Social Cohesion and Democratic Resilience: Khan Review — [Sir Mark Hendrick in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall am 11:21 am ar 30 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

[Sir Mark Hendrick in the Chair]

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 2:30, 30 Ebrill 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the Khan Review on threats to social cohesion and democratic resilience.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Mark. I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about this important topic. The UK’s democracy is the oldest and most established in the world. We have set an example for countless countries to follow. Brave men and women from these islands and the Commonwealth fought and died in defence of the values that have shaped our great nation. However, as the Khan review sets out, we cannot get complacent. Advancing our democracy and ensuring that it is safe requires constant vigilance.

In the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States and further afield, democracy sadly continues to be under threat. Elected representatives in this country are being threatened like never before. This year we have seen MPs from across the political divide intimidated and threatened by extremists intent on tearing apart our democratic framework. Very tragically, in the past decade alone we have seen two Members of Parliament, Jo Cox and Sir David Amess, killed by the far right and an Islamist terrorist respectively.

Across the western world we have seen a shocking rise in antisemitism and anti-Jewish hate in the wake of the 7 October terrorist attacks committed by Hamas. In the UK specifically, the House of Commons Library notes that police forces in Manchester, Yorkshire, the west midlands and Merseyside reported an increase in antisemitism. I am horrified by reports that the Jewish community are scared to visit the capital city of this country and that Jewish schoolchildren are hiding badges on their school uniforms for fear of being discriminated against.

In Stoke-on-Trent we have seen very real threats to our own democracy and social cohesion. At a recent fundraising event for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire’s Conservative police and crime commissioner candidate Ben Adams, protestors hijacked a local Conservative party dinner in Shelton. Some protestors were known to have been supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which the Government have now rightly proscribed as a terrorist group. They managed to enter the facility, threatening local activists and behaving aggressively in the presence of children of the attendees. That is a clear example of malign actors threatening social cohesion. They are capitalising on tensions and unrest caused by events in the middle east to push their dangerous and divisive agenda at home.

As the Khan review points out, “freedom-restricting harassment” is threatening social cohesion and testing our democracy like never before. When the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street on 1 March this year, he made it clear that we have seen

“a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.”

That is why the Khan review is both timely and necessary. The geopolitical environment has become increasingly unstable and unpredictable, which exacerbates the threat of social media to social cohesion. The tragic events of 7 October, when Hamas committed the worst pogrom since the holocaust, have presented us with an immense challenge.

On reading the Khan review, I was deeply concerned that the continuing activity of far-right and Islamist groups poses serious challenges to cohesion when they capitalise on the backdrop of geopolitical instability to stir division. These malign groups have sophisticated networks. Community spaces such as gyms are used as a recruiting ground, and vulnerable young people are targeted. If we want to tackle these challenges head on, we must be prepared to consider the findings of the Khan review and work constructively to deliver social cohesion once again.

On the steps of 10 Downing Street in March, the Prime Minister stated:

“Immigrants who have come here have integrated and contributed.”

I see that at first hand in Stoke-on-Trent, where we have a thriving migrant community who work in our NHS, schools and other civic institutions. However, our city’s multi-ethnic and multifaith community is being deliberately undermined by forces intent on tearing us apart.

Far-right organisations play on people’s real concerns about the economic impacts of migration to make the case for their narrow-minded and nationalistic worldview. In the same way, radical Islamist groups will use fear to stoke up division in favour of their nihilistic worldview and argue that institutions set out to undermine minorities’ personal freedoms and individual liberties. Soaring immigration levels currently make it virtually impossible for people to properly integrate into British society, and with huge unrest in our streets we cannot build a more cohesive society built around British values like democracy, the rule of law, respect, tolerance and individual liberty unless we control the number of people coming in from overseas.

As the Khan review points out, cities like Stoke-on-Trent will fall through the gap if there is no coherent approach to national security. That demonstrates the urgent need for stronger borders, which will help to facilitate social integration and stop malign groups exploiting the immigration question to push their divisive agenda. In April 2023, the deputy director of Prevent, Katherine Elsmore, informed me that Stoke-on-Trent City Council would no longer receive money to deliver Prevent strategies in Stoke-on-Trent; the Khan report suggests it would be useful to revisit that decision. My hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and I have written jointly to the Home Secretary to make that case.

While I have time, it is worth while to put on the record what we believe to be the arguments for reintroducing Prevent funding in the city. First, as outlined in Dr Khan’s review, the far right puts social cohesion at serious risk in the city. Groups such as Combat 18 and Stoke-on-Trent Infidels always seek to exploit domestic and international instability to suit their own ends. In 2002, the city elected its first councillor from the banned far-right British National party, and by 2009 had nine BNP councillors. I am proud that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South led the fightback against them in the city, to offer a true centre-right conservatism option on the table. That led to the final expulsion of those extremists, and therefore allowed proper centre-right debate, alongside our colleagues in the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties and others, who are much more in the mainstream of party politics.

Alongside the clear threat of far-right extremism, radical Islamist groups also have a footprint in the city. The starkest reminder of that to me was when Usman Khan stabbed Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones on London Bridge near Fishmongers’ Hall in November 2019, tragically taking their innocent lives. Sadly, that terrorist was born and grew up in Stoke-in-Trent and Staffordshire, where he had links to Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda and al-Muhajiroun, which has close links to Anjem Choudary, the face of militant Islamism and Islamic extremism in Britain. Given that 80% of counter-terrorism police networks’ live investigations are of Islamist terrorism, it is vital that we remain vigilant to the threat of other people who could be influenced by divisive and malign actors.

Earlier in the year, I welcomed the Home Secretary’s proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organisation. That vile antisemitic organisation encourages terrorism and praises the abhorrent terrorist attacks by Hamas on 7 October. Given that that vile group has a strong footprint in Stoke-on-Trent, where it runs local gyms and community centres, I fully support the Prime Minister’s decision to ban it. Sadly, that heinous group seeks to use events in the middle east to argue against values that underpin the UK as the world’s most successful multi-faith and multi-ethnic society.

To me, all that suggests that Prevent should review its decision to suspend funding for Stoke-on-Trent, because there is a clear threat to democracy and the rule of law from malign actors, from the far right and radical Islam, that needs attention in our city. Given that Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke have historically had some of the lowest turn-out rates for general elections in the UK, it is of paramount importance to help to ensure that people have trust in democracy, as well as in those who are elected to represent them. In part, that is about core issues such as levelling up so that people in our industrial heartlands no longer feel they are being left behind when competing with other areas, like London and the south-east.

