Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the Community Security Trust Campus Antisemitism in Britain 2018–2020, published on 17 December, and in particular, the finding that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in universities has increased.
My Lords, I am particularly pleased to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, to his new post in the Ministry of Justice. The noble Lord comes to us garlanded with the highest praises that the Bar can bestow. Like other well-known public figures, he was once a prolific Twitterer, and showed a great sense of humour and a rare knack for conciliating different points of view. All those qualities will stand him in good stead here. We wish him well and look forward to meeting in person.
I have spoken about campus anti-Semitism on previous occasions and sadly there is a great deal more to report. It is equally sad that an organisation such as the Community Security Trust, whose report we are debating, should have to exist at all. It is a charity that protects British Jews from anti-Semitism and provides security. How regrettable it is that every Jewish building and every Jewish gathering has to be protected by CST guards. I take this opportunity to thank the Government for the funding they provide to help the CST to continue to provide safeguards for the Jewish community.
The CST report uncovered the highest number of university anti-Semitic incidents ever recorded, notably online. Shockingly, they included anti-Semitic action by university staff—the very people who should be teaching students to reason and tolerate. Nothing leaves a Jewish student more unprotected than to find that the anti-Semitism he or she faces is from his or her lecturer, and that the panel set up by the authorities to investigate it is peopled by colleagues and devoid of Jewish members.
The treatment meted out, the failure to discipline and the reaction would not be tolerated for a moment by other ethnic minorities. But somehow racist and religious prejudice against Jews is given short shrift, and its specific nature glossed over. Just as Jeremy Corbyn’s response to allegations of anti-Semitism was that he was anti-racist, ergo could not be guilty, so the university authorities and Universities UK are trying to disguise this prejudice by folding it up into other racisms. In November, UUK put out a report on anti-racism in universities, but relegated anti-Semitism to a passing mention in a footnote.
The situation is not all bad. There is light at the end of the tunnel, as under the exceptional leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, more universities—about 51—are adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which has the effect of concentrating minds on its expression as well as its definition. But first I will give noble Lords just a very few examples of the sort of behaviour taking place in our universities. These are the young people who will be our leaders in due course.
At Warwick University a student complained about a lecturer who dismissed the notion that the Labour Party could be anti-Semitic as an attempt to discredit it by the so-called Israel lobby. That lecturer emailed the whole class to suggest that claims of anti-Semitism against Labour are orchestrated. Amazingly, it was the student who was then investigated by the university at length. Although that came to nothing, what a deterrent effect that will have on any other Jewish student thinking of complaining. It was the victim who was put on the stand.
The School of Oriental and African Studies maintains its poisonous reputation for Jewish students. A Canadian student was forced to abandon his studies there because of the toxic atmosphere. He was branded a Nazi supremacist for disclosing his support for Israel and was refunded his £15,000 fees. At SOAS, others complained, being Jewish means you are called fascist. The Malaysian Prime Minister was invited to speak at both the Oxford and Cambridge Unions, was openly anti-Semitic and was greeted with laughter.
Lecturers have spontaneously called the Holocaust “too Jewish” or indulged in the old slander of over-powerful conspiring Zionists. How ironic that the practice of no-platforming is so acceptable in universities but not when it comes to anti-Semitic speech. What an indictment of the failure to deal with the problem, that some Jewish students choose a university not by the course content or the quality of teaching but by the extent of anti-Semitism that they might encounter. Some academic staff have been shown to work together to foster an atmosphere inimical to Jewish students and teach and supervise others handing on the same antagonism to the next generation.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism helpfully draws the distinction between legitimate criticism of the Israeli Government, like any other Government, and anti-Semitic calls for Israel to be destroyed or compared to a Nazi regime. Legitimate criticism of Israel is to anti-Zionism what literary criticism is to book burning. I mention the Israel element because of the wise observations of the late Lord Sacks. Antisemitism, he said, mutates like a virus. It used to manifest itself as religious discrimination, then it was racial, and now it focuses on attacking the self-determination of the Jews in their only, tiny, state.
