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2.57 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Earlier this afternoon, the Leader of the House condemned what he termed the rising tide of anti-Semitism. I believe that the House should not adjourn until it has debated the important issue of the role Islamicist organisations play in inciting racial hatred in the United Kingdom through propagating anti-Semitism under the guise of anti-Zionism. I wish to make it very clear that criticising the policies of the Government of Israel is not anti-Semitic. However, demonising Israel and Zionists—those who support Jewish national self-determination—by invoking images of disproportionate conspiratorial power is indeed anti-Semitism.

It is time that the spotlight fell on the Muslim Association of Britain, particularly the key figures, such as Azzam Tamimi, Kamal el Helbawy, Anas Al-Tikriti and Mohammed Sawalha. All of them are connected to the terrorist organisation Hamas. The Muslim Association of Britain itself is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood—an extremist fundamentalist organisation founded in Egypt in 1928, and the spiritual ideologue of all Islamic terror organisations. It is militantly anti-Semitic and always has been.

In June 2003, the Muslim Association of Britain organised a series of meetings with an American imam, Anwar Al Awlaki, as guest speaker. That gentleman is reportedly wanted for questioning by the FBI in connection with the 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Azzam Tamimi often appears in the media, representing the Muslim Association of Britain. He is an adviser to Hamas in the middle east. In 1991, when he lived in Jordan, he was the official spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood and

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the Islamic Action Front. He worked for the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood between 1989 and 1992. When he came to London, he continued his activities. He openly supports Palestinian suicide bombers. In July 2002, Azzam Tamimi spoke at a conference on Palestine in South Africa at which he said:

martyrs. He continued:

the Israelis—

He argues consistently that jihad is the only way forward for the Palestinians. He has said:

He told a conference in Vienna that after Israel is destroyed and replaced with an Islamic state, the Jews should

I heard him speak at a Palestine Solidarity rally in November 2002 in this very building, and I heard him say:

This is not a man of peace. He and his arguments incite hatred against Jews. He speaks regularly on behalf of the Muslim Association of Britain. Will the Muslim Association of Britain dissociate itself from him? Messages put out by that association and other Islamist groups, together with the far right—the traditional anti-Semites—continue to incite growing violence against Jews in the United Kingdom. The Community Security Trust, part of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, has been documenting those attacks. It reports that

The situation in the rest of Europe is even more serious. In Paris, a school has been burned down. The Chief Rabbi of France has warned men not to wear head coverings in public for their own protection. We are all too aware of the bombs in Istanbul that claimed so many lives. The situation is so serious that the European Union commissioned a report on anti-Semitism. Sadly, it tried to suppress the findings of that report because it showed the link between anti-Semitic attacks and some elements of the Muslim community. It is tragic that the holocaust cannot be taught in some French schools because pupils dispute whether it happened. The situation is growing, and it is too serious to ignore.

We should not underestimate the impact of anti-Semitic messages beamed into this country from the Arab world. During Ramadan this year, Hezbollah satellite television, Al-Manar, broadcast thirty episodes of a Syrian production called "Al- Shatat". According to the Syria Times on 11 March this year it was a

Episode 20 shows a Christian child kidnapped by Jews, his throat cut, his blood collected in a metal bowl, and the blood then used to make Passover matzo. That is classic anti-Semitic blood libel of medieval Christian

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origin, but propagated more recently by the Nazis. I have viewed the footage, which is gruesome, revolting and an incitement to racial hatred. I call on the Government to make strong representations to Syria about that series.

I, like many, seek a peaceful solution to the tragic Israel-Palestinian conflict, based on a secure Israel with integrity as a Jewish state, and a viable Palestinian state beside Israel as a homeland for the Palestinians. A solution based on the division of land is realistic. I support the Geneva accords, which show a way forward, and I was pleased to participate recently in the Rabin peace seminar, which brought together members of the Israeli Knesset with leading members of the Palestinian Authority, at which I saw that there was a way to peace. Preaching hatred against Jews, however, is a handicap.

Preaching hatred of the sort that we are now hearing and seeing will undermine reconciliation and threatens community relations in the United Kingdom. It is already igniting anti-Semitism with potentially dire consequences for community relations in this country and in Europe as a whole. This must not be ignored. The Government are making valiant efforts to bring about peace in the middle east and to support good community relations in this country. I ask them not to ignore mounting anti-Semitism and to take action against it, from wherever, it comes, before it is too late.

3.5 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this Christmas Adjournment debate.

Earlier, the Leader of the House said that we should all suggest names of people to be honoured in the forthcoming honours list. I thought that I would start the ball rolling and suggest my mother. She is an absolute heroine and a tremendous lady. There is one problem that worries me, however, and it may be the stumbling block to her recognition: she does not support the Government. She is not a Labour voter, she always votes Tory, and, for whatever reason, she does not like the Prime Minister. Given what I have read in the Sunday papers about the vetting of people who are suggested for honours, I wonder whether they have to be supporters of the Government. That would disturb me greatly. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that that hurdle will not be put in front of my mother and others who happen not to support the Government. As to the suggestion of sexing up the list with those whose names people can recognise, as opposed to those who deserve honours, I hope that that is not true. I hope that people included in the list will be there on their merits and for no other reason.