The Khan review makes it clear that the financial vulnerability of one in five councils across the UK means that

“the potential impact on social cohesion in the short and long term could be destabilising to our country.”

Without doubt, that makes the case for levelling up, in respect of which we need continued investment, as we have seen recently in the Potteries, to improve socioeconomic conditions and regenerate areas that fall behind. Alongside boosting local economies and getting more people into work, we need to ensure that we have systems in place to stop people being influenced by malign groups that are intent on undermining our way of life.

The Khan review makes it clear that prevention is

“far more effective than cure”.

Given the unprecedented threats posed to democracy and social resilience, I urge the Minister to ensure that Prevent is aware of the new challenges that Stoke-on-Trent faces, so that we can help to promote social cohesion in the Potteries. The review makes it clear that it is essential have a co-ordinated approach to support vulnerable people in areas such as Stoke-on-Trent. That involves rejuvenating the local economy so that people feel the Government are supporting them, and having adequate systems in place to ensure that people from all faiths and ethnic groups believe in our democracy and play a role in it.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:39, 30 Ebrill 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Mark. I thank Jonathan Gullis for leading this debate on an issue that is so important in modern society. It is also important that the lines on unity and solidarity do not become blurred.

I am blessed to represent my constituency of Strangford. We are a multicultural community. We have welcomed many people from Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, and in particular from Ukraine, as well as from Bangladesh, over the last number of years. Also, under the Government’s scheme for Syrian refugees we took in a number of Syrian families. Those families have integrated into Newtownards with a real positivity, and the people of Ards and Strangford have embraced them as well.

Last Friday night I was invited to attend an event in St Patrick’s hall, which is a Roman Catholic chapel hall up on the north shore in Newtownards. There is a very strong Indian diaspora in my area. I never realised how big it was until Friday night. More than 100 people are part of it, all of whom live in Newtownards. Every one of those people is here with a visa and the status that they have to have, and they contribute to our health sector in the hospitals in Ards and throughout Ulster, including the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. I make that comment because I see lots of positivity at the same time; it is not all negative.

I will give three examples. They do not necessarily embrace my constituency but do embrace the situation in Northern Ireland. I think they clearly illustrate what the hon. Gentleman referred to and the problems that arise. But last Friday was a wonderful occasion for us all, including elected representatives, to come together and have a really good and fun time. I cannot remember an occasion when I have laughed as much in a long time. It was wonderful and that is what communities can do if they come together.

At the same time, across the UK and indeed globally there are so many democracies and communities that face internal polarisation, so it is great that we can look at the Khan report and apply it to modern society, in order to assess what more can be done to ensure that all opinions are represented.

A large majority of the public—85%—believe that freedom-restricting harassment currently occurs in the UK, with 60% believing that the problem is worse than it was five years ago. I see a change in society and I am not quite sure whether covid was the main reason, but it was certainly part of it, when people were able to make comments at a distance, and interaction and social engagement were lost to a certain degree. Some 44% of people have witnessed freedom-restricting harassment online, and 44% say they have witnessed it in person, so there is something difficult in society. The issue the hon. Gentleman has brought forward is about social cohesion and democratic resilience, and it is really important that we try to encourage those things and do not dwell on the divisions.

There is absolutely no doubt that social media plays a massive role in the opinions that are gathered and eventually expressed, which often provoke controversy in society, and there is no doubt that a conversation must be had regarding people’s disillusionment with democracy and about how we can restore confidence in it. I think that is what the hon. Gentleman is seeking to achieve. Hopefully after the shadow MinisterLiz Twist—and others have spoken, the Minister can give us some encouragement about the Government’s way forward to try to make the situation better and to engage people in society.

We had a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday on assisted dying—or assisted suicide as I call it, and as many others also call it, by the way. I have a very clear opinion on that; other people have a very different but clear opinion on it. What I think we need, and what I always seek to achieve, is that we at least respect each other’s viewpoints. “Agree to differ” is the terminology that I often use, because it is not always good to dwell on the things that we disagree on, and we must at least be respectful and understanding.

There are two main dimensions to social cohesion: the sense of belonging in a community and the relationships with others in that community. The event on Friday night was an example of what we can do if we commit ourselves. There has been a natural shift in societal norms, which is welcome, but those who hold what are seen as traditional opinions or conservative views, like me and many of my constituents, feel that they no longer have a right to express them—that it is no longer acceptable or welcome. I have tried all my life to be respectful of other people. I do it in this House—I never attack anybody in this Chamber or the main Chamber. I try to respect people, and even if I do not agree with them and they do not agree with me, we have an understanding of how to do things.

Everyone has the right to express their belief in a rational and respectful manner. In Northern Ireland, we recently discussed changes to the relationships and sex education curriculum. The legislation was passed here, and the Northern Ireland Secretary then reflected that in Northern Ireland. We expressed a lot of concern about how that was done, but now that the Assembly is up and running again we can, I hope, move forward. Last week, we discussed changes to the RSE curriculum proposed by the Alliance party, which many parents feel incredibly unsettled about; so many people have written or emailed me, expressing their concerns. A meeting was held to inform and discuss the issue with those parents, and Eóin Tennyson MLA of the Alliance party summarised the Let Kids Be Kids campaign as a

“disgusting dog-whistle to the far-right”— a disgraceful comment. We are not, and my constituents are not, on the far right. They are parents who have concerns about their children’s education and teaching, and care about our opinions. I want to put that on the record, because the number of parents who have emailed me to express their concerns has been incredible.

I had a staff member sit in on the meeting and listen to every word that was said, and I can assure the public that those who have such concerns are not far right. They are parents, they are carers, who are invested in protecting the innocence of children, as is their right. I would expect every parent to do that with zest and enthusiasm, as they have a commitment to protect their children. The fact that freedom of speech allows those people to be called far right shows how far wrong we have gone.