The IHRA definition is not intended to be legally binding but to help perception and eradication of anti-Semitic activity. Why then is it not more widely adopted and why have some academics pushed back at it in a way that undermines their students’ protection? Notable among those is University College London. An academic board was set up there to try to reverse the college’s adoption of the definition which did not even include a Jewish student; can one imagine today a panel about campus racism without a black student? It argued against protection of Jewish students by saying that to define anti-Semitism is exceptionalism and blocks free speech. But anti-Semitism is exceptional in its length and breadth. As for blocking free speech about Israel, there are no examples ever of the definition having resulted in any reduction in academic freedom or research. Hardly any other country is so widely discussed. The definition is unequivocal about free speech. The irony is that the rejectionists are the ones seeking to stop Israel-connected speakers and to block academic research co-operation. What is to be done about this?
Holocaust education, which is compulsory for schoolchildren, sadly has not worked. How is it possible that an entire generation who has studied the holocaust can arrive at university and behave in the ways I have outlined? It is because they have studied the Holocaust in a vacuum, as an example of generalised hate, and have resigned it to history. They have learned nothing about the contribution of Jews to civilisation, about the millennia of persecution, and how that, and religious teaching, led to genocide; they have not learned of the overwhelming need for a safe haven and how Jewish self-determination in Israel is the best protection against genocide in the modern world. All they learn is that Jews were killed in their millions and all they see is pictures of death camps and bodies. It is not surprising that the brute reaction of some is to replicate Nazi slogans when they vent their hatred at universities. There is a need to widen Holocaust education into education about Jewish history. That is why the planned Holocaust memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens, at a cost of over £100 million and a destroyed park, is such a wasted effort. It will present the Holocaust again as something in the past, something over there, not here. It will enable alleged anti-Semites to continue to pay their respects to 6 million dead Jews, badge themselves as anti-racist and then carry on attacking Jews of today and their only state, Israel. How much easier it is to mourn the lost generation than to respect the living Jews of today. It will give the impression of “job done”.
So will the Minister take steps to ensure that more universities adopt the IHRA definition and incorporate it in their codes of conduct? Will he also promote a complete overhaul of Holocaust education so that students learn about Jewish history, why Jews were persecuted and how unwarranted are attacks on today’s community?
My Lords, alarming levels of anti-Semitism on campus are not new. It has been a profound problem since the mid-1970s. When I was a student in the 1980s, Jewish societies were being banned, at the instigation of those who saw themselves as progressive and liberal. These things—and many of the same people—played a central role more recently when my own party, the Labour Party, went through its shameful period. The problem on campus is more pronounced and, as the report attests, illustrates that for too long too little has been done to tackle students being radicalised and recruited to extremist ideas and politics with anti-Semitism at their centre, and the increasing role that academics play in propagation and denial of the problem. We need a more profound focus on the roots of such extremism and a more comprehensive view on how we tackle it. Will the Minister, whom I welcome and whose maiden speech I look forward to, consider asking the Commission for Countering Extremism to look into this, with a view to developing effective tools and techniques to guarantee the safety of Jewish students and stop a new generation of anti-Semites graduating from our colleges and universities?
I remind noble Lords that all Back-Bench speeches are limited to one minute.
My Lords, I am pleased to take part in this discussion. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on getting the debate. All forms of discrimination on the basis of identity are wrong. Some have greater resonance than others; quite clearly, for all the historical and present-day reasons we know, anti-Semitism is up there with the worst of them. However, it is simply one of the evils we have in today’s world as a result of the increasing manifestation of politics of identity which are outward-looking and hostile towards individuals and groups. It results in people being disrespected, discriminated against and attacked. It must be wiped out.
I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for securing this debate and to Gerald Ronson, the founder, driving force and inspiration of the Community Security Trust. I welcome my noble friend Lord Wolfson to the House and to the Front Bench. We both attended King David High School in Liverpool, where we learned tolerance and understanding. I am sure that he will be pleased to note that, along with other clubs, our beloved Liverpool Football Club has adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
Jewish students up and down the country need our support because, in the words of the late Lord Sacks:
“A society … that tolerates anti-Semitism—that tolerates any hate—has forfeited all moral credibility.”—[Official Report, 20/6/19; col. 868.]
This certainly applies to universities in particular; I support the call of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for all institutes of higher education to adopt the IHRA definition. I am certain that Jewish students up and down the country will take some comfort from today’s debate—although I am unsure how a one-minute contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, will be sufficient to put right a career of repeating old, medieval tropes.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe.
