On 11th February 2020 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a question he had tabled to Government on plans to tackle antisemitism. The response, his follow-up question and those of other Members is below:
Hate Crime: Anti-Semitism
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to address antisemitic hate crime.
Baroness Berridge (Con): My Lords, the Government are committed to combating all forms of antisemitism. Our cross-party working group ensures that we are alive to Jewish community concerns and can respond effectively, alongside the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, as our independent adviser. We have spent nearly £860,000 this year on projects tackling religiously and racially motivated hatred, including almost £150,000 to tackle anti-Semitism online.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. According to the Community Security Trust, the number of anti-Semitic instances has risen for each of the past four years. It is a growing problem. We in the churches have been exploring with Jewish groups any role that we may have played in the past with any stereotyping. Recently, the entire College of Bishops of the Church of England signed up to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Education will be key. I am grateful for what the noble Baroness has said, but can she tell us not only about the funds but which projects and resources Her Majesty’s Government are making available so that we can address, through education, the stereotyping and the troping of Jewish people to address this scourge.
Baroness Berridge: I am pleased to note that the right reverend Prelate said that the bishops have adopted the definition. In 2016, this Government were the first to do so. The Department for Education specifically teaches on the Holocaust in schools through programmes such as lessons on Auschwitz and the work of the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education. It is the only compulsory named topic in the history curriculum. We agree that the effective teaching of pupils can help them understand the possible consequences of anti-Semitism. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate is taking his experience back to the many schools that the Church of England runs in our country.
Lord Mann (Non-Afl): I refer to my declaration in the register of interests. As well as the bishops, six football clubs—Chelsea, West Ham United, Newcastle United, Bournemouth, Brighton and Crystal Palace—have all adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Does the Minister agree that if it is good enough for the Church and football clubs, then it should be good enough for employers, trade unions, universities and other institutions of civil society?
Baroness Berridge: I agree with the noble Lord. He will be aware that the relevant Ministers have written to local authorities and universities asking them to adopt this definition. Noble Lords will be aware that I answered this question on behalf of the Department for Education not many months ago. The rate of take-up is not what the Government want. There is now a proposal that information about those universities and local authorities which have not signed up to the definition will in some form be made public.
Lord Pickles (Con): My Lords, I draw noble Lords’ attention to my declaration of interests and associate myself with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Mann. Given that anti-Semitism is often an open gateway to violent extremism, does the Minister think that now is an appropriate time for the Government to incorporate anti-Semitism into their Prevent strategy?
Baroness Berridge: My Lords, I am unfortunately not aware of whether that has been proposed although, as noble Lords will know, we have recently reviewed the Prevent strategy. I will take my noble friend’s suggestion back, write to him and put the letter in the Library.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB): My Lords, anti-Semitism is evil and should be combated in every possible way, but will the Minister make it clear that the Government are equally committed to tackling hate crimes against all communities, even those of non-Abrahamic faiths?
Baroness Berridge: My Lords, the Government abhor all hate crimes committed on the basis of religion or of lack of religious belief. In relation to the legislative framework in this area, I am pleased to tell the House that, due to the of prevalence of these offences online, the Law Commission is currently looking at the Malicious Communications Act and will shortly be announcing a consultation on hate crime legislation to see whether it sufficiently covers all religious groups. There are peculiarities in relation to the legislation when a religious group is also a racial group.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op): My Lords, I agree with others in this House that anti-Semitism is an evil prejudice and that we must do everything to drive it out. Will the Minister agree to speak to the Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith to look at the possibility of changing the nomination process for all public elections, to require candidates to confirm their opposition to anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all other race and hate crimes, as well as changing our code of conduct in this House? If anyone falls short of their commitments, swift action can be taken by the relevant authorities, up to and including expulsion from the relevant House, Parliament, Assembly or local authority.
Baroness Berridge: I thank the noble Lord for his suggestions. In relation to the Cabinet Office, I am sure that officials are listening to today’s debate and will act upon it. The code of conduct is for the authorities here, but the noble Lord will be aware that the APPG has been asking all MPs to sign the declaration; 641 out of 643 have signed the definition. Unfortunately, two sitting MPs and seven Sinn Féin MPs—who do not take up their places—have not signed.
Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD): My Lords, we have just marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, but this shocking report referred to by the right reverend Prelate shows that levels of anti-Semitism have never been higher. I fear that we have not learned the lessons of the past. What will the Government do right now to stem this tide of what the Home Secretary herself has called
“this shameful stain on our society”?
Baroness Berridge: My Lords, I have outlined some of the actions that the Government are taking. However, it is for all of society to take responsibility: families, communities and faith groups. Yes, the Community Security Trust figures are the highest on record; they match the Home Office figures, which show that a greater proportion of religiously motivated hate crime is against the Jewish community. The Government have now announced funding of half a million pounds to take 200 university students to Auschwitz so that they can then go back to their campus and educate others.