The threat from extremism has been growing for many years, and what has been described as the pervasiveness of extremist ideology in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Israel on 7 October 2023 has highlighted the need for further action. At the outbreak of the Israel-Palestine conflict, I received calls and emails to my office about an incident that occurred at the city hall in Belfast. I remember it well. I reported it to the police; I was on to the police on a number of occasions about it. I say this because it is an example of how evil and wicked some people are in their intentions. There were pictures and videos going around on social media of Lasair Dhearg activists—those of a nationalist opinion—projecting on to city hall an image of Hamas fighters paragliding into Israel, alongside the words “smash the Zionists”. I think it was wrong, and I made a number of complaints about it. I contacted the Police Service of Northern Ireland to ensure that they took action to detain those involved and ensure that those who displayed those inflammatory comments on Queen’s University, the city hall in Belfast and other places were held accountable for their actions.

Some people displayed on the city hall the statement “From the river to the sea”. We all know what that means. That means death to Jewish people—death to Israeli people. That, I believe, is inflammatory; I believe that the police needed to take action. To be fair, the police did immediately take action, but the fact that it was allowed to happen in the first place—to the annoyance, the anger of many of my constituents who were in Belfast doing their shopping, and other people from my party as well—was outrageous.

I raised that issue with the PSNI, and a section of the Jewish community contacted local representatives stating that the antisemitic language frightened them. So that is the society we have. When the hon. Gentleman brought forward the debate, he did so for a purpose: to factually and evidentially record the things that are happening. I have recorded those two things because I think it is important from the point of view of how my constituents feel.

To conclude, those are just a few examples of how democratic resilience can be improved—yes, it can be improved—and how we can improve social cohesion to ensure that people feel protected within their communities. I look to the Minister, who is a genuine man and who has the same impression as the rest of us, to try to make people’s lives better and to have a society where we can live together in such a way that we do not have to fight or be antagonised. I look to him for the reassurance that he will do his best, as I know he will, to ensure that all forms of rational and respectable opinion are upheld within society. I look forward to the contributions by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Blaydon, who is a dear friend of mine—she knows that—and others to the debate.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Ceidwadwyr, Stoke-on-Trent South 2:51, 30 Ebrill 2024

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Mark, and to follow Jim Shannon. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend and city colleague Jonathan Gullis on securing this important debate.

The Khan review is welcome, and we can all be grateful to Dame Sara Khan for the considered work she has done. I am grateful to her for taking the time to visit Stoke-on-Trent and speak with community groups and various organisations in our city. Also, she has spent a considerable amount of time meeting MPs, including myself, for which I am grateful. She has helped shine a light on some of the serious challenges we face around social cohesion and countering extremism. There is much to agree with in her report and much to support in her recommendations, but there are also points that need to be raised and highlighted for the sake of further clarity, and that is what I intend to do in my remarks.

I echo my hon. Friend’s words about the foolhardy cessation of funding for Prevent and its work in our city of Stoke-on-Trent. That followed the previous removal of counter-extremism support. The report makes it clear that:

“Without such support, places like Stoke fall through the gaps despite the permissive extremism environment and harm it is causing to the city.”

It is not nice to have to say that our city still needs the close attention of Prevent. It would be wonderful to say that Prevent’s job was done and dusted, but the reality is that there are those in the city who reject our liberal, western, democratic values. Worst of all, there are those who have been prepared to act on their hatred by engaging in, or attempting to engage in, murderous terror. I am very concerned about the robustness of the decisions taken by the Home Office and how it is prioritising resources across the country.

Sadly, we have seen both Islamic extremism and far-right extremism in Stoke-on-Trent. Hizb ut-Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun have been active in some communities in Stoke-on-Trent, radicalising young people and attempting to spread their perverse view of religion. That is why it is welcome to see the Government take action recently to proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir, and I hope they will continue to closely monitor those who are now seeking to get around the proscription and continuing such activities under another guise.

There is also a history in the city of far-right activism, with the BNP, the English Defence League and a number of other organisations that my hon. Friend mentioned, which has in some cases resulted in the permeation of more serious radicalisation. In 2010, we saw attempts to blow up the City Central Mosque. Fortunately, those attempts were stopped, but that demonstrates an undercurrent of extremism that the far right has propagated.

Concerningly, we have seen attempts from extremist groups to undermine and control our democratic systems. Cases have been reported of Islamic extremists attempting to discourage participation and interfere with elections. With the far right, as my hon. Friend mentioned, we saw the BNP get up to nine councillors in 2008-9. The reason for their electoral success was their exploiting the political vacuum left by a declining Labour party. Many hundreds, indeed thousands, of voters in Stoke-on-Trent felt that voting BNP was the only way to make the main political parties listen to those voters’ mainstream concerns. Of course, the BNP was only too keen to take advantage of that situation. Our city felt forgotten and left behind. People felt that they were being told they were wrong to be proud to be British. They felt that a metropolitan and globalist London elite was sneering at traditional working-class communities. I am glad to say that we have won those voters back to mainstream politics, and we must keep those voters with mainstream concerns within mainstream politics.

I know that Dame Sara has expressed concern about the mainstreaming of extremism. There are concerns that engaging with extremist groups or individuals gives them legitimacy. She also highlighted a number of serious concerns about freedom-restricting harassment. It is particularly concerning that the report suggests that this problem is getting worse, stating that 60% of people feel that the problem is worse than it was five years ago.

I would like also to see more of a focus on what, for want of a better turn of phrase, I am going to call “extreming of the mainstream”. This is something that my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford, I think, was touching on, where we see the alienation of hard-working, patriotic communities. It is not extreme to want to hear “Rule, Britannia” at the Last Night of the Proms, or to sing it when and wherever you like in the UK. It is not extreme to fly the St George’s cross or to have an England flag tattoo. Rather, it is extreme to want to ban “Rule, Britannia”. It is extreme to want to ban the flag of England. And yet we all know that there are attempts to chip, chip away at our shared icons, heroes and ways of life.

The same can be said for religion. It should not be considered extreme to have strongly held religious beliefs, whether Christian, Muslim or of any other religion. Most faith is about peace, tolerance and respecting others. We have often seen faith communities throughout north Staffordshire come together in the toughest of times, when this cohesion is challenged, resisting fundamentalists and calling out those who attempt to cause and sow division.

