OK. It’s great to have the Brent Liberal Democrat auto mailer tell me that a speech made by Sarah has been posted to their website. But this is the crazy-super-inter-highway-web-thingy! Here we can make things more informing, have greater detail and relevence. Online, you can hyperlink! So. In order to make OK. It’s great to have the Brent Liberal Democrat auto mailer tell me that a speech made by Sarah has been posted to their website. But this is the crazy-super-inter-highway-web-thingy! Here we can make things more informing, have greater detail and relevence. Online, you can hyperlink! So. In order to make have greater depth, I set myself a challenge: add hyperlinks to Sarah’s speech to give more information to the online reader. Here is the result.
_I represent a constituency with a large Muslim population. In preparing for the debate I trawled through some statements made by the Home Secretary, the Minister and the Prime Minister. Their words were reassuring and I have no doubt about the genuineness of the Minister’s sentiments and of statements such as these:
“Expression of religious freedom is a core British belief”,
“Mosques play an important role in community cohesion and civil renewal”,
“Many faiths build one nation”.
The problem is that when I speak to Muslims in my constituency and organisations that campaign on behalf of Muslims they tell me that the actions do not match the words.
I shall quote a statement made by the Muslim Council of Britain in 2003:
“It is the view of the Muslim Council of Britain that very little progress has been made in tackling the horror of Islamophobia in the United Kingdom since it was brought into sharp focus by the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia in its report published in 1997.”
The statement continues:
“we strongly feel that the government has done little to discharge its responsibilities under international law to protect its Muslim citizens and residents from discrimination, vilification, harassment, and deprivation.”
Others have spoken of progress that has been made, but clearly to the Muslim Council of Britain an enormous amount still needs to be done. Others have spoken eloquently today on social exclusion issues—particularly the hon. Members for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) and for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North. However, when I speak to Muslims, the No. 1 issue that they raise is antiterrorism legislation—particularly section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.
Searches of individuals suspected of terrorist offences rose from just over 10,000 in 2001-02 to more than 32,000 in 2002-03, which is an increase of more than 200 per cent. The vast majority of those stopped were in London, but just 1 per cent. of those stopped and searched under section 44 were arrested, compared with a 13 per cent. arrest rate for stops under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, suggesting that section 44 is being used indiscriminately.
The Home Office is not doing any kind of ethnic monitoring of that, and given the impact on the Muslim community, that is of grave concern. The indiscriminate and unmonitored use of stop and search powers contradicts the recommendations of the Macpherson report that powers should be used only proportionately and on suspicion that an offence has been committed. I urge extreme caution in the use of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
(Muslim Council of Britain Press Release on this issue)
The imprisonment without trial of terror suspects at Belmarsh under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act has also provoked widespread anger. The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) says that there are enormous differences between Belmarsh and Guantanamo bay, and there are, thank goodness, but people’s human rights are still being flouted. It is a basic human right that people should be given a fair trial and either released or, if they have committed an offence, imprisoned. Given the backdrop of the war on terror and the attack on Iraq, which many Muslims perceive, rightly or wrongly, as an attack on Islam, we must understand that they see terrorism legislation as a direct attack on them.
The Home Office needs to consider a variety of options for dealing with the problem, because the present solution is simply not an acceptable long-term way of dealing with terrorism. I am not going to comment on a specific case; that would be highly inappropriate. The Joint Committee on Human Rights is currently considering other options, which I hope will be widely debated and implemented when they are made public. However, the Liberal Democrats opposed the extension of the present powers because, as the Government said when they introduced them, they were intended to be a short-term measure. Clearly, they are no longer a short-term measure, but a long-term one.
When Muslims are tried in a court of law, there is a widespread feeling that justice is not done in an even-handed way. Following the appalling riots in Bradford in 2001, the Institute of Race Relations found a huge discrepancy between the sentences handed out to the Manningham rioters and those handed out to rioters from a neighbouring estate. It was concerned that the sentences were designed not to reflect “the severity of each individual’s actions” but “to discipline an entire community”. Those words are frightening, and I have heard them used by others who have talked about the terrorism legislation.