My Lords, there is no doubt that this report has been a wake-up call to universities. The CST acknowledges, quite fairly, that its drive to encourage greater reporting among Jewish students has helped to increase reported incidents, but the fact is that there has been a substantial increase. Much work has already been done in institutions on different forms of harassment and discrimination but Universities UK, representing all universities, accepts that more can always be done and that institutions should act swiftly on any reports of anti-Semitism. UUK’s Changing the Culture and Tackling Racial Harassment aim to galvanise the whole sector into thinking differently—less defensively and more proactively—about its approaches and policies that need to change. I am on the board of Nottingham Trent; I declare that interest. We have adopted IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, but I hope that we can go beyond debates about words and focus on the excellent work that UUK is encouraging through empowering Jewish students and creating an environment where they feel confident to come forward. What are the Government are doing to encourage reporting of any harassment?
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register and warmly welcome my noble friend Lord Wolfson to his ministerial role. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on securing the debate and the CST on the report we are debating. I highlight the excellent work of the CST, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Union of Jewish Students in their constructive engagement with universities on anti-Semitism.
In my one minute, I will focus on the need to improve university complaints procedures, which too often discourage students from reporting racism. Does my noble friend share my support for the CST report’s recommendations, such as the need for independent oversight of complaints of discrimination so that experts involved in this area can be brought in, for complaints to be responded to in a reasonable timeframe, and to ask universities to permit third parties such as the UJS or CST to submit complaints on behalf of students?
I too add my very warm welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson. I commend the Community Security Trust for the great work it does year in, year out and for this report in particular. It is very disturbing that we find ourselves in 2021 with the number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in our universities higher than ever before. I am particularly concerned about reports of anti-Semitic incidents perpetrated by academic staff, as has been mentioned, as well as by student union officers or student societies. Every student, regardless of background, is entitled to a rich and fulfilling university experience. It is vital that universities are made to act on the report’s findings and recommendations. University complaints processes must be made fit for purpose as soon as possible so that incidents are dealt with appropriately, swiftly and in a way that instils confidence in, and gives proper redress to, those making the complaints.
My Lords, I am pleased to see the growing number of universities that have adopted the IHRA definition of modern anti-Semitism. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Mann, for his encouragement of this endeavour. As the UK head of delegation to IHRA who persuaded the Prime Minister to adopt the definition, I am concerned that this non-legally-binding definition should be maliciously misrepresented as a constraint on either academic freedom or free speech. The definition expressly states that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic. If academics cannot find a way to criticise the Israeli Government without having to resort to anti-Semitic tropes, it speaks volumes to both their paucity of language and their real motivation.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for this debate, and the CST, along with the Union of Jewish Students, for preparing this important and distressing report. It is intolerable that students—or, of course, any Jewish person—should be subjected to anti-Semitic abuse. One of the issues highlighted is the flaws and lack of consistency in some universities’ complaints procedures. Some have given strong support, but others have not investigated or adjudicated complaints promptly, thoroughly or fairly. In that context, it is disappointing that only around 40 or 50 of over 130 universities have adopted the full IHRA definition and examples. Only if they do so can they recognise anti-Semitic discrimination, prejudice or abuse based on an appropriate, complete standard that is commonly accepted. I am sorry to see my alma mater, the LSE, missing from the list I saw. What are the results of the Minister’s department’s engagement with universities on adoption of the IHRA definition and best practice complaint procedures? I look forward to hearing his response and I welcome him to the Dispatch Box.
My Lords, I am chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but I make it clear that I speak in a personal capacity.
I and the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, set up something called the Coexistence Trust some dozen years ago to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment at universities, and I deeply regret that the curse of this is still ongoing. However, I am afraid that I do not support the call for an IHRA definition: it is extremely poorly worded and probably unactionable in law. The noble Lord, Lord Pickles, has just said that it is not meant to be legally enforceable. It directly conflicts with the duty on universities to protect free speech. But there is a further danger in this: when universities adopt this definition, the pressure on them increases also to adopt the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia’s extremely badly worded definition of Islamophobia. The end route, if we go down this road, is that there is no space left where students may learn to disagree with each other respectfully, something that I am sure no noble Lord would want.