I am glad that the Cass report has also brought public debate about life-altering medical interventions for minors back to the mainstream place of sanity and biological objectivity. It was beyond bizarre that it took legal action to determine that Maya Forstater was worthy of respect in a democratic society for her perfectly mainstream recognition of biological reality. That is an area in which I would like further clarity. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has already said that of course “gender-critical” and, indeed, non-voluntary trans activist voices would not be affected by the definition of extremism. However, if a new body is created to report back on extremism annually, and to promote cohesion and so on, what is to stop that body becoming another national institution that is captured by those with extreme views of their own, which it wants to present and push as being mainstream and anti-hate? I hope we can hear how that will be safeguarded against.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North said, the UK is one of the most open, multicultural and freedom-loving countries in the world. The rule of law, religious freedom and free speech are some of our core democratic British values. However, we cannot take these values for granted, especially at a time when we see these values under increasing threat around the world. Democracy is fragile. We must redouble our efforts to protect our shared values and democratic rights, and we must see robust action against those who threaten to undermine or suppress our way of life—something I have made very clear to Staffordshire police and others.

In conclusion, I welcome the important review and I look forward to hearing further from the Minister how the next steps will be taken. We must be wary of extremes, particularly those that bring violence with them, and we must also be wary of attempts to paint the mainstream as extreme, because doing so pushes mainstream voters into the arms of extremists.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Llafur, Bradford West 2:59, 30 Ebrill 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark. I congratulate the hon. Member on Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) for securing this important debate.

Our democracy faces significant challenges threatening social cohesion and wellbeing, with the rise of extremes on all sides, as Jack Brereton outlined. The rampant spread of dangerous conspiracy theories and disinformation, alongside unregulated technological advances in artificial intelligence, pose a direct threat to our democratic ability and stability. Additionally, as we have seen in more recent times, politics and politicians at large, across the globe, have utilised populism to boost their own political gains at the expense of minority communities and those on the receiving end of their political attacks.

The Khan review uncovers a phenomenon of freedom-restricting harassment, where individuals are coerced into self-censorship through abuse and intimidation. That harassment is reported as suppressing the freedom of expression of individuals. Eighty-five per cent of the public acknowledge its presence in the UK and 60% perceive it to be worsening over the years. The report highlights a link between the erosion of democratic resilience and the absence of a national strategic framework.

The recommendations in the report for protecting victims of harassment and incitement are welcome and to be encouraged, as is the recommendation for a new independent office for social cohesion that genuinely works, in good faith, to balance the rights and freedoms of all with the need for social cohesion across the United Kingdom. In addition, schools should be safe havens for learning, free from intimidation. I therefore also support the review’s proposal for buffer zones around schools, to curb protests and provide support for staff and students. However, while aspects of the report are welcome, it completely ignores the role that the Government are playing in breaking down social cohesion in this country.

The recent statement by the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, on a proposed new definition of extremism is concerning, particularly due to the approach that he presents, which targets Muslim groups. On one hand, the Government acknowledge there is a problem with social cohesion and people policing their ideas and opinions. On the other hand, we have a Secretary of State targeting Muslim organisations and dangerously labelling them as extremists without an evidence-based approach or any right to appeal.

In addition, the Secretary of State fuelled speculation in the media that he would label the Muslim Council of Britain as an extremist organisation. He also took away funding from the Inter Faith Network and its work because a member of its board was linked to the Muslim Council of Britain. The irony is that an interfaith charity that champions the work of social cohesion had to close down because the Government ended its funding—the same Government who acknowledge we have an issue with social cohesion.

It gets worse. The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology used her position to target a professor over her support for Palestine by wrongfully accusing her of extremism. The result was the taxpayer footing a bill for £34,000 to pay for the price of the right hon. Lady’s libellous attack. Let us not forget that a former Home Secretary tried to silence hundreds of thousands of genuine people demonstrating for a ceasefire in Palestine by labelling the protests as “hate marches”.

Do the Government want to be part of a solution, fixing social cohesion, or part of the problem? The evidence is stacked on the latter. It is difficult to look at top Conservative figures today and not find someone who is actively working to damage social cohesion in this country. Seriously—how can we advocate for social cohesion in the UK with Susan Hall as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London? The Conservative nominee for Mayor of London embodies a hard-right politics profoundly disconnected from the essence of London, its diversity and its values. She endorses Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Suella Braverman. She perceives London’s diversity as a weakness. Susan Hall spouts Islamophobic tropes that have stirred up division and hatred against Muslims. She likes tweets about Enoch Powell, and a tweet by Katie Hopkins describing Sadiq Khan as “the Mayor of Londonistan”.

Susan Hall is actively involved in Facebook groups sharing antisemitic, white supremacist content and racially charged threats against Sadiq Khan. That is the Tory mayoral candidate for London. The election is only a few days away, yet the Government want to lecture people on social cohesions and the impact it has on society, and the Tory candidate for London epitomises the very definition of divisiveness.

I am a proud Bradfordian, a proud Muslim, and a proud Member of the British Parliament. When we talk about community cohesion, there are vulnerabilities that Dame Sara Khan references—the issues of job security, and the issues that make communities feel threatened, and people feel otherised. These issues require people to know that they matter, that they belong, and that people care. Instead, what we have is senior people like the former Home Secretary and the former Prime Minister who compared women to letterboxes and other things. As a result of his column, there has been a 335% increase in attacks against Muslims. I associate myself with the comments that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North made about antisemitism, but I add to that the increase in Islamophobia. That is led right from the top.

When we are elected, we as politicians are expected to lead with authenticity, with congruence, with leadership that unites people. The definition of cohesion is sticking together, working together, tackling problems, and mutual support for positive futures. That is the definition of community cohesion, but is that the rhetoric we get from the Tory Benches? No, it is not. The Government need to understand the role they have played to get to the point where this report was even needed. I have been in this House since 2015— I just started my 10th year —and it is a slippery slope every year, pandering to hard-right narratives, with Members of Parliament having to apologise to the Leader of the Opposition because they have retweeted far-right conspiracies.

I get it—I completely get it. I understand why MPs ask whether a career in politics is worth it, because of the abuse we get. People are stepping down in this place, but that did not start on 7 October, and the conversation about the ceasefire—that started when Brexit was happening. That started when people in this place and the media were perpetuating headlines about people being traitors, and there was no response from the Government then. There was no condemnation then, when all those things were happening, yet here we are, with this whole review, and the Minister will stand up and say how committed the Government are, when they cannot tackle the rot from their own Front Benchers to temper their language or epitomise leadership, walk the walk and show what it looks like to lead. We certainly have not had that from the Government.