There are similar concerns about racism in prisons, and the failure to act appears to have led to the murder of the British Muslim, Zahid Mubarak, in his cell. I accept that there has been enormous progress in prisons, but there is still considerable work to be done.
The hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North discussed attacks on Muslims, and there is widespread concern about how the media report the arrests of Muslims under the Terrorism Act. The hon. Member for Hendon talked about Muslims' feeling that they must always distance themselves from extremists and about how their expectations differ from those of other members of the community. Many of those issues underline the need for an equality Bill. Discrimination on the grounds of religion is being outlawed in employment, but as others have mentioned, it has still not been outlawed in other areas of service provision. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches argued strongly for the Bill introduced in the other place, which was the subject of widespread cross-party agreement, but, unfortunately, the Government did not support it. They have agreed to merge the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission, and that is welcome, but what do they intend to do to bring together all the piecemeal discrimination legislation?
Other hon. Members have discussed the deprivation figures, which are startling. Muslim children account for about a third of the children living in workless households—twice the number for white British children. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, who is not in her seat at the moment, talked about the problem of overcrowding, and I certainly empathise, given the situation in my constituency. Tragically, it is typical to find eight people living in a two-bedroomed flat; such cases are not among the worst. That is why so much more work needs to be done. Similarly, three quarters of Bangladeshi and Pakistani children live in households receiving less than the national average wage and 54 per cent. of them are in homes that are on income support. There are much lower rates of employment among Pakistani and Bangladeshi men, and the average earnings of Muslim men are 68 per cent. of those of non-Muslims. That is staggering.
The hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North discussed the fact that fewer Muslims are represented in the new deal than might be expected. There is an argument for much more individualised programmes to deal with specific problems; that is much more likely to get people back into work.
Poor health has also been mentioned, which is so often associated with poor housing. The two are dramatically interlinked. Where there are overcrowding, poor health and poverty, there is often also educational under-achievement. I am delighted to hear that there has been so much improvement in Tower Hamlets. However, the statistics are still very worrying. Particularly significant is the widening gap in performance between boys and girls of Pakistani origin. Just 34 per cent. of boys of Pakistani origin achieve five grades A to C at GCSE, whereas 48 per cent. of girls do so. Both those figures are way below the national average.
A report published earlier this month drew attention to problems in education, and said that the state sector was failing Muslim children. The solution is controversial across the House—hon. Members of all parties support faith schools, while others adamantly oppose them. Regardless of one’s view, the issue has to be addressed. Many of the problems can be tackled by improving housing and health, but that is not the only solution. I should be interested to know what the Government intend to do specifically to target the under-achievement of Muslim children.
I am pleased to hear that the Minister will be discussing student loans with the Federation of Student Islamic Societies in the UK and Ireland, but I wonder whether a simpler solution would be to abolish the dramatic increase in the burden of debt by voting against the Higher Education Bill on Wednesday. We have all mentioned discrimination and social exclusion, but I want to close on a more positive note. I do not want to leave hon. Members with the impression that Muslims are passive victims. Those of us who represent constituencies with large Muslim populations know that that is not true. We know of the contributions that individual Muslims and local mosques and community centres make. The many organisations that have been mentioned today represent the expression of the best of Islam in this country.
The Al-Khoei foundation in my constituency, with its academic, diplomatic and educational work, is the embodiment of Islamic values, tolerance and inclusiveness; the political campaigning of the Muslim Association of Britain, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee is the expression of Islam’s passionate fight for social justice and fairness; the supportive work of the An-Nisa society in Brent shows Islam’s emphasis on compassion and mercy; and organisations such as Alif-Aleph bring British Muslims and Jews together to demonstrate Islam’s meaning of peace. Perhaps the injustice in this country is not only that suffered by Muslims but the fact that society is unable to benefit from what individuals and communities have to offer.