My Lords, I thank the Community Security Trust for producing this timely report and for its ongoing efforts to tackle anti-Semitism. As a former lecturer, I am concerned at the findings, which revealed a steady rise of reported acts of anti-Semitism at universities. I find the CST’s recommendations reasonable and support suggestions of an independent process for reporting alleged anti-Semitism and recognising the IHRA definition.
As the approach for tackling this issue is so varied across institutions, has Her Majesty’s Government had discussions with Universities UK about developing overarching guidance for its members? I strongly believe in building interfaith harmony, which is why I successfully took action when I was accused of anti-Semitism by Associated Newspapers last year. Discrimination against one group of people should be viewed as an attack on our community as a whole. We must all stand together to combat any form of racism.
My Lords, I must adjourn the Committee for the next five minutes, as there is a Division.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, we will now resume. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Mann.
My Lords, the Council of Europe, the European Union, the British police for the last nine years, Chelsea Football Club for the last two years, and universities, some for three years, have not just thought about the IHRA definition; they have used it. There are no examples of it restricting free speech in any way. Every one of the examples cited by some maverick academics is an embellished falsehood, but do not take my word for it. This week, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, in its training document, stated that there are no such examples.
The IHRA creates a framework for democratic debate. We are the ones in favour of democratic debate and academic research, not those who are against it. Jewish students have a right to be themselves on a university campus. That is what the IHRA gives us. I look forward to more information and announcements next week, as this spreads worldwide. I call on the Government to give it maximum support, not least in allowing me and others to have proper dialogue with the new Biden Administration, to ensure that they are at the heart of getting this success into American universities.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on securing time for this debate. I also look forward very much to the maiden speech of my noble friend the Minister, whom I hope to meet in person soon.
We have all been sent some excellent material for this debate, full of interesting suggestions about how to tackle anti-Semitism on UK campuses. I want to focus not on ways of tackling anti-Semitism on campus but on ways of helping Jewish students to live with it. I want to do this because I believe that, as our late colleague Lord Sacks used to say, anti-Semitism is a virus which has been around for thousands of years and is unlikely to disappear any time soon, whether from our universities or elsewhere. That is why I believe that we must do whatever we can to make Jewish students in the UK feel secure and respected, so that when they graduate they will want to devote their talents and energy to making this country more prosperous and civilised.
The University Jewish Chaplaincy has been doing precisely this for over 50 years. I urge the Government to support this charity so that it can continue to do its work effectively for at least another half century.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for drawing our attention to this report. To have 123 incidents—and increasing—in two years is serious, and I must say I was shocked when I read the nature of the abuse.
What is missing, however, is any investigation into why these incidents are increasing. The graph in the report is very interesting, because it shows a sharp increase after the deadly attacks on Gaza in 2008-09 and 2014. Since then, with increasing violence in the West Bank and Gaza, the expansion of settlements and the occupation of east Jerusalem, anti-Semitic incidents have continued to rise.
Whenever I suggest a connection between the two, I am told this is “victim blame”, which it is not. The victims are innocent Jewish people—students, in this case. They are victims because of the illegal actions of the Israeli Government. Please will our Government investigate the connection?
My Lords, one of the most egregious aspects of the indisputable rise of anti-Semitism on campus has been the way that elements of the left have exploited the well-meaning, progressive and radical instincts of so many students to deploy anti-Semitic myths. Whether it is the crass critique of capitalist injustice, with its gross, caricatured cabals of big bankers or, more pertinently, in the name of protecting oppressed groups, censorship is used to de-platform and disrupt Israeli speakers, to argue for academic boycotts or even, through the prism of identity politics, to treat all Jewish students as an undifferentiated blob representing privileged oppressors to be silenced.
Can the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, who I of course welcome, assure us that when tackling this urgent matter, there will be no attempt at mirroring this censorious cancel-culture approach by, for example, no-platforming external speakers or clamping down on student societies, however unpalatably anti-Semitic their views? As Deborah Lipstadt reminds us in her brilliant book, Anti-Semitism: Here and Now, we need to strike a balance between warning and overreacting. It can backfire if we ourselves become intolerant. Free speech is an ally in fighting campus anti-Semitism, and shining a light on prejudice and bigotry, even in this House, is far more effective than bans.