I will simply finish on this. It is not just about the issue of the mayoral election going on in London right now. Social cohesion is imperative for Great Britain, but that means leadership, and calling out people like the former Prime Minister who rubbed shoulders in America with Steve Bannon, who said, “Tommy Robinson is our hero”. Tommy Robinson is putting out videos of him fixing his tie in the House of Lords—people like that, entertained in our Palaces! That is why we have to fix social cohesion. The message comes right from the top, from the media, and from social media platforms. I am afraid that this Government certainly do not do that. It is important that the Government learn the lesson, lead by example, and do not preach something that they do not practise themselves.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

Thank you. Before I bring in the Front Bench spokespeople, I remind Members that referring to other Members by name is not correct. They should use their title, ministerial positions or whatever role they occupy in the House.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:09, 30 Ebrill 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark, and I thank Jonathan Gullis for securing this important debate.

Dame Sara Khan’s report does not make for easy reading, but it is vital that we tackle extremism and radicalisation head on. I hope the Government will take this opportunity to reflect, and to consider how we can work constructively to build more cohesive, resilient communities. At its heart, this is about how we as a society live well together. It is not only a matter of security, but a matter of public health, and speaks to our fundamental wellbeing.

I thank all those who have contributed to the debate. We heard from Jonathan Gullis, who talked about the importance of the review; from Jim Shannon, who looked the experience of his own constituency, and talked about the importance of democratic resilience and social cohesion; and from Jack Brereton, who also talked about the Khan report and the situation in his constituency. Finally, we heard a very spirited speech from my hon. Friend Naz Shah, who talked about the importance of language and how people speak about things, as well as the need for a national strategy. She also discussed Islamophobia, and, in a very passionate speech, said that the Government needed to walk the walk.

To say that this has been a challenging period for our communities would be an understatement. We continue to see the impact of the ongoing conflict in Gaza on community relations. Meanwhile people are finding it tough to make ends meet, and our public services have been struggling. The Khan review’s position on this point is clear: these difficulties risk undermining our social contract, fuelling disillusionment with our democratic system, and allowing extremism, disinformation, and conspiracy theories to take root. The House can, and should, work together to tackle these serious issues, and the Minister can be assured that my party is ready and willing to engage in good faith with these discussions. We are here to represent our constituents, and we should come together to reject extremists who seek to undermine these efforts.

That involves recognising the shortcomings in the Government’s work on this to date. As the Khan review clearly outlines, those shortcomings have left local authorities to deal with the fallout following the most challenging incidents of community conflict. We must remember that it is councils that are dealing with these issues on the frontline, whether that is fulfilling their statutory duties by organising community safety partnerships and safeguarding boards, or developing more bespoke partnerships in response to local issues. The unprecedented levels of demand that councils currently work with have made it more difficult to carry out the broader upstream work that is desperately needed.

Meanwhile many councillors face appalling levels of abuse and harassment simply for serving their communities. We heard about the impact on Members of Parliament, too, as they go about their work, and how sadly, in two cases, Members have lost their lives. It is imperative that central Government work as a supportive partner with local government on this, providing the space for local authorities and other agencies to come together to share best practice. The reality, as Khan says, is that

“there is no strategic approach within Whitehall’s machinery to deal with these threats to social cohesion and our country’s democratic resilience.”

We have had review after review, and still no sense of where tensions are, how to prevent them, or how to rebuild after conflict. The constant political turbulence certainly has not helped matters. The integrated communities action plan has had some success, but of 70 commitments listed in it, just 14 have been delivered. We were told that the cross-ministerial group responsible would meet every six months, but in the end, it met only once. This is part of a wider pattern: we are still waiting for an update on the hate crimes strategy, promised in 2020, and it seems that the anti-Muslim hatred working group and the antisemitism working group are no longer meeting. I hope that Sara Khan’s review gives the Government an opportunity to refocus and demonstrate the political will needed to make lasting preventive change. Actions speak louder than words. We need to see that this is made a priority.

The review also invokes the Government’s record on housing asylum seekers and the Home Office’s failure to communicate effectively with local authorities before placing asylum seekers in their areas. Shockingly, some local authorities told the reviewer that far-right groups knew about local asylum hotels before they did. We desperately need a new approach, which has to include new strategies on counter-extremism and community cohesion. The Secretary of State has said that the Government will be publishing a more detailed action plan, which will include funding commitments to support organisations on the ground working to build community resilience. I look forward to hearing about the progress made on that, but in the meantime, I want to ask the Minister the following questions.

First, the review is clear that we must take a more proactive approach to community cohesion. That includes learning more about what makes local areas particularly vulnerable or resilient to extremism. Will the Minister say what his Department is doing to address those knowledge gaps? The recruitment of a new Islamophobia adviser continues to be in doubt. Will the Minister shed some light on any progress made on that issue?

Technological innovations have created further challenges in maintaining cohesive communities. What steps is the Minister’s Department taking to tackle new forms of radicalisation, including radicalisation that takes place online? The tensions that we are currently seeing are playing out at all levels of our society, including in our classrooms. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues in the Department for Education about providing the support that teachers need to manage difficult conversations? Finally, can he tell us whether the Government have given up on refreshing the hate crime action plan?

Social cohesion is not a “nice to have”. If we do not show leadership and support local authorities to address concerns within their communities, extremists will fill the void. We must start thinking about how we approach proper preventive work that engages communities, rather than waiting for flashpoints to occur. I hope we can work together on these most fundamental issues.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing) 3:18, 30 Ebrill 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark. I begin by thanking all hon. Members. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis for securing the debate, for opening it in such a temperate and balanced fashion, and for asking some immensely reasonable questions relating to his own community and, more broadly, the importance that we all attach to ensuring that social cohesion is strengthened across the country and that we make progress on this hugely important agenda.

The first thing to say is that the battle against extremism and the rise of extremist ideology across our country is something that everyone here cares passionately about, as all hon. Members who have spoken today have articulated. In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North powerfully underlined in his opening speech the need to counter the spread of extremist beliefs among young people in our schools, the importance of confronting issues when young people fall victim, the importance of the Prevent programme to ensure that communities are cohesive and strengthened and, more broadly, the importance that, as a Government and a country, we must attach to making progress on these hugely important issues over time.

That is one of the reasons why we commissioned the Khan review, why we gave Dame Sara Khan the space, the time and the support to look at these matters in the round, and why we welcomed the publication of her report a number of weeks ago. She was charged with examining these issues in greater depth, to investigate the scale, the causes and the impact of extremism in local communities, and to provide insights into how we can build resilience to better support those involved, local authorities and civil society.

