Lord Bourne: We will not allow hatred and intolerance to go unchecked
As the government publishes its refreshed Hate Crime Action Plan, our message is clear: wherever we find discrimination we will do all we can to confront it, says Lord Bourne
Britain is a proudly tolerant nation – a nation where everyone has the right to live according to their beliefs. Indeed, this is a quality Britain champions and recognises as one of its great strengths. We believe that our differences make us stronger – that together we can learn from one another and grow as individuals and as a society.
Despite this, in recent years we have seen increased reports of religiously motivated hate crime, intolerance and prejudice. From the disgraceful Punish a Muslim Day letters to the anti-semitic posters placed just a stone’s throw from Parliament, there are disturbing reminders of the vitriol that exists amongst a minority in our society.
As Faith Minister, I am appalled by such events and remain deeply aware of the responsibility of government to protect religious communities.
Last week, I spoke at the Coptic Christian Nayrouz Service. During the evening, focus was placed on those who have suffered persecution for their faith, including Coptic Christians in Egypt who have in recent years experienced growing religious intolerance and sectarian violence.
It was a chilling reminder that many people around the world live in fear purely because of their beliefs – we must never let ourselves fall victim to such intolerance and divisiveness.
This government’s commitment to promoting religious tolerance extends beyond these shores, with Lord Ahmad recently appointed to promote the UK’s firm stance on religious tolerance abroad, helping to tackle religious discrimination in countries where minority faith groups face persecution.
But there are still challenges at home. Only last year, the Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 1,382 anti-semitic incidents across the UK – the highest annual total on record.
This Wednesday(17th October) I will lead a debate in the House of Lords to ensure that we do not lose sight of this and allow hatred and discrimination to fester unchecked.
Alongside my fellow peers, I will seek to reassure those religious communities that feel vulnerable or under threat that they are valued and a central part of our national life and that Britain would be much diminished without their contribution.
I will reaffirm that this government is unequivocal: there can never be an excuse for hatred towards any religious community. Wherever we find it, we will oppose it and challenge it.
That’s why we have committed £2.4m to provide protective security funding for places of worship.
We have also taken action to ensure that incidents of religiously motivated hate crime are recorded and victims are supported, funding organisations like Tell MAMA and True Vision.
And we will continue to support Remembering Srebrenica and Holocaust Memorial Day Trust to ensure we learn the lessons of recent tragedies. This August I visited the site of the Srebrenica genocide. It was a sobering experience and served as a critical reminder of why discrimination and hate must be challenged wherever and whenever it surfaces.
The House of Lords debate on religious intolerance and prejudice will take place during Hate Crime Awareness Week. This campaign shines a spotlight on the damaging effect of intolerance and hatred on communities around the country as well as the work being done to confront and prevent it.
During this week, I am pleased to say that the government will underline its commitment to this cause by publishing its refreshed Hate Crime Action Plan. Signalling the half-way point of our four-year plan, it is an opportunity to reflect on the strong progress that has been made, and where we must continue to improve as we move forward.
Over the past year I have travelled across the country meeting religious communities and groups, many of whom have established hugely impressive interfaith networks, where religious groups come together to bridge divides and raise awareness. This is the vision of Britain that I believe everyone can unite behind. It is our country at its best.
We must, and will, defend our British values of tolerance and respect for others.
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth is a Conservative peer and Minister for Faith. Peers will debate religious intolerance on Wednesday 17th October.