13 APR 2019

Speech at the Council of Europe on hate speech

Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom) –

With the permission of this Chamber, I would like to provide some personal context to my remarks, because I am the person Lord Blencathra mentioned in his speech who has been targeted with death in a hate crime. It came about because I have spoken out in support of Israel. I do not agree with everything Israel does, but it is an issue on which I simply cannot be silent and should not be silent, and an issue I am fully prepared to debate in a democratic way. The whole substance of the death threat to me fits in with the wider approach to anti-Semitism that others have spoken about.

The death threat was not started internationally; it was started by a young Briton who used social media to start a chain reaction that ended up in the threats of death. I was of course offered protection by our police service, but that is little comfort when you are in Strasbourg and what you have been offered is access to a scrambled helicopter in order to provide you with safety; it does not do that at all.

Others have also spoken of the Brexit-related horrors of attacks on MPs and their offices. One incident in Scotland involved people invading their office and threatening to hang them all. All we are doing as MPs is representing our constituents as best we can. We are doing so in a world where intolerance has grown greatly. There is not just one course of intolerance; across Europe there is a growing intolerance and we need to make our position clear and say where we stand. I agree with those speakers who have said we cannot sit idly by and let this happen. We have access to information and to discussions and papers and have a better appreciation of the issues, or at least we should have, and we should make sure they are well enumerated.

We must prevent hate crimes by challenging the beliefs and attitudes around them. We need to respond to hate crimes in our own communities. We need to increase the reporting of hate crimes so they do not go unreported. We need to improve support for victims, not that I am asking for any for myself. And we need to build an understanding of how hate crime works and the people who are behind it.

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