As a number of Members have said, the report outlined some of the challenges we face, not because of decisions that the Government have made—I will come back to the point that Naz Shah made in a moment—but, if we are going to have a mature debate about this, because of long-term issues that are impacting western democracies across the world and will impact this democracy whoever is in power. As a consequence, the hon. Lady should be careful about some of the statements that she makes. Those who seriously want to make progress will deal with the issues in front of them rather than calling others who are involved in the conversation names.

The report highlighted particular issues around disinformation, harassment and intimidation; the climate of self-censorship that hon. Members have outlined, not just among people in this place or associated with politics, but across all walks of life; a wider disillusionment with democracy that is starting to seep into parts of our civic society; and decreasing trust in politics, particularly among the young. All of that aggregates to create a vacuum that extremism and extremist ideology can fill.

The Government very much welcome Dame Sara Khan’s work and we thank her for it. We wholeheartedly agree that democracy is a precious asset. That is a view that all of us in this place—right hon. and hon. Members who have the privilege of representing communities up and down the land in Parliament—would share.

The report shines a light on some fundamental gaps in our system, and it clearly sets out Dame Sara’s view of what the Government should do to address those flaws. As has been articulated, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities recently set out measures that will ensure that the Government do not inadvertently provide a platform to those who want to subvert our democracy and deny other people’s fundamental rights. That is just the first of a series of steps the Government will take in the coming weeks and months to tackle extremism and protect our democracy, including the publication of a full response to the Khan review before the summer break. While I am not able to go into the details at this stage, we have committed to publishing a response to the review in the weeks ahead.

I want to turn to some of the individual points that hon. Members have made. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North raised a number of hugely important points about the need to ensure cohesion, and drew upon the experience that he and his colleagues in Stoke-on-Trent have over the long term. I wholeheartedly endorse many of those points.

My hon. Friend has a specific concern with regard to Prevent funding. He will be aware that I am unable to speak absolutely about Prevent funding from the perspective of the Department that I represent, but he indicated that he has written to the Home Office, and I will certainly make sure that, yet again, those points are telegraphed to my equivalents in the Home Office. I recognise that he and my hon. Friend Jack Brereton, and those involved in Stoke-on-Trent politics in general, feel very strongly about that.

I understand that part of the restructuring of the Prevent funding was about regionalising some elements of the funding, and there are still elements of the support that are available to all local authorities. I understand—at least from the notes that I have been given, accepting that I am not the lead for Prevent—that Stoke-on-Trent City Council may not have taken advantage of all the support that is available. I know that my hon. Friends will make sure that the council does that if it has not done so already, recognising the very valid points that they made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South outlined in even more detail the very long-term challenges that were created with the rise of some of these extremist ideologies in his home town, the time and effort that it took to try to beat those back, and all the work that was done to do so. He rightly highlighted the importance of giving space to very mainstream views that are shared in places such as Stoke-on-Trent, Bradford, the north-east and definitely in my part of Derbyshire. We must not suggest that it is illegitimate to be proud of this country and to celebrate its history, its culture, its institutions, its norms and representations of it. Those who over the past 20 years have tried to diminish those things, remove them and pretend they did not happen—those who suggest they are old-fashioned and have no place in our society—are absolutely wrong and do nothing for community cohesion. They do nothing to build the strength and tolerance that our country has thrived on for many decades.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South is absolutely right: like many others, I may not choose to go to the Proms or to indulge in “Rule, Britannia”, but it is vital that we have a shared understanding of the norms, culture, history, traditions and identity that we share in this country, which have brought us to the place we are today. We should be immensely proud of that.

My hon. Friend highlighted some of the read-overs to other areas. Fundamentally, there is an ideology—postmodernism—that has seeped out of our universities over the past 50 years, and which seeks to dismantle the nation state as a concept. There is absolutely no underpinning logic to it; it is essentially a play—a game, an attempt to twist things—and it does not actually help us build communities. It does not seek to build things up; it seeks only to tear down institutions that have worked so well for centuries on end, and to eliminate the concept of the nation state.

Too many people in this place and elsewhere do not understand the incredibly nefarious effect that postmodernism will have on our society if we are not clear about it. That ideology seeps out of universities, moves into our institutions and infects parts of our public sector, and then moves out into civil society as a whole. It explicitly encourages people to have no shared understanding of our history—it effectively wishes to abolish history—to have no shared lexicon and to play with words to such an extent that reality is completely subverted because we say something is one thing on one day and then pretend it is something else on another. There are entirely arbitrary rules underpinning it, which change based upon the fashion, whoever shouts the loudest, and the time of the day and the day of the week. That is an ideology that will fail, and if we allow it to infect our institutions, our civil society and the work we do in this place and elsewhere, our country will be much weaker, poorer and less able to build the kind of cohesive society that we want.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have not had a discussion in this place or elsewhere about what we must do. When people play with the building blocks of civic society, words, institutions, basic concepts and shared endeavour, how can we build the kind of cohesive society that we want? Whether it is expressed in a temperate way, like my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North and for Stoke-on-Trent South did, or in a more emotive way, like the hon. Member for Bradford West did, we have a shared endeavour, but postmodernism absolutely prevents that from happening. We should call it out, stop it and say it has no place in our country and our academic and civil institutions, because it will fail and will lead to a less cohesive society.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Llafur, Bradford West

I was just thinking about the Minister’s warning that I should be careful. I am just trying to work this out. There is this idea that we should have a shared history, but we are not teaching our history in its entirety to our children. We are not talking about togetherness. The Minister might want to read the lecture by the first Muslim Cabinet member, the former Tory chairwoman, Baroness Warsi, who talked about the idea that Muslims do not matter. Does the Minister agree that, if we want a cohesive society, language is key, and the message has to come right from the top in 10 Downing Street? Muslims must not be otherised. Does he not include Muslims in that conversation, because it certainly feels like that?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because she articulates yet again the care that is required in language and assertions, which has been sadly absent from her contributions to the debate, both a moment ago and previously. Of course Muslims matter. Of course people of all faiths matter. It is frankly outrageous that there is a suggestion that that is not the case. Of course they matter.

Those of us who are trying to build a cohesive society—an endeavour that I know the hon. Member for Bradford West shares—believe that such statements should not be made. They send a message to people who are listening today that, for some reason, there is some kind of fundamental difference and that those of us who have the privilege to sit in this place do not believe in cohesion and want to separate people out on the basis of the skin or the religion they have, and that is fundamentally untrue.