I congratulate both the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on securing this debate and the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, on joining your Lordships’ House and look forward to his maiden speech.
If university leaders truly want to stamp out anti-Semitism, they must take ownership of the problem. The tone from the top is key, but there must be actions, not just words. First, leaders must adopt the IHRA definition, now universally accepted, of antisemitism. Next, they must ensure that clear rules are in place which are enforced through a strong disciplinary process, and those breaching the rules must be disciplined—whether students or members of faculty. Importantly, disciplinary decisions must be promulgated widely as an example to others, making it clear that anti-Semitic acts will not be tolerated. Finally, there must be a safe environment for students to come forward and report problems, knowing that there is no risk of retribution for so doing.
I refer your Lordships to my register of interests. I was especially interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, would have to say in this debate, given her form on anti-Semitism. I have to say that it was predictable.
Criticism of Israel is usually healthy, especially in Israel itself. But there is a distinction between fair criticism and criticism that crosses that shocking line into race hate. Those across campuses who repeatedly voice their contempt for Israel and all it stands for reveal their prejudice by refusing ever to acknowledge any context.
Israel is the only fully-fledged democracy in the Middle East. The country itself is threatened daily by Hezbollah, Hamas and Iranian-sponsored terrorism—never mentioned. Israel’s regard for constitutional and civil human rights—never mentioned. Israel has many times been poised to conclude a two-state peace treaty with the Palestinians only to be thwarted by the extremists who prefer terror to peace—never mentioned. Criticism that ignores this context is nothing but a thin veil to hide deep seated and ill-disguised hatred of the Jewish state and all Jews. Anti-Semitism has no place anywhere in Britain, but most especially in places of learning.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the CST for its crucial work in combating anti-Semitism. Its report’s most worrying aspect is staff making allegedly anti-Semitic comments, the impact on students they teach and on students who are too scared to complain. I would like the Government to consider five specific questions. First, what will the Minister do to prevent academics spreading conspiracy theories and ensure that publicly funded universities recognised this problem and deal with it? Secondly, will they look at the contents of the report about Professor Miller and take this up with Bristol? What assessment has been made of how universities handle complaints, such as Warwick, and what discussions will they have with the vice-chancellor about it? What will they do about the obsession on campuses about Israel and the so-called Israel apartheid week, which is an insult not just to the Middle East’s only democracy but to black South Africans who suffered under apartheid? Finally, it is completely wrong for the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, to blame racism against Jewish people in Britain not on the racists responsible but on Israel.
My Lords, I warmly welcome my noble friend Lord Wolfson to our House and look forward to his maiden speech. I declare my interests as I hold a number of positions in the Jewish community and that I have two daughters at university right now. How depressing to learn that they are facing anti-Semitism as I did 40 years ago; in those days, all the talk was about “Perdition” and, of course, anti-Israel rhetoric.
I welcome the CST report, but we have to recognise that it covers only reported anti-Semitism, not the huge amount of non-reported anti-Semitism, much of it online and some of it well away from campus, but which still affects the mental health of Jewish students, with torrents of vile extreme right and left-wing material. Does the Minister agree that we must ensure that higher education does not follow where the Labour Party went and even some parliamentarians seem to be going, of attacking Israel as a proxy for anti-Semitism?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for initiating this very much-needed debate. Perhaps I speak for everybody in saying that it should have been a three-hour debate. I compliment the CST on the work it does; I should declare that I am on its advisory board.
In this minute I shall comment on some of the speeches. For the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, there are no excuses for anti-Semitism. My noble friend Lady Ludford is right to ask the Minister about the lack of consistency in universities, and my noble friend Lord Greaves made an overriding comment about the evils in the world today. However, I must also comment, and I am shocked, that the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, says that she is against the IHRA definition. I trust that that is not the view of the body that she chairs.
In the seconds available to me, I will revert back to comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. Few Jews today attend SOAS University of London because they know they would face a hostile environment where anti-Zionism often tips over into anti-Semitism. It is shameful that anyone should experience this in a UK university.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for bringing forward the debate and the CST for its report. The vital issues the debate has raised are the welfare of Jewish students, the need for accessible, responsive reporting mechanisms online and in person, and the need to recognise this as part of a broader social problem.
With my minute, I ask the Minister: are universities that demonstrate best practice in dealing with complaints being encouraged to share that best practice? I think they should.
