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Anti-terrorism: Hate Speech

Volume 792: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in pursuit of their anti-terrorism strategy, they will require preaching in mosques and teaching in madrassas in England and Wales to be monitored for hate speech against non-Muslims.

My Lords, it is just a year since the Finsbury Park terror attack on the mosque, and I am reminded how the Muslim community acted then—with dignity, determination and compassion—as no doubt the noble Lord is also so reminded. Our Government are clear on our strong objective to tackle hate crime. Free speech and freedom of belief are fundamental principles of our society. The Government have no plans to require monitoring of preaching in mosques or in any other faith institution.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, but I fear that it underestimates the problem because the Government must know that hatred of us kuffar is central to radical Islam, that it is being taught in our mosques and madrassas, and that their own Behavioural Insights Team has said that their present policies are failing. Should not the Government get real by requiring all such teaching to be in English, as soon as possible, and by insisting on far greater collaboration from our peaceful Muslim friends in the meantime? After all, they know what is going on. And will the Government please stop using the word “Islamophobia”, because it is surely reasonable and not at all phobic to fear the world’s most violent ideology, from which indeed most hate speech now comes?

My Lords, first, the Government are committed to tackling Islamophobia. Secondly, perhaps I could tell the noble Lord of two recent visits I have made in relation to faith institutions. One was to a mosque in Manchester: an excellent mosque in Gorton, where Jews and Christians were welcomed for a great iftar. It was a true expression of British Muslim activity. Similarly, the previous day I visited the Manchester Islamic High School for Girls, where the opening words from the headmistress were on how proud she was to be British—but she was also proud to be Muslim.

My Lords, I do not like to read, but I shall be really careful how I phrase this with reference to the original Question. Could I ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in pursuit of their antiterrorism strategy, they will require preaching in the form of Oral Questions and debate in your Lordships’ House to be monitored for hate speech and Islamophobia against Muslims? Does the Minister agree that Tommy Robinson, who has, to much disgust, been hosted in your Lordships’ House for tea and lunch but is now serving time in, I believe, Her Majesty’s Prison Hull, is now in a more appropriate place for someone who thinks, speaks, preaches and conducts himself as he does?

My Lords, my noble friend makes some powerful points, and I pay tribute to what she does in this regard. First, I agree with her about the importance of people in this House exercising discretion—of course, within the bounds of free speech—about what they say. Secondly, I am aware that Tommy Robinson is in Her Majesty’s Prison Hull, and I was aware that he was hosted here recently. I was recently in Hull myself, not on prison visits but on faith visits.

My Lords, the Labour Party has been criticised—rightly, as it has now acknowledged —for failing to respond promptly to claims of anti-Semitism in its ranks. Recently, we have learned of a number of cases of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and today it has emerged that, four weeks ago, the Muslim Council of Britain wrote to Brandon Lewis, the party chairman, requesting an inquiry, to which it received no reply, prompting it to write again yesterday, saying:

“We cannot have an approach where you are hoping that the issue would magically go away so that (you) could avoid a bruising inquiry into anti-Muslim prejudice”.

Will the Minister—held, as he is, in the highest regard in this House—use his best endeavours to ensure that his party and the Government respond constructively to the concern expressed on behalf of our Muslim fellow citizens?

My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord for his kind words and what he said about anti-Semitism, which needs tackling in all political parties, as does Islamophobia. I fully accept that. He will probably be aware that the Prime Minister answered a question on this in PMQs today and made clear our determination to deal with the issue. I cannot give him an update on a letter that was sent yesterday—that will probably take a bit longer—but there have been suspensions and expulsions and, wherever there is evidence of Islamophobia in our party, it will be dealt with severely, often with expulsion. I hope that we can look to other political parties to do the same with respect to all religions—this is something that affects all of us. I share the noble Lord’s aspiration that this be properly dealt with.

My Lords, I think that we should hear from the Lib Dems and then there will be time for the Cross-Benchers.

Does the Minister agree that an attempt to stigmatise Muslims, as the original Question does, is unworthy of any Member of your Lordships’ House, and that such language aids those who oppose cohesive communities and encourages hate crimes and attacks on both mosques and individual Muslims?

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness on that issue. She will know, as I do, that the great mass of people in this country want the cohesive communities that, for the most part, we have. As I go around the country, I see that. That is the norm, but we need to ensure that it is universally the case, which, sadly, it is not yet, across all our communities.

My Lords, as a teacher of Islamic law, I should like to make a correction. Islam accepts all religions that preceded it—all religions of the book are accepted and respected. This is a Koranic teaching; therefore, there is no time or respect for anyone who demonises any religion, and that should include Islam as well.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, who speaks with great authority on the issue. I am sure that the whole House will take note. As I said, as I go around the country and visit mosques and other religious institutions, evidence of what is happening up and down Britain is that it is exactly as she said.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that pursuing anti-terrorism is the business not just of the Government but of all citizens of the United Kingdom? Therefore, if noble Lords do not mind an African saying, when two elephants fight, or make love, the grass gets hurt—what will not work is either side of the House thinking that it is doing a better job than the other. All of us are involved in trying to resist terrorism; it does not matter where it comes from. It is the duty of every citizen to pursue that particular reality. I lived in Uganda at one time when Idi Amin could just pick on anybody; it did not matter who you were or what you believed. What is critical, when we as citizens of the nation do not assist in the whole question of overcoming terrorism, is that it would be a mistake to think that it is purely an Islamic question.

I am most grateful to the most reverend Primate for his words. It is certainly something for all of us and all religions, as he has said. It is reflected in the integration Green Paper, on which we have been consulting. I was recently in Peterborough, which is one of our areas trailblazing integration, to see the good work being done there across all religions.