What I find most offensive, most outrageous and most egregious in this culture of grievance that is perpetuated by comments such as the ones put forward a moment ago is the separation of people within our community into backgrounds or experiences or skin colour.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

Order. The Minister talks about being temperate and using temperate language. Could I please remind him to observe that when he makes his comments?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

With absolute pleasure, Sir Mark. I absolutely intend to do so. As has been outlined, my concern is that it is important that we are very clear and very careful about the language we use, which I have sought to be, and about suggestions as to the motivations of others, which I have sought to be. Equally, it is important that we are robust about calling out cases where that care is not taken. All of us have a responsibility in this place and elsewhere to utilise the best and most careful language, assertions and arguments. Today has been an indication of where that is not occurring in places, and I will come on to that more in a moment.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I will make some more progress before doing that.

Jim Shannon raised a number of important points and made some very strong points about social media. We are all dealing with our interaction with social media, its importance now and its pervasiveness in daily life, as well as with the opportunities and challenges it brings as a whole. The reality is that social media is entirely embedded in our daily lives, in the way it was not even a few decades ago when I was growing up. The situation is extremely different, most obviously for children, who are having to learn how to deal with it as they grow up, but also across society as a whole. That is something we will have to grapple with for the rest of our lives, and it will not be immediately clear for many years exactly what that means. We are all going to have to learn, and to take things extremely carefully, as we try to understand how we ensure that social media is embedded in our life in a way that accentuates the positives and minimises the negatives.

The hon. Member for Strangford also talked about the challenges of cynicism about democracy, and I accept that point as well. From my personal perspective, one of the challenges in recent years is that there has been a baselining of issues in our country that we actually need to debate much more often. The rights that people talk about quite freely—often too freely in many instances—which I support, and which I know everybody in this place and beyond supports, do not just appear; they are not guaranteed.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I will give way in a moment. Those rights are hard won and hard fought for—people have died for them—and we must continually repeat and confirm that in order to ensure that people recognise that these rights are not automatic. All of us involved in politics and the political process have work to do. The situation we are in, including the relatively benign environment we have grown up in, and our right, when we go home to our respective communities, to have the kind of debates and discussions we want, need to be nurtured. If they are not, they wither on the vine; they ossify, and they do not work. We cannot get away from this principle—this indulgence—that if we do not accept that all of that is built on the concept of the nation state, the United Kingdom and the values our country has, ultimately it will not work in the long run.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Llafur, Bradford West

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He is right, and everybody has that right, including me. I represent the great people of Bradford West, and 60% of my constituency is Muslim, as I myself am. I find it really offensive that the Minister is offended that I am stating facts. I am demonstrating that the Government are not walking the walk when delivering on their so-called cohesion policies or their so-called attempts to deliver equality. In fact, I am even more offended at any suggestion that my interventions are about a grievance narrative, when they are actually all about Muslims just wanting equality. We are not talking about special treatment; nobody in my constituency wants special treatment. What they do want—will the Minister give it and agree?—is equality.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

Order. Interventions are meant to be short.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I thank the hon. Lady, who makes some of my case for me. However, turning to her comments, I agree with some of what she says. It is important that we build a shared understanding and a shared set of values in this country. I agree that we should be temperate with language. Where she has called out inappropriate behaviour—I do not agree with all her points—I accept that no party is perfect. I accept that some of my colleagues will have made mistakes. I accept that some words have been looser than they should have been.

However, I hope the hon. Lady will accept that that is not limited to my party or to the Government—there have been multiple examples. However, if we just trade off on the basis of who said what where, or make some kind of case that one political party is worse than the other, when we know that they have all had significant issues with community relations over many years—only one party got into the place it did with regard to antisemitism a number of years ago—we will be much poorer in the debate about this issue.

The hon. Member for Bradford West referenced facts, and I am happy to talk about some of the challenges around the facts she provided a moment ago. She knows that the Inter Faith Network’s funding was withdrawn because of a decision to appoint somebody who had a background in a particular organisation—that was a choice that the organisation made, and it appointed that person. The policy of non-engagement with the Muslim Council of Britain has been in place since the Labour party was in power. Indeed, it was the former Labour Member for Salford—the Secretary of State in the predecessor to my Department—who started that policy of non-engagement with the Muslim Council of Britain in 2009, which my party continues to this day. It is perfectly logical to extend a policy that was introduced and endorsed by the Labour party, on the basis of logic put forward by the Labour party, because of the challenges that we now have. The hon. Member for Bradford West shakes her head, but those are the facts on the assertion that she made.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I am afraid I will make progress. I have given way a number of times.

The hon. Member for Bradford West made a number of comments about populism and raised a number of concerns about extremism and its definition. When she next speaks in debates like this, she needs to define the specific issues she has with the definition of extremism, because that was not part of her speech when we strip back all the criticisms about individuals. We can always have a robust debate, but if we want to have a mature one, which the hon. Lady claims she does, it would be better to focus on concerns about the specific definitions the Government are trying to bring forward, and what they do and do not achieve, as opposed to spending much more time talking about individuals.

I will probably leave it there. I have many more things I could say about the hon. Lady’s speech, but maybe it is better to deal with those in another forum at another time. I will just say that I do not agree with much of her speech, and I hope that, in time, she will reflect on many of the points that were made.

Putting aside some of the challenges mentioned in Members’ speeches, and what was contained in at least one of them, I think today has shown that all of us feel extremely passionately about ensuring that we build a society that is cohesive and resilient for the long run, and about seeking to utilise what the Government can do to move forward the things we see in our individual communities, whether that be Stoke-on-Trent, Blaydon, North East Derbyshire, Bradford, Strangford—the hon. Member for Strangford is no longer in his place— or elsewhere. We also want to identify the issues that we need to deal with in the years ahead, which is exactly what the commissioning of the Khan review sought to do.

Despite the robustness of the debate, and despite my fundamental disagreements with some of the points that were made, I think it has been a useful debate and a good debate. Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North for giving us the opportunity and space to have the debate, and I am glad that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South have had the opportunity to raise specific they are concerned about within their great city. I hope that such robust debates—next time, the language will hopefully be slightly more cautious and temperate—highlight the interest and need of everybody, wherever we sit on the political spectrum, in terms of getting this matter right and making progress for the long run, which is something we all want to achieve.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 3:40, 30 Ebrill 2024

Thank you, Sir Mark. I thank all Members who took part in this important debate, and I thank the Minister for his words and reflections, particularly on the Prevent funding for Stoke-on-Trent, and for saying that he will pass on our comments to the Home Office. My hon. Friend Jack Brereton and I will continue to push for that additional uplift, to make sure that we can retain that important service.

