On 1st December 2015 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a question in the House of Lords about violence against Muslims and other minority groups following the terrorist attacks in Paris. He followed up with a question about negative media coverage of British Muslims.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport and Home Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): My Lords, the Government take the safety of all our citizens and communities very seriously; indeed, this is at the core of counterextremism strategy. Following the tragic events in Paris, we are working to take all necessary action: police have increased their presence at important locations and events; advice has been given to places of worship; and we are working with organisations such as Tell MAMA to confront anti-Muslim hatred. The Prime Minister has also announced new funding for the security of mosques.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the Minister for his reply and am grateful for all that Her Majesty’s Government are doing already. Perhaps I may focus on one particular area. Since those terrible events on 13 November in Paris, some of our national newspapers have run some very disturbing stories about the treatment of British Muslims and minority groups, such as asylum seekers, here. Does the Minister agree that, in modern, democratic Britain, there is no place for misleading headlines and scurrilous cartoons designed to demonise minority groups? Many of us on these Benches have been involved in face-to-face meetings during the past three weeks with members of the Muslim community, who are deeply dismayed and angry at what has happened. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to counter such unhelpful stories and narratives and to strengthen community relations between minorities and the wider British public?
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I agree with the right reverend Prelate that, at a time which is very sensitive, to see the headlines that we have seen in certain newspapers is, frankly, appalling. They do not help and they certainly do not add community cohesion. Notwithstanding the freedoms of press that we enjoy, it is important that we see responsible press reporting. On what steps we have taken, perhaps I may first say how greatly encouraged I have been by the efforts on the part of the communities themselves, particularly the Muslim community, and their reaction to the Paris attacks. Let it be clear that no Government of whatever colour, previously or today, have ever asked any community or faith group to apologise for their faith, and that should be on record. However, what is required is that all communities come together to condemn such atrocities as we have seen in Paris and elsewhere around the world. The Muslim community has been at the forefront at that, not just here in Britain but across the globe—I am sure that many noble Lords will have seen the advert which was taken out by many Muslim community leaders and mosques condemning the actions in Paris and saying quite clearly, “Not in our name”.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB): My Lords, the Minister will be aware of numerous attacks on Sikhs as a result of mistaken identity. While hate crimes against the Muslim community have been monitored by every police force in the country, not a single penny is being spent on monitoring hate crimes against Sikhs. The American Government are well aware of this problem which Sikhs suffer from and are taking steps to monitor that hate crime. When will the British Government catch up?
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Let me assure the noble Lord that the British Government take all hate crime seriously. That is why, in October, the Prime Minister announced a new hate crime initiative, which will be published in January, against all forms of hatred and bigotry. On the recording of anti-Muslim hatred, all religious hate crime and bigotry from anywhere in the country will be recorded officially by all police forces across England and Wales from April next year.
Lord Paddick (LD): My Lords, following the London bombings in 2005 there was a similar increase in Islamophobic hate crime. The then most senior Muslim officer in the UK said that this,
“can lead to these communities completely retreating and not engaging at a time when we want their engagement and support”.
What guidance have the Government given to police forces on engagement with Muslim communities in order to maintain their trust and confidence?
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the tragic events of 7/7. In Britain today, no community, including the Muslim community, has retreated. We are a thriving democracy—multifaith and multicultural—where we celebrate the diversity of our country as a strength. However, the noble Lord is right to ask what the police are doing. We are working hand in glove with the police to ensure that reassurance is conveyed to all communities, irrespective of whatever faith they may be, that the police, the Government and all of us stand with them against all forms of bigotry.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP):
Lord Morgan (Lab):
The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con):
My Lords, I think we should go to the Labour Benches.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, is this not a two-way affair? I recently chaired a committee on student radicalism in our universities and I was saddened and appalled at how the Islamic societies there form themselves into self-created ghettos. I would like to discuss this with the Minister, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bates, as well. They isolated themselves from, and in many ways were hostile to, the outside student community, not to mention sexual minorities and women groups. Muslims should not be attacked, obviously, but should not also they make their own positive commitment to community integration?
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The noble Lord referred to a report, which I have seen, and he is right to say that. No one needs to see division within our communities wherever they may be, including within a university setting or elsewhere. That said, the noble Lord will also recognise that the Muslim community, as I have said, has been at the forefront of condemning not only the actions in Paris but elsewhere globally. It is a strength of our country that, in the face of such bigotry, venom and vicious attacks against humanity, we come together, irrespective of our backgrounds or faith, to say we stand together against all bigotry, united as a nation. We should commend all groups which have done just that.