HL Deb 10 February 2004 vol 656 cc1033-5

Lord Chan asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to recent reports of racist attacks against black and other ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, the Government have frequently put on record our abhorrence of all forms of intolerance. We have developed a co-ordinated response and will be publishing our race equality strategy for Northern Ireland this summer. Enforcement action by the Police Service of Northern Ireland will continue to be key. Today, the Government published legislative proposals to deal with what is often termed "hate crime". The Government are committed to eradicating all such manifestations of hatred, and to the creation of a safer and more tolerant Northern Ireland.

Lord Chan

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply, but is she aware that there have been more racist attacks against the Chinese community in Belfast this January than in the entire 12 months of 2003? Further, is she concerned that racial attacks against Chinese businesses and families in England have increased since 2000, especially during the Chinese new year season of January and February?

Finally, will she confirm whether the Government will take steps to prevent any perverse racial attacks against the Chinese community as a result of the tragedy at Morecambe Bay, which indicates that it is about time that the Home Secretary's brave proposal of an amnesty for migrant workers who are here illegally was put in place?

Baroness Amos

My Lords. I thank the noble Lord. I am aware of the increase in racial attacks against the Chinese community in Northern Ireland, about which we are very concerned. The noble Lord will be aware that the Chinese community makes up the bulk of the ethnic minority community in Northern Ireland. We have been in discussion with members of community organisations about the best way to tackle the problem.

With respect to the wider question and the tragic incident in Morecambe Bay, the noble Lord will be aware that we have a clear, three-pronged strategy. The first prong is to tackle asylum; the second is to ensure that we work to build community cohesion; and the third concerns managed migration.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the lack of police activity in the Village area of south Belfast has enabled loyalist terrorists to grow in strength there? It is not the first time that they have used their muscle: they have cleared students and Roman Catholics out of the area in the past. How many arrests have been made in recent weeks by the police dealing with those activities in the Village area?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the situation in Northern Ireland is somewhat complex and, as I understand it, there may be a number of reasons why those attacks have increased. We have nationalist parties operating; we have protection rackets and people trafficking; and there is an allegation that some attacks are linked to the paramilitaries, although the noble Lord will be aware that the paramilitary organisations have made it absolutely clear that those attacks are unacceptable.

Policing is more visible and I understand that there have been three arrests, although I am not aware of what has happened about charging.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, to put the matter in perspective, ought not a great tribute be paid to the police for the wonderful and difficult work that they have done in stopping Chinese terrorist gangs victimising their own countrymen in this country? They have done a fantastic job and, if we are to talk about the subject, there should be some balance to it.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the Question concerns the situation in Northern Ireland, but on the noble Lord's point, of course the police are to be congratulated on the higher visibility policing that we have seen in areas where ethnic minority communities feel vulnerable. He will be aware of the announcement yesterday of a government initiative to tackle organised crime.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. Is the Minister aware that liaison officers have recently been appointed in each district to deal with ethnic matters? Is she further aware that the day after tomorrow, the Community Involvement Committee, of which I am a member, is gathering representatives of minority communities, especially the Chinese, and of the senior police responsible for community involvement to a meeting to help to sort out the problem?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am aware of the appointment of ethnic minority liaison officers in each neighbourhood in Northern Ireland. I was not aware of the meeting, but I am pleased that it is going ahead and that the community, the police and the government agencies are coming together in this way.

Lord Laird

My Lords, as the Minister may recognise, I used to represent the Village area of Belfast. I am sure that the Minister will join me and every other right-thinking person in Northern Ireland to condemn these attacks without reservation, no matter who they are on, no matter what race or for what reason. I am sure she will agree that we should ask all right-thinking people to report any information that they have to the police immediately, to make sure that this nonsense is stopped for once and for all.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Of course I agree that we want to see condemnation of these attacks and we want to see these attacks stop. That is why the work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland is so important. We also need to work together to build community cohesion.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell

My Lords, will the Minister encourage and facilitate both Christian and other faith community groups and their leaders to work more closely together to combat xenophobia? Will the Minister investigate the schools curriculum to find imaginative, new, creative ways in which to help to build social cohesion?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, of course I agree with the right reverend Prelate. We need to work across the faiths. I will discuss the issue of education with my colleagues, and I will make the right reverend Prelate's point to them.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, given the extent to which the paramilitaries have been able to exercise their will in particular parts of Belfast, do the police believe the paramilitaries when they say that they have no part in what has been going on?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as I understand it, the police consider that a complex range of issues are coming together. In answer to another question, I said that not only were there issues with respect to people trafficking, but with nationalist parties from Great Britain that are seeking to organise in Northern Ireland, as well as allegations with respect to the paramilitaries. All of these issues are being investigated by the police.

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