HOME AFFAIRS – RACE RELATIONS – 9 March 2000

Dr Julian Lewis: Does my hon. Friend [David Lidington] agree that when a new community comes to live in a host country, one of the inevitable initial problems is language? Does he agree that, as with my grandfather who could not read or write English properly until the end of his life, what really counts is that children and grandchildren of an immigrant community make the effort to integrate with the English language and the English culture? Does he agree that we must pay due attention to the need for incoming communities to adopt the language of the host community?

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Dr Lewis: I have been agreeing with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman [Hilton Dawson] has said, but I am worried by the element of subjectivity that he has introduced with his point about how an incident is perceived. I am Jewish and, from time to time, people involve me in incidents that I do not like. It would not do the Jewish community any good at all if I always assumed that those people were motivated by anti-semitism. I ask the hon. Gentleman to think again about perception by the victim.

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Dr Lewis: Unlike the hon. Gentleman [Shaun Woodward], I am a third generation descendant of an immigrant family. My family recognised that it was incumbent on us to adapt ourselves to some extent to the history and culture of the country to which we were coming. It is not unreasonable to ask that of people who have chosen to make their lives here.

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Dr Lewis: Does not the hon. Gentleman [Shaun Woodward] recognise that that is an unfair point, given that we are not opposing the Second Reading of the Bill? [Mr Woodward had remarked: "The Conservative party will whip its Members to keep discrimination in place on section 28 [banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools], yet on a day like today it will signal to its Members that the debate is of so little importance that they can attend other business elsewhere. In other words, when discrimination can be used against people, there is a three-line Whip, but when it cannot, Conservatives Members can take the day off."]

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Dr Lewis: Yet again I thank the Home Secretary for his courtesy. Does he agree that there is a severe downside to branding the police as a racist institution? That was brought home to me when one of our own police constables in the Palace of Westminster said that one of the reasons why he had finally decided to retire was that he considered that he had been smeared as a racist by the report.

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Dr Lewis: Would it be regarded as de facto evidence of discrimination if members of one ethnic or religious group were over-represented in prison in proportion to their strength in the population, or would each case of