I want to endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) said about Gibraltar. It is its 300th anniversary next year, and I hope that we will all celebrate it. I am proud of our attachment to Gibraltar and the support that it has given us over the centuries. I hope that the celebrations will take place throughout the country, and that the Government will get behind them. I know that there is some feeling that we might offend the Spanish if we are seen to be over-rejoicing in the fact that we have a close association with Gibraltar, but they should not be so sensitive. It has

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been a British territory for 300 years—the first 300 years, I hasten to add—and we should rejoice in it. In a referendum held this year, the people of Gibraltar showed overwhelmingly that they wish the current association to remain. We should respect their wishes, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister will do so. Let us celebrate that 300th anniversary, and I hope that the Government will soon announce a number of things to help us celebrate it in this country—perhaps even an announcement that the Prime Minister will visit Gibraltar next year will give some support.

The Government need to look urgently at council tax because, in April, as we know, bills will be dropping through people's letter boxes. We have seen in the Daily Express a campaign that relates particularly to pensioners on fixed incomes who live in big houses, perhaps for historical reasons such as having raised a family there, and who wish to remain in them. We all understand that, but the increases in council tax that they have had to face over the past seven years have been horrific—about 70 per cent., including the increase this year, on typical band D homes, and most band D homes are now subject to bills of well over £1,000. I therefore hope that the Government will be more honest about the funding of local government. We know that there has been a lot of rigging in terms of the way in which money has been moved around the country.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced £400 million to dampen the effects of this year's increase, but in many areas it will still be more than 10 per cent., while the inflation rate is about 2.5 per cent. Nobody apart from MEPs got a 10 per cent. pay increase this year. That £400 million will therefore not keep council tax low, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have told local authorities what increase would be unacceptable before capping is introduced. We need to know that figure, but an increase that is four times the rate of inflation is unacceptable.

In business questions, the closure of post offices was mentioned twice, by Members on both sides of the House. I, too, know of a few post office closures in my constituency this year. We do not want to receive letters about branch closures in our offices, but, sadly, we do. I congratulate all postmen and women and postmasters and mistresses on their hard work and dedication throughout the year, but particularly at Christmas time. We must value the post office network. I am the first to concede that there were hundreds of closures under the previous Government as well, but this year about 205 branches have closed, and, from what we have heard today, the number seems to be escalating,. The network consists of about 17,200 post offices. Every Member of Parliament values the post offices in their constituency and our constituents are aware of their importance. The post office is the only shop in many villages and, apart from offering post office services, they sell goods. There are a number of such post offices in my constituency but, as I said, they are under threat. If people lose their post office, it is unlikely that they will ever get it back.

There have been a few closures in my constituency including, last year, Grindleton post office, which was the only shop in the village. Sometimes when we receive letters about a closure, the Post Office asks whether we can suggest anyone who is prepared to come in and run

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the local post office. We must acknowledge that post offices sometimes are not economically viable. Even with all the goods that they sell in addition to stamps, postal orders and so on, and even if the postmaster runs a convenience store too, post offices, particularly given the salary that is paid, may not be economically viable. The profit margin on a number of goods sold in post offices is extremely low. For example, it is about 4 per cent. on phone cards, which are high-cost items.

If the Government value our post office network, they must do something to save it. Clearly, this year's initiative to get people to have their benefits paid directly into bank accounts has not helped. The Government say that people have a choice in relation to the way in which they receive their benefits, but some elderly people have received phone calls when they have said that they wish to carry on receiving their benefits in the post office trying to persuade them to have that money paid directly into a bank account. A lot of people are being badgered into changing their mind and agreeing to direct payment into a bank account. That does not help the post office network in any way whatsoever, so I would be grateful if the Minister would give us an assurance that people will have genuine choice with regard to the way in which their benefits and pensions are paid, and will not be badgered or forced into opening a bank account.

As for support for the network, the Government must be more imaginative about the ways in which they protect those post offices. There may be a rural subsidy or some other form of recognition to keep post offices open. Without such payments, the system may not be viable. People who work in post offices work long hours under enormous stress. They have to be accurate in all their work because, in the main, they are dealing with money. One postmistress who worked part time told me that it was not worth it—people who worked in McDonald's were getting a higher hourly rate than she was for a job that entailed a great deal of stress and responsibility. In the end she chucked it in, and that facility has been lost in one of my villages, which is very sad indeed.

We must acknowledge that working in a post office entails long hours. It is not at all an easy job, so we must provide support. Post offices are the lifeblood of the community. People know the postmaster and mistress and the individuals who work in the shop. I know of one post office where, if someone did not come in one week to get their benefit, the staff would go round to their house to see that they were all right. With the best will in the world, that does not happen at Asda and Tesco. We must recognise the importance of the job that those people are doing.

About 400,000 people get relatives or friends to pick up their benefits for them. They would not be able to get them to nip into Barclays or some other bank to do so. We must stop the rot—we must work out how we can keep our post offices viable and keep the network going as far as possible. I pay tribute to all the postmen and postwomen, and to my own postman, Trevor. I thank him for all the work that he has done delivering letters to the entire village and me—we are extremely grateful.

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In conclusion, I wish the House a merry Christmas and a happy new year. We look forward to 2004, when the people of the north will vote no to regional government.

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