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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with much of what the right reverend Prelate has said. I remind him that a new unit has been set up in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to strengthen and further our relationship and dialogue with communities in this country on a whole range of issues. We have also begun Islam awareness training in the FCO. We seek new ideas about ways in which we can communicate with the Islamic community. We have also established an Islamic media unit to try to overcome some of these problems. My honourable friend in another place, Mr O'Brien, has recently recorded a message of good will to the Islamic faith in this country. We are trying to work on these issues.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I agree totally with the Minister's definition of Islamic terrorists, but many distort the true, peace-loving face of Muslims, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford rightly said. More

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specifically, what is the Government's position on Abu Hamza, who is the unacceptable face and not a good advertisement for Islam?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we recognise the threat posed by some of the appalling statements that have come from Mr Abu Hamza. Again, the Government believe that for those statements to masquerade in any way as an expression of the Islamic faith is entirely wrong. We lose no opportunity in expressing that view.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that in Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, where there are the same problems with terrorism, a differentiation in terminology is made between political Islam and spiritual Islam? That is a positive and helpful definition of terminology to help make judgments on terrorists or any other people who use the name of a religion to carry out acts against humanity.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with that. It is important that we find ways of referring to these organisations that are acceptable but still descriptive of their objectives. It is worth recording that the broadest grouping of Muslim states—the Organisation of the Islamic Conference—strongly condemned the terrible acts of 11th September last year and supports efforts to track down the perpetrators of those acts and of others.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister accept that discrimination against Catholics some 100 years ago helped to provide the basis from which the IRA found so many sympathisers and that it is therefore extremely important that we manage as far as possible to remove discrimination against Muslims? In that context, will she answer rather more specifically the proposal of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford that we encourage the formation of a council of Muslims in this country on a similar basis to the Board of Deputies of British Jews to demonstrate that this is now an accepted part of the faith communities of British citizens?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that my answers expressed our view that of course Islam is very much among the community of religions in this country. The Foreign Office is making a huge effort to reach out to the Islamic community. I remind the House that on 12th November this year the Prime Minister talked about creating bridges of understanding between religious faiths. He went on to talk about the pioneering work of the Alexandria process. We would want to discuss the creation of a specific organisation with the Islamic religious leaders in this country to see what their views were before saying whether that would be a suitable vehicle on which to go forward.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, although I appreciate the sensitivity of description and do not

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want to see any form of discrimination taking place, does my noble friend the Minister agree that, when addressing the question of what we mean by "Islamic terrorist", the difficulty is that most people would understand an "Islamic terrorist" to be someone who practises terror and does so in the name of Islam?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, that was the purport of my initial reply to the House. Some terrorist groups regularly describe themselves as "Islamic". When preparing to answer this Question, I took the opportunity to look through the list of terrorist groups and found that 12 of them throughout the world describe themselves as "Islamic". I hope that I have made it entirely clear that Her Majesty's Government do not accept that that is a fair and accurate description.

Earl Russell: My Lords, if, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, suggests, the words "Islamic" and "terrorist" become interchangeable, does the Minister agree that that interchange is about as illogical as "Green Park Tube station"?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords; it is entirely illogical. However, I should point out to the noble Earl that that is why the perpetrators of terrorism want to link the two. It is in their interests to appeal to moderate Islamic opinion and convince the latter that they are somehow acting on its behalf. That is not true. To put it frankly, we simply should not allow them to get away with it.

Social Exclusion Unit

2.51 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the function of the Social Exclusion Unit and what is its annual cost.

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the remit of the Social Exclusion Unit is to help to improve government action to reduce social exclusion by producing long-term solutions to intractable social problems. The unit works mainly on specific projects agreed by the Deputy Prime Minister, in consultation with the Prime Minister. The unit's budget for the current year is 2.9 million, which, given the outcomes, is cheap at the price.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, it is not, perhaps, an enormous sum in modern currency, but will the noble Lord take this opportunity to give the House a glimpse into the way in which his right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister—in whose dominion this unit resides—actually brings joined-up

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solutions into touch with joined-up problems? That would be most interesting, because none of us really understands the meaning of that language.

Lord Rooker: Yes, my Lords, that is precisely why I did not use it when answering the noble Lord's Question. I rewrote the Answer to make it refer to the SEU as,


    "producing long-term solutions to intractable social problems",

which is what it is about in language that I understand. I have always considered the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, to be what I call a "Tory gent", who really cares about society as a whole. I should point out that the work of the Social Exclusion Unit on young runaways, on reducing reoffending, on making the provision of employment and education more widespread among 16 to 18 year-olds, on reducing teenage pregnancies, on trying to attack the issue of truancy, and on dealing with rough sleeping, addresses issues about which we should all be concerned. Indeed, of themselves, such issues are not the remit of a single government department—hence the valuable work of the SEU.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most intractable social problems with which we are faced—and, indeed, have faced over the past 40 years—is how to deal with the problem of accommodation for gypsies? Can he say why that problem and the social disadvantage suffered by gypsies have not been considered by the Social Exclusion Unit?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord a specific reason. However, as the noble Lord is aware from previous questions that I have answered on the problems faced by people who lead a nomadic life, we have recently commissioned research, which has now been published and is currently under consideration. As I recall, it was published on either 10th October or 10th November. We are actively considering the response, which calls for an extra 2,000 pitches around the country. I genuinely mean that this matter is being given serious consideration by the department.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I was not in any way denying that there is a problem? I merely sought to ask the noble Lord whether his right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister, who has a huge empire, is able to cope with it? I doubt it.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, my right honourable friend is more than up to the job. Bearing in mind the name of the department, it is only now becoming apparent to people—the penny is only just dropping—that the role of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is quite widespread, and rightly so.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what is being done about reducing teenage pregnancies? Can he also outline the extent to which it has been successful?

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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I have only a couple of facts available to me today. Conception rates among teenagers have fallen since 1998: there has been a 6 per cent decrease for the under-16s, and a 6 per cent decrease for the under-18s. That is not a brilliant outcome, but it is moving in the right direction.


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