Paul Goodman, Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government, yesterday addressed the issue of Holocaust Memorial Day, which was on 27 January.
"The debate is necessarily sombre, and as the Minister said, each year it is one in which party politics is irrelevant. Each year, we probe the causes of the horror of the holocaust, its roots planted in the racist ideology of the Nazis and, even deeper, in Europe’s terrible history of anti-Semitism. We honour the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Community Security Trust, the all-party group against anti-Semitism, many of whose Members are in their places, and many other organisations. We condemn holocaust denial, as the Minister rightly did, as we do all racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia.
We wonder how the holocaust could have happened, and how most Germans could have averted their eyes from the attempted extermination of an entire people in Europe. In 1933, Germany could claim to be the most civilised nation in the world. Less than 15 years later, 6 million people were dead. Before we rush to judgment, however, we ask ourselves each year whether we are certain that we would have behaved more honourably. We always join together in this debate to say, “Never again.”
As the Minister said, the Jewish people were not the only victims of the holocaust. There were also Poles, disabled people, political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay people and many others. Nor, as has been pointed out from the Conservative Benches, was the holocaust the only exercise in mass murder. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s website refers to Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.
Of itself, anti-Semitism is surely no worse than any other form of that vile thing, racism. However, the location of the extermination camps in Europe and the historical backdrop against which they were set place on us a unique responsibility. As politicians, we must be especially sensitive to eruptions of anti-Semitism, given the speed at which it gathered pace in Germany.
It is incontestable that what happens abroad can stir violent extremism at home. However, I wish to make it absolutely clear that violence abroad must not be allowed to spill on to the streets of Britain, from whatever quarter. People must take great care not accidentally to inflame what they rightly decry.
I close with three swift questions to the Under-Secretary, who, as ever, made a good speech today. First, will he give the House a categorical assurance that all police forces will record anti-Semitic crimes by the end of 2008-89, as promised Secondly, what is the Government’s view of reports that the Muslim Council of Britain boycotted Holocaust memorial day this year? If they are true, will the Government’s engagement policy in relation to the MCB change? If so, in what way? Thirdly, Ministers rightly met groups concerned about the conflict in Gaza and Israel recently. What steps is the Under-Secretary taking to ensure not only that Ministers meet groups, but that groups from different religious backgrounds and from none can meet each other in such circumstances—obviously, I am referring not only to Gaza and Israel—to help reduce tensions?"
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is Sadiq Khan. He responded to Mr Goodman thus:
"The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) made an outstanding speech in which he raised three specific questions. First, he asked when police services would start recording anti-Semitic incidents. I am pleased to tell him that I dealt with the Government’s response to the report published by the all-party group on anti-Semitism, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), which recommended that change. We expect all police services to be able to record anti-Semitic incidents by April 2009 and I thank the hon. Gentleman for the vigour with which he has pursued that issue. The pressure that he has brought to bear will ensure that it happens by that deadline.
The second issue that the hon. Gentleman raised was the reports in the press of the alleged boycotts of Holocaust memorial day. He would expect nothing less than for me to say that, first, I will not comment on reports in the press, and secondly, I have received no indication from the group that it has boycotted the event, and nor am I aware of ministerial colleagues being thus informed.
The third point was about the engagement with groups, aside from the excellent engagement that Ministers have had—I do not mean that in a self-congratulatory, backslapping way—with key stakeholders in the past few weeks. That raises the interesting point of the inter-faith dialogue that needs to take place. Much such work is taking place, including the Inter Faith Network, the Government funding of regional faith forums and the Faith in Action grant programmes. We are looking at other ways in which Muslim-Jewish dialogue can take place in forums such as the Muslim Jewish Forum and the Coexistence Trust, which have a huge role to play. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will work with me to ensure that more work is done in that area."
The Muslim Council of Britain did in fact announce in December 2007 that its boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day (undertaken on the grounds that the Day "was not properly inclusive of genocides of more recent times") was over.
However, there have been press reports that the MCB made a decision to stay away from the event this year, possibly as a protest against what is occuring in Gaza. No official announcement has been made.