Personal Statement to House of Lords (re Philip Green), 25 October 2018

My Lords, having been contacted by someone intimately involved in the case of a powerful businessman using non-disclosure agreements and substantial payments to conceal the truth about serious and repeated sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying which is compulsively continuing, I feel that it is my duty under parliamentary privilege to name Philip Green as the individual in question, given that the media have been subject to an injunction preventing publication of the full details of a story which is clearly in the public interest.

Amendment to Northern Ireland (Executive Formation & Exercise of Functions) Bill, House of Lords, 30 October 2018

The Minister offered hope for the severely injured after I moved this amendment

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Amendment 3, Moved by Lord Hain

3: Clause 3, page 3, line 7, at end insert—

“( ) The guidance must direct senior officers of Northern Ireland departments, giving due regard to advice from the Northern Ireland Commission for Victims and Survivors, to prepare a scheme to provide a pension to those who are regarded as seriously-injured arising from an incident associated from the conflict in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, Amendment 3 is in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Cormack, and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, indicating Cross-Bench support. I will also speak to Amendment 13A in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce.

When I spoke in March, I raised the plight of the 500 or so people severely injured because of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The overwhelming majority were injured through no fault of their own, and face growing into old age desperately unsure about what the future holds for them. Because of their injuries, most of them were unable to build the kind of occupational pensions that they would otherwise have had. Just recently, one of the WAVE Trauma Centre’s injured group, which has been campaigning for a special pension, received a final settlement on her pension contributions in the form of a lump sum. It was taxed at 20%. She received a magnificent £25.39, which, frankly, is an insult to somebody in her situation.

Jennifer had her legs blown off in a no-warning IRA bomb in 1972, when she was 21 years of age. Paul, who was 21 when loyalists shot him six times because their target who lived next door did not turn up, is paralysed from the waist down. He describes the constant pain he lives with as like,

“sitting in a pool of lava”.

Every two days his carers—his wife and his brother—have to use a colonic irrigation system to empty his bowels into a bucket. That is Paul’s reality.

This especially vulnerable group of victims have had to deal with much more than the physical damage inflicted upon them. Peter was 26 when he was shot and paralysed in a case of mistaken identity in 1979. His wife, his childhood sweetheart, was tormented by misplaced guilt because she opened the door and,

“let evil into their home”,

as she described it. Peter had to watch her drink herself to death by the age of 51.

Mary was 17 when she was paralysed in a drive-by sectarian shooting. She was told that a realistic life expectancy was that she would not see her 32nd birthday. More than 40 years on, she is still here. She has had three shoulder replacements because of the strain on her upper body, being confined in a wheelchair. She has had to pay for these privately because if she joined an NHS waiting list she would be immobile.

Those who suffered severe physical injuries during the Troubles in Northern Ireland are, in many ways, the forgotten victims of the conflict. Perhaps there was an assumption that they had been looked after at the material time with generous compensation payments that would see them financially secure for the rest of their lives, but that simply did not happen. Many of the severely injured have lived much longer than the life expectancy assumptions made at the time. Most of the severely injured sustained their injuries during the 1970s and 1980s. Many predated disability discrimination legislation so, even if they could have found work, the chances that the workplace would have been adapted to their needs—for example, for those confined to wheelchairs—were more than remote. All they want is a degree of modest financial security so that they—and in many cases their carers—can live the rest of their lives with as much independence and dignity as possible.

To that end, I urge the Government to act swiftly to address this cruel legacy of Northern Ireland’s violent past and provide support for the severely injured through the provision of a special pension. Getting the Government both to recognise and to act upon that obligation is the purpose of these two amendments. In terms of the level of pension, the then Victims Commissioner for Northern Ireland suggested a figure of £150 per week or around the current state pension provision. Given the age profile, a lump sum for those aged over 75 would probably be more appropriate.

In any event the cost, including the administration of the pension, either by the Northern Ireland Civil Service or through the DWP, would not be prohibitive. This total cost has been authoritatively estimated to be between £3 million and £5 million annually. These figures clearly indicate that the pension commitment will diminish through the passage of time, even allowing for some provision for a proportion of the pension to go to the carer when the injured person dies. But for the pension to make a real difference to those who need it, it cannot be counted as income for the purposes of qualifying for existing benefits. That is a very important point. It must be “as well as” and not “instead of”, and be in addition to any other pensions and/or benefits that the injured person either is, or will be, in receipt of.

