Bishop of Worcester “stigmatising Muslim communities not conducive to community cohesion”

worcesterOn the 27th January 2016 Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked the Government “what assessment they have made of the risk that Christians could be recorded as having committed an anti-Muslim hate crime from April 2016 by preaching the divinity of Christ or by reading aloud sections of the Bible in public, such as 1 John, Chapter 4, verses 1 to 3.” The Rt Revd John Inge, Bishop of Worcester, asked a follow-up question criticising the phrasing of Lord Pearson’s question and highlighting the  contribution of religion to the enrichment of public life. The transcript in full is available below.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that Questions phrased in this manner are not conducive to building positive relations between faith communities, in particular with Muslim communities, as we are endeavouring to do in the church at a time when Muslims are feeling unfairly stigmatised? Does he further accept that Muslims, and people of all faiths, greatly enrich our society and make a significant contribution to the common good?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I agree with the right reverend Prelate, but I also believe very strongly that adversity is an opportunity and that Questions such as this present an opportunity to all of us in this House, across the political spectrum, to speak with one voice and unite against bigotry in all its ugly guises.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport and Home Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): My Lords, reading texts from the holy Bible in public or preaching the divinity of Christ is not a crime, and never will be in this country. The Government’s counterextremism strategy makes it clear that we will protect free speech and the right to profess, practise and propagate any religion, or indeed none.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. I must say that I thought it was brave of the Prime Minister to say in his Christmas message that Jesus is the only son of God, because that will not have gone down all that well with the Islamists. Will a Christian preacher be committing this new hate crime if he goes a little further and denies the supremacy of the Koran, and thus the divinity of Allah? Secondly, I assume that the Minister agrees that the serious hatred is coming from the jihadists, against non-Muslims and against those brave Muslims who oppose the jihadists’ evil creed and form the large majority of the thousands whom they have slaughtered. So how can anyone be guilty of hate if they preach their own religion, even outside a mosque, and take part in much-needed debate about Islam?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, the Government are clear that anyone who preaches any kind of hate has no place here, and I believe that all of us across this House unite on that. Bigotry has no place and any kind of hate, be it based on race, sexual orientation or religion, has no place in British society. The Government, our legal system and our police will stand against that. The noble Lord made brief reference to the Prime Minister’s message. My right honourable friend mentioned the holy personage of Jesus Christ, whom Muslims celebrate because, as the noble Lord well knows, Muslims also regard and revere the Prophet Jesus as a prophet of God.

Lord Polak (Con): My Lords, today is Holocaust Memorial Day—a day to remember those who perished and the brave soldiers who helped to liberate the camps, and to remember and pay tribute to the depleting band of survivors who spend their days educating young people. I also commend the Prime Minister for his announcement today that a fitting memorial will be erected adjacent to this House, in Victoria Tower Gardens. Does the Minister agree that, today of all days, we should acknowledge where hate crime can lead? Does he further agree that the vital task of the Prime Minister’s Holocaust foundation should be to concentrate on educating young people as, sadly, there will soon be no survivors to tell the story?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I join my noble friend in the sentiments he expressed. Indeed, I believe I speak for every Member of this House as we come together on this poignant day, when we remember those who passed away in the Holocaust—the victims of the biggest crime of genocide against humanity that we have seen in the world. We must work together, including on education. I am therefore proud that on entering my office in the Home Office, if you look to the right, the first certificate you will see is for the Anne Frank Trust UK, which does an incredible job in promoting Holocaust education. I praise the efforts of all organisations and the work of my noble friend in this respect.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that Questions phrased in this manner are not conducive to building positive relations between faith communities, in particular with Muslim communities, as we are endeavouring to do in the church at a time when Muslims are feeling unfairly stigmatised? Does he further accept that Muslims, and people of all faiths, greatly enrich our society and make a significant contribution to the common good?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I agree with the right reverend Prelate, but I also believe very strongly that adversity is an opportunity and that Questions such as this present an opportunity to all of us in this House, across the political spectrum, to speak with one voice and unite against bigotry in all its ugly guises.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister agree with me—

Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB): My Lords—

Noble Lords: Cross Bench!

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale: I think it is this side. Will the Minister agree with me that the idea that bigotry and hatred are confined only to the extreme elements in the Islamic religion in this country is absolute nonsense? Historically, bigotry and hatred have been inflicted on both Catholic and Protestant communities right across the United Kingdom by alternative Christian religions. Will he join me in consistently condemning all forms of religious sectarianism and bigotry? If we do that in this House, we will perhaps have a stronger message to tell the country.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I totally agree with the noble Lord. One other point I would add is that whenever we face such bigotry, the resilience of our country and our historic legacy shows that when we face those challenges, we come together as a more united nation going forward.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: My Lords, when religions claim competing exclusive truths, the end result is conflict. Is it not better to go along with the proposition that the one God of us all is not in the least bit interested in our different religious labels but in what we do to make life better for those around us?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I totally agree with the noble Lord, who speaks with great poignancy and expertise in this area. I regard religion very much as a route: we all have the same beginning and the same end, and the religion we follow is but a different path towards that end.

Lord Paddick (LD): My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what research the Government are doing into the causes of the genuine and alarming increase in both anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic hate crime and whether the increasing anti-Muslim rhetoric in some British media—and elsewhere—might be the case?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The noble Lord is quite right to point out what is being done. He will be aware from his own previous profession that the Government are working with the police and with communities to ensure that any kind of religious hate is formally recorded and that people are educated that they should report hate crime. From April this year, as the noble Lord will be aware, the Government will ensure that anti-Muslim hatred, along with other religious hate crime, is formally recorded by every police force across England and Wales.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (Ind UU): My Lords, is the Minister aware that we have already had a case in Northern Ireland, where a Christian Minister was literally persecuted for months before eventually being brought before our courts, tried and acquitted? Do we still have British law in Northern Ireland, or is that now being adjusted to suit sectarian interests in my part of the United Kingdom?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I, for one, am very proud of our justice system across the United Kingdom. Despite every challenge and diversity, there is great faith in our justice system. As we have seen previously, our justice system even stands up for those who seek to divide us or promote hate in our society.

(Via Parliament.UK