I welcome the work the Labour leadership is doing to rebuild the trust of the Jewish community and tackle anti-Semitism after the quite shameful findings of the ECHR report. As a party, we look forward to working with others to tackle this problem in our universities and across civic life, using the influence and insight which we have in tackling discrimination, injustice and hate crimes.
Finally, like all other colleagues, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and give him the very best regards for his maiden speech, which I, and everyone else who has taken part in this debate, look forward to hearing.
It gives me pleasure now to welcome the Minister, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, for his maiden speech.
My Lords, it is an honour to make my maiden speech. It is a privilege to do so from this somewhat virtual Front Bench. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for initiating this short but important debate.
I begin with a series of thank yous. While traditional, they are no less heartfelt. I thank Black Rod and the Clerk of the Parliaments for their help and advice, and the doorkeepers, who, in the short time since my introduction, have helped me find my way when I was lost, and my iPad when it was lost. I am also grateful to my introducers: my noble friend Lord Faulks, a previous holder of my ministerial position; and my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh, who, since I first met him at university, has devoted his talents to the governance of this magnificent city—and now also the country.
As this is my maiden speech, I hope noble Lords will permit me to speak to the question a little more personally than might otherwise be expected. Four generations ago, my family came to this country, seeking refuge from hatred abroad and the hope of a better life. Like many families, then and now, education and, in particular, going to university and getting a degree was my family’s way out of an economic if not physical ghetto.
We were fortunate to come to a genuinely tolerant and welcoming country. The late Lord Sacks of blessed memory, already invoked by several speakers, would surely have contributed his wisdom to this debate as he enhanced so many deliberations of your Lordships’ House. He used to say that this country is, in the traditional phrase, a “malkhut shel chessed”: a kingdom of kindness. I hope that my deviation from English in that sentence complied with the rule found in paragraph 4.39 of the Companion, being both, if a Minister is still permitted to use this phrase, limited and specific.
The importance of ensuring that our universities are free, so far as possible, from the scourge of anti-Semitism is something to which the Government give, as any Government must, the highest importance. I said “so far as possible” deliberately, because I recognise that, as we fight against all forms of discrimination, the battle against anti-Semitism may never be finally won.
While this country is indeed a kingdom of kindness and of tolerance, we must be on our guard against anti-Semitism. That especially applies to universities, which play such a crucial role in our cultural and intellectual life. Universities should be at the forefront of tackling anti-Semitism, which manifests itself both as religious hatred and as racism. Their duty is to ensure that higher education is a genuinely fulfilling and welcoming experience for all.
The fight against racism, against antisemitism, is reflected in my own family’s history and in my choice of Tredegar. In the latter part of the 19th century and the first couple of decades of the 20th, Jewish immigrants were drawn to south Wales and Tredegar by a thriving economy based on coal and generally found there a tolerant and welcoming society—a shared love of, we might say, the Hebrew Bible. The fact that both the largely Methodist local community and the Jewish immigrants were, in the terminology of the day, nonconformists. But shortly before midnight on 19 August 1911, a mob began to roam the streets of Tredegar. Over the ensuing hours, what started small turned into an anti-Jewish riot, resurrecting a racism most had thought long dead. In the middle of the riot, my great Uncle Jack was born and became the first in the family to gain a title. He was also known as Jack the riot baby. My family remembers that riot precisely because it was so unusual. Tredegar was overwhelmingly a community that gave immigrants a home, so much so that my paternal grandfather grew up trilingual—a remarkable combination of English, Yiddish and Welsh.
I am a Minister in the Ministry of Justice. This debate, and the characteristically thoughtful contributions of many noble Lords, highlights three important features of what justice means and ultimately what a just society is. To illustrate those three qualities and, although I sit in your Lordships’ House as a Lord temporal and not a Lord spiritual, I again turn to the writings of Lord Sacks. Lord Sacks recounted the first recorded conversation between the Almighty and one of the patriarchs. It is a famous bargaining session between God and Abraham. God is determined to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham is equally determined to save them. Like any good lawyer, he bargains God down, from his opening bid that the presence of 50 righteous people would justify mercy. Eventually God agrees that if there are even 10 righteous people living in those cities, then the cities will be spared. I take three points from that story. First, as Lord Sacks explained, justice is the supreme virtue. Abraham’s question to the Almighty, to which there was no answer because there is no answer, was this: shall the Lord of all the earth not do justice? That question had no answer because justice is at the heart of a civilised society. Justice and the rule of law enable people of all backgrounds, and of different beliefs and of none, to live together under the law and in harmony.