There is a subsidiary issue to be dealt with in relation to the relatively very small number of people who were severely injured by their own hand, but it is quite wrong that the vast majority who were injured through no fault of their own should be denied support because of a specific political blockage that could and should be resolved. These were not people in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were at work. They were at home with their family. They were having a coffee in a café. They were walking home after an evening at the cinema. They were in the right place, where they should have expected to be safe and secure.

Now is the time for the Government to act swiftly, with I hope wide parliamentary backing, after years and years of this case having no response. That is why I speak to this amendment, which simply seeks that the guidance referred to in Clause 3(3) must direct or, as Amendment 13A puts it, provide for,

“senior officers of Northern Ireland departments, giving due regard to advice from the Northern Ireland Commission for Victims and Survivors, to prepare a scheme to provide a pension to those who are regarded as seriously-injured arising from an incident associated from the conflict in Northern Ireland”,

and for that to be backdated, as Amendment 13A requires, to 1 January 2018. I say that because, if this takes some time to implement—if it requires legislation, as I understand may be the case—there must be certainty that this will happen and that, however long it takes to process, it will be backdated so that at least these victims can have something to look forward to.

This is an opportunity for the Government to show some real compassion for those who have suffered most. I know from conversations that I have had with the Minister that he is on the side of the angels on this matter. I respect him for that. I think that he is trying to do his best, and I hope that in his response he can take this matter forward. I do not want to make his life more difficult by anticipating and rebutting the Government’s likely official response, at least so far as it has been stated in the other place and elsewhere.

However, we have been told that this is a devolved matter and that the Government cannot undermine the devolution settlement by interfering or, as I would prefer to describe it, intervening. I will come back to the question of whether the plight of the severely injured is in fact a devolved matter or whether it should properly be treated as a reserved matter for the UK Government, like other legacy issues. However, there are precedents for the Government intervening in devolved areas because it has been the right thing to do. Health is devolved to Northern Ireland. Thanks to the amazing work of Charlotte Caldwell, literally arguing for the life of her son Billy, who suffers from life-threatening epilepsy, the Home Office was forced to move on the use of medical cannabis, which is absolutely essential for his and other sufferers’ treatment. The use of medical cannabis is now permitted in Northern Ireland. Did that interfere with the devolution settlement? Presumably not or it would not have happened.

Recently, the Independent Reporting Commission, set up to bring an end to paramilitary activity and to tackle organised crime in Northern Ireland, reported for the first time. Twenty-five million pounds to back the IRC came from the British Government, not from devolved budgets, to pave the way for those involved in paramilitary activity to make the transition from mafia-style gangsterism to being ordinary law-abiding citizens. Apart from a small but highly dangerous number of dissident republicans, the paramilitary activity that the IRC is focused on is pure gangsterism. Indeed, the highly respected former assistant chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and now chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, Peter Sheridan, argued that these groups should be called paramilitary no longer, but criminal gangs, and I agree. However, this is not a national security issue. Primarily it is a matter for the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. It is a devolved matter. Criminal justice is devolved yet the Government intervene—absolutely rightly, in my view—to the tune of £25 million. Did that interfere with the devolution settlement? Presumably not.

Injured victims recognise that the paramilitaries who so grievously damaged them have to leave the stage and they do not begrudge this money being used to help Northern Ireland transition, but they wonder how the Government could find this money so quickly when they are told in effect, “Your case is nothing to do with us. Wait for the local politicians to finally bring themselves to discharge the responsibilities for which they were elected, whenever that is—next year, the following year, maybe whenever, if ever”. The reality is that the Government already intervene in devolved matters when it is the right thing to do in the absence of functioning devolved government and a functioning Assembly, and that is as it should be. Indeed, this Bill is a form of intervention.

The Secretary of State made a welcome move in May when she asked the Victims Commissioner to revisit and update her advice on this claim for a pension, and I thank the Minister for his role in that. I have absolutely no doubt that the Victims Commissioner will produce advice that is rigorous, objective, costed and workable, and I hope she produces it soon. No one will be plucking figures out of the air. There will be a template that can and should be speedily implemented.

