Casey review, which I referred to, is looking at integration more generally, and as I say we are looking forward to receiving its findings. However, in order to reassure noble Lords of the significance attached to this by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, she has made clear that hate crime has absolutely no place in Britain and that she is determined to make further progress to ensure that we can eradicate these deplorable acts. I am sure that we all take comfort from that.