I want to reflect on a few of the things that have been said. First, Jim Shannon, who is no longer in his place, should rightly be horrified to antisemitic tropes, words and images projected on to buildings in Belfast, as we sadly saw happen here on Elizabeth Tower. It is completely abhorrent that that kind of thing is taking place, and the police must crack down on it.

I visited the hon. Gentleman’s constituency—in fact, I gave a talk to members of his party, as well as to the wider community—and it was great to be surrounded not only by passionate patriots and Unionists, but by members of the community who have lived side by side. They may have different religious or nationalistic views, but they have ultimately grown up side by side as neighbours, friends and colleagues, and I am immensely proud to see the way that that country has moved forward.

My own stepmother, Janet Harbison, set up the Belfast Harp Orchestra, and a member of her family was once an Irish nationalist Member of this Parliament—as you can imagine, our dinner table can be quite interesting at times. She wanted to take part in the peace process by using culture as a way of bringing the community together, and she faced death threats from the IRA, despite coming from the Republic of Ireland and despite her family’s recent history of representing people wanting a united Ireland at that stage. Even she was targeted, with people sending her images of her younger sister, alongside death threats, letting her know that they knew where her family lived. That was truly shocking.

When Janet married my father, who is half-Irish and half-English by birth, they were targeted with abuse and threats; bomb threats were literally made against them, which saddens me to my core to this day. That meant that I was not able to visit my father as much as I wanted to, purely for my own safety. Rightly, my mother and stepfather, and my father and stepmother, wanted to make sure that I was safe.

That shows how far the country has now come, which is why what happened in Belfast is so sad. To see such things being played out again—although in a different guise, using what is happening the middle east as a background—is very sad indeed for a community that has been divided on the basis of birth or religion.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, who is fellow Stokie, although I am obviously an import—my accent gives it away—while he is from there by birth and by breeding. In fact, “Brereton” is all over the bloody roads and in the names of streets, because my hon. Friend’s family were responsible for building many of them in the not-too-distant past. It is great to see him standing up again for the community that we serve, and he is right to do so.

I am proud to wear or wave the St George’s flag, as I am the Union flag. I am proud to say that I am British and English. I am proud to sing “Three lions on a shirt” as much as I am to sing “Rule, Britannia”, which will not come as a shock to the Minister. I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with many fine patriots across our great community of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, 73% of whom voted to leave the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum. I appreciate that there were unfair comments, and Naz Shah talked about people being called “traitors” in this place. I was not in this place at the time, but I of course entirely understand that it would have been completely inappropriate to refer to people in that way.

It is important to understand that there was a groundswell of anger among the public, including people like myself, who voted to leave and who campaigned to leave the European Union. We felt that this place was, sadly, not hearing or representing those views and that others in this place—not the hon. Lady but others, who are no longer here—were pushing the idea that people were somehow thick, uneducated or racist in wanting to see that democratic right delivered. That fed into some of those far-right extremist groups, which were able to proliferate off the back of that.

It has taken a long time to rebuild that trust. These things led to an undermining of our democratic system, which is why 42% of people still chose not to cast a vote in the 2019 general election. That is very sad indeed and was used by groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, which actually encouraged people not to take part in the democratic process—sadly, in this case, the Muslim community, in particular.

It is very important that we use the opportunity we have in this place. I taught religious education for eight years in secondary state schools across Birmingham and London, and Islam is a religion of peace. It is stated very clearly that to take one life is effectively to take the lives of all humankind. It is therefore entirely appropriate to make it abundantly clear to extremist groups—those on the far right, but also those in the Islamic community that pursue a twisted perversion of what Islam is actually about—that that is simply wrong and abhorrent. The word “jihad”, which is sadly now used in terrorist atrocities, actually has a very different meaning—that if, God forbid, holy war is required, innocent women and children of all races and faiths are to be left aside, and all religions are to be left in peace. Ultimately, it is only done in the defence of one’s faith—

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

Order. Could the hon. Member wind up his speech, rather than start another debate on a related subject?

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

I do apologise, Sir Mark. I appreciate the point. As I say, I wanted to make sure that I use this opportunity, because as Members of this place, our words carry a lot of importance. I represent a large Pakistani and Muslim community, and given the recent tensions around what has unfolded in the middle east, its members may feel that I do not advocate their particular view as much as they would like me to. I want to let them know that I do, and I will always stand up for the positive nature of that community and what it has done. Indeed, for the first time in Tunstall, we have seen the election of a member of the Pakistani-British community, Councillor Tabrase Din, who is doing great work on trying to make our streets safer and tackling the backlash in recent times, particularly around extremism.

The hon. Member for Bradford West made an impassioned speech. I would just remind her that political parties across this House have people in them who have done very silly things, and he who is without sin may cast the first stone. I remind her that it was, sadly, the Labour party that was found to have breached or undermined the human rights of those in the Jewish community, in particular. I saw that with my predecessor, Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent, who suffered tremendous antisemitism at the hands of extremists, who had, sadly, proliferated in her party. I commend the fact that the Leader of the Opposition has done a lot of work to try to drive that out, despite what we saw recently in the Rochdale by-election.

No party can sit here and say that all its members have been perfect, and we have all seen and needed to call out extremism in all its forms. However, I kindly remind the hon. Member for Bradford West that calling people such as Donald Trump or Boris Johnson extremists is completely wrong and drives the feeling that they need to be marginalised even further. They are mainstream, centre-right politicians who have a view and who were democratically elected by overwhelming majorities in both their nations at different times, and they should be respected, even though we may have political differences about what they did.

It is important that we continue to have this informed debate and that we make sure that all sides of the argument are heard. Most importantly, however, we must allow mainstream views to continue to be held by mainstream parties in a good-quality, good old-fashioned democratic debate, rather than allowing the wider public to feel marginalised, so that they look to the extremist elements of society, thinking that their views will be heard or supported there. It is for us in this place to make sure that people feel that they can be heard and that their views are supported, and we will continue to do that.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered the Khan Review on threats to social cohesion and democratic resilience.

Sitting suspended.