The simple reason why antisemitism is wrong—and this goes for all forms of racism—is because it is unjust. That is why this Government expects higher education providers and their leaders to take a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism. Providers must have procedures in place to ensure that they comply with the law. Where providers have failed in their duty to investigate and adjudicate complaints about antisemitism fairly and consistently, as my noble friend Lady Altmann and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, have mentioned, that is unacceptable. Universities and other higher education providers are independent and autonomous, but their independence and autonomy does not mean they are unaccountable. It means that they are responsible for the management of their own affairs and for meeting their duties under the law—including those relating to freedom of expression and equalities. It has been extremely disappointing to hear that some providers have failed in their duty to have robust policies and procedures in place. This is unacceptable and must cease; it is simply unjust, and justice is the supreme virtue. That is the first point I take from the story.
The second point is this: when it comes to the hard work of creating a society based on justice, all can contribute. The Almighty was prepared to have a debate with a mere mortal about what justice required. We, then, can surely find it within ourselves to debate with each other. So, in my work as a Minister in your Lordships’ House, my door will always be open to everyone. Debate with others, with whom you might disagree, is not only good manners. Thoughtful and tolerant debate is the way to achieve the most just society that we can.
Racism is the antithesis of debate. An anti-Semite does not want to hear what you say; when anti-Semitism goes unchecked at a university, it means a young person’s voice is silenced. I therefore welcome the report’s recommendation that providers adopt the working definition of anti-Semitism set out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Indeed, when I was at the Bar I authored a legal opinion commending that definition. This Government have taken decisive action in encouraging its adoption; since October, when the Secretary of State for Education wrote to all providers in England to encourage them to adopt it, at least 27 additional institutions have done so.
I shall make two other points. First, in urging providers to adopt this definition, as my noble friend Lord Pickles explained, the Government are not impinging on their autonomy; it is their decision how to fulfil their duties under the law. However, if institutions do not demonstrate that they are taking their responsibilities seriously, we will consider going further to ensure that all providers are tackling anti-Semitism. Secondly, this Government support free speech. The right to discuss all kinds of issues, including those that might be uncomfortable or even offensive to some, is an integral part of higher education. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, to that extent. However, freedom of speech protections can never justify a lack of action from providers in confronting racism and anti-Semitism on campus. That is my second point from this story: the importance of debate.
The third point is an insight from my father. The people whose presence might save the cities are not described in the biblical text as being merely “righteous”; they are referred to as righteous people “living in the city”. Living a good life is not just being a good citizen; it means playing your part in society and in the life of the nation, as my family has always sought to do. More than this, a just society is one which makes room for all. A society built on justice is an inclusive society. As a Justice Minister, I will seek to play my part in building a society based on justice and the rule of law, because that is a society to which everyone can contribute. Universities are the place where young women and men start to make their own independent way into society. Racism of any kind will not be tolerated anywhere in society; it is especially important that it is drummed out of our universities. That is my third and final point: a just society is an inclusive society—a society in which anti-Semitism has no place.
I again congratulate the noble Baroness on raising this important question and will write to noble Lords, with a copy placed in the Library, on those contributions which the time allotted for my maiden speech did not allow me specifically to respond to. I welcome the findings of the CST’s report. Many institutions have provided strong support to Jewish students, who also benefit, as has been mentioned, from the sterling work of the University Jewish Chaplaincy. However, the report demonstrates that, despite all our efforts over many years, anti-Semitism persists in our higher education system. The number of anti-Semitic incidents in our universities has become a real cause for concern. Therefore, we again call on leaders across the sector to do more to ensure a zero-tolerance approach is now taken.
I know from my family’s history, with its roots in Tredegar, that universities have great potential to change lives for the better. I feel sure that universities are serious in their commitment to tackling racism, which includes anti-Semitism, but much work remains to be done.
I apologise for my original pronunciation of Tredegar—that is one mistake I will not make again.