When the Bill was debated in the other place last week, the Secretary of State said that the Victims Commissioner’s advice would sit on a shelf until devolution was restored. That is, in effect, telling those injured victims that they will not be assisted. Instead, they will be abandoned, as they have been for a very long time. An unarguable case for recognition and reparations has been made for nearly eight years now. For most of that time, there has been devolution in Northern Ireland, and all they have got is tea and sympathy because the question of eligibility in relation to the very small number of those “injured by their own hand” is just too difficult for the local parties to resolve. That is why it should and must be done by this Parliament.

We rightly praise politicians in Northern Ireland who are trying to take it to a better place than it was in when I and other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Murphy, were charged with building new political foundations out of the wreckage of a violent past. At the same time, we have to call them out when they dig in behind their entrenched or sectarian positions and refuse to compromise for the greater good of victims, such as those severely injured. So far, the DUP and Sinn Féin remain deadlocked on this issue, and nothing has moved. That is why we must do it for them, so that justice for this most vulnerable and desperate group of citizens can prevail, and when I speak about them I mean the vast majority who were not “injured by their own hand”. The latter can be dealt with separately.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe that the Government’s insistence that this is solely a devolved issue is misplaced and simply wrong. Those campaigning for a pension who were injured through no fault of their own are as much a part of the legacy of Northern Ireland’s violent past as anything else, and the Government are trying to address this. Indeed, it would be hard to find a more physical manifestation of that legacy than Margaret, who has no eyes, pushing the wheelchair of Jennifer, who has no legs. Has the Secretary of State so little compassion for her plight that she will not put the local parties to shame by providing a pension, and quickly? The Government have an overarching responsibility for legacy issues. That is why they are considering responses to their recent consultation paper on legacy issues, for which they have set aside £150 million. It would be absolutely shameful if the people who have suffered so much were told, “We feel sorry for you, but not sorry enough to do anything about it”.

Finally, I wish to say something about the Bill before us that relates directly to the amendment but has wider and deeply worrying implications. I could have made this point at Second Reading, but I make it now. The Government want us to focus on the narrow issue of the supposed clarity given to civil servants in Northern Ireland, in relation to their capacity to maintain public services and keep the business of government ticking over in the absence of an Executive and Assembly. What is seriously concerning is how long the Government envisage this democratic void persisting before anything happens. They do not envisage any movement before March next year, and then an additional five months is built in. It is shocking that the Government do not seem to realise that hoping something will turn up is nothing approaching a coherent political strategy to restore devolution. Sadly, while the Government procrastinate, the condition of severely injured victims deteriorates daily, and many fear that they will die before their plight is acknowledged and support given. Time is not on their side. The Government must show that they are prepared to act in the name of justice and decency, and I appeal for support for this amendment if the Minister resists it.

 

Contribution to debate on Religious Intolerance and Hatred, House of Lords, 17 October 2018

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My Lords, I am sure all Members present would wish to endorse the Minister’s final calls at the end of his wide-ranging speech.

We have grown used to pogroms against minorities at various stages in our history as a country: against Jews intermittently and sometimes continuously over the millennia; against the Irish in the nineteenth century; against Jews again in the 1930s; against black and Asian Britons from the late 1950s until today; and against Muslims in the first two decades of this century. But what is entirely novel today is a toxic convergence of attacks on Jewish, black and Muslim British citizens all at the same time. I am not aware of any period in our history when this has occurred before. It is deadly serious, with many of our citizens living in fear or terror simply because of their religion, race or skin colour. This is not just scandalous, it is criminal.

Let us touch on the sheer scale of the problem, turning first to attacks on Jews and synagogues. The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain reached the highest level on record last year, including a 34% increase in the number of violent assaults, according to the Community Security Trust. It stated that in 2017 there were nine incidents involving the,

“desecrations of, or anti-Semitic damage to, synagogues”,

in the UK. In the previous year, there were 11 such incidents. The most recent CST report for the period from January to June 2018 states:

“There were 43 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property recorded by CST in the first six months of 2018 … Three of the incidents in this category in the first half of 2018 involved the desecration of Jewish gravestones, eight affected synagogue buildings and 18 happened at people’s homes. All involved some element of anti-Semitic targeting, language or imagery in order to be recorded as anti-Semitic by CST”.

There have been other attacks on Jewish citizens, including on fellow parliamentarians; notably, Luciana Berger MP has been subject to abuse, intimidation and attacks of the vilest kind, not just by fascists, but, I am ashamed to say by a tiny hard-left sect comprising members of the Labour Party backed up by the far left outside. One shouted “traitor” at me when I attended the “Stand Up to Anti-Semitism” rally in Parliament Square in the summer. These people seem to imagine they are promoting Palestinian rights by such attacks; as a robust supporter of justice for the Palestinians since the early 1970s, I can tell them flatly that they are damaging, not enhancing, that vital cause—a message that my party leader might heed as well.

Ironically, the Labour Party has long allied itself with our Jewish citizens and it is the Tory Party that has over the decades given shelter to anti-Semites. Today, as brave Conservative Peers, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, have pointed out, the Tory Party remains riddled with Islamophobia, and some Tories work with UKIP figures such as Nigel Farage and Trump supporters such as Steve Bannon, who have helped create a climate of fear for Muslims.

As European Parliament Member Claude Moraes wrote in the Guardian in June after about 15,000 supporters of Tommy Robinson, the fascist former leader of the English Defence League, had marched in London:

“Make no mistake, this is an attempt to build an ‘alt-right’, pro-Trump movement in Britain. Saturday’s demo included chants of ‘Make Britain Great Again’”.

That march was organised by a former editor-in-chief of Bannon’s Breitbart, and an ex-EDL deputy leader; it was backed by Bannon, with forces to the right of the Conservative Party in Britain from UKIP as well as ex-BNP and National Front supporters and the Football Lads Alliance.

Then there are the attacks on Muslims and mosques. The latest report of the organisation Tell MAMA—Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks—recorded a total of 1,330 reports of Islamophobic attacks in the United Kingdom in 2017, representing a 30% rise when compared to the previous reporting period. In the same year, Tell MAMA recorded 54 incidents that were,

“perpetrated against mosques, Islamic schools and Islamic cultural centres. They include Islamophobic graffiti, threatening letters, the dumping of pork products outside a building, or interpersonal attacks against people attending a mosque”.

Turning to racist activity, in 2017-18, 94,098 hate crime offences were recorded by the police in England and Wales, an increase of 17% on the previous year. Of these, the great bulk—71,251, or 76%—were race hate crimes and 8,336, or 9%, were religious hate crimes. A lot of this extremism is being orchestrated by, or follows the activity of, far-right groups, such as the racist fascist English Defence League and the Football Lads Alliance, as well as, now, the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, or DFLA—a contradiction in terms, I would think—set up in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack in 2017, which has been supported by Tommy Robinson.

On 18 June 2017, Darren Osborne from Wales drove a van into a crowd of people gathered outside a north London mosque—the one referred to, I believe, by the Minister—killing one man and injuring 12 people. He had also intended to murder the leader of the Opposition and the Mayor of London. He had no history of extremism but his ex-partner claimed he had been radicalised in just three weeks by devouring anti-Muslim extremist propaganda online, after which he was ready to kill innocent people. Eyewitnesses reported that he shouted, “I want to kill all Muslims!” The judge said that Osborne had been,

“rapidly radicalised over the internet by those determined to spread hatred of Muslims”.

Evidence showed that he was infatuated with Tommy Robinson and the Nazi-like Britain First organisation.

Then there is Britain’s Young Right Society, run by a Breitbart journalist who is an associate of Trump adviser Steve Bannon. HOPE not hate revealed that the group was “frequently awash with appalling racist” content, white supremacy, jokes about the Holocaust and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. It was also used to organise the members for events. Because it was formed secretly, it was exposed only when one member alerted HOPE not hate to its existence.

Let us take just a few recent examples of the effect in our communities of these groups’ extremist activities of religious persecution. A mosque and a Sikh gurdwara in Leeds were attacked in the early hours of a Tuesday morning in early June in what police treated as hate crimes. The assaults followed a march in Leeds the previous Friday in defence of jailed fascist and anti-Muslim extremist Tommy Robinson, who has a long record of far-right activity, criminality and violence. Police said the main door at Jamia Masjid Abu Huraira Mosque in Beeston, Leeds, was deliberately set on fire at around 3.30 am. Police were called to the nearby gurdwara in Beeston, at around 4.20 am, after someone had set the door on fire. Councillor Gohar Almas, a local Labour councillor was reported as saying:

“Somebody tried to set the mosque and the gurdwara alight. The mosque is bang opposite a primary school. What kind of message is this sending to the children?”

One person at the gurdwara spoke of a “sentiment of fear” among people following the attacks, especially the half dozen who live in the gurdwara, including two elderly couples. A volunteer at the gurdwara told “Leeds Live”:

“It is a big concern. I have got sadness with me. This is something which should never have happened”.

Rafaqat Ali from the mosque told local media that he was “upset and shocked”. Another mosque member added, “My kids go there and are scared now, because of this attack”.

The timing was significant—this is a point I want to emphasise—because these attacks followed Tommy Robinson’s supporters demonstrating in Leeds after he was jailed for breaching a court order. Various fascists had organised protests to defend his so-called free speech. However, as local councillor Gohar Almas said, allowing Nazis free speech is dangerous. He said that the only thing that should not be tolerated is intolerance; spreading hate speech, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and homophobia should not be tolerated. He added that the march by Tommy Robinson supporters had “absolutely” given racists more confidence. Gohar said, “We have fought this before. We are a united and resilient community—a community of communities. We are here to unite people, not divide people, and we will not let people divide us”. Let us send a message of solidarity to him and his mosque, and to other local religious institutions.

Only the other Saturday, fascist thugs blocked a bus on one of the roads next to Trafalgar Square because the driver was a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf. Video footage of the incident showed one of these thugs appearing to give the “Sieg Heil” salute toward the bus. A photo shows a topless man holding two fingers up to the bus driver through the glass. Others on this fascist mobilisation banged on the bus windows with “Free Tommy” placards or brandished ones reading “Britain Loves Trump”.

The point I wish to stress is this: violent attacks against our Muslim, Jewish and black citizens flow from far-right mobilisations and far-right activism as night follows day. There is an umbilical link between activity by racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic extremists and these sorts of vile attacks. Over the past year or so, the sheer scale of these far-right protests, and the numbers in attendance, is unprecedented.

In Manchester last year, 3,000 Tommy Robinson supporters were mobilised. On 24 June 2017, in London, the Football Lads Alliance mobilised nearly 5,000. On 7 October last year, the Football Lads Alliance mobilised 10,000, maybe more. On 18 March this year, at Speakers’ Corner in London, Tommy Robinson supporters numbered 500. On 24 March, in Birmingham, the Football Lads Alliance and the Democratic Football Lads Alliance mobilised up to 5,000 in total. On 5 May this year—“Tommy Robinson Day”, they called it—5,000 supporters marched in his honour. On 19 May, in Manchester, the Football Lads Alliance mobilised 300 people. On 26 May, in London, “Free Tommy Robinson” supporters mobilised 400. In Leeds, on 30 May, “Free Tommy Robinson” supporters mobilised 400. On 2 June 2018, in Manchester, the Democratic Football Lads Alliance supporters numbered around 1,800. On 9 June, in London, “Free Tommy Robinson” supporters numbered 15,000. On 23 June, in London, UK freedom marchers, made up of various far-right groups including some UKIP members, numbered 2,500. On 14 July, in London, “Free Tommy Robinson” supporters numbered up to 10,000. These are big numbers—far bigger than anything I have seen in modern decades. That is why we need actively to support anti-racist groups such as Unite Against Fascism, Stand Up to Racism, HOPE not hate, Show Racism the Red Card and Kick It Out.

When I helped launch the Anti-Nazi League in September 1977, it was to meet a growing threat, both on the streets and in elections, from the Nazi National Front. Working with Rock Against Racism to organise national carnivals and local gigs, but also by confronting the National Front whenever and wherever its members tried to march or rally, we eventually managed defeat it. Then, over 20 years later, the British National Party took its place, and again we had to mobilise to defeat it. However, the threat today of religious and racial persecution is far more insidious and dangerous.

Today’s threat is occurring right across Europe, against a backdrop of despair at neoliberal economic policies which generate massive job insecurity and hopelessness—the habitual fertile breeding ground for racism, fascism and anti-Semitism. From Germany to Greece, from Sweden to Switzerland, from Britain to Belgium, the far right is growing and succeeding, targeting immigrants and religious minorities—familiar scapegoats for collective government economic failure. It must not be allowed to succeed. We need a modern Keynesian alterative to rescue our communities from the austerity and misery of neoliberalism. As we saw so fatally in the 1930s, if that does not occur, persecution of religious and other minorities by racists, fascists, anti-Semites and Nazis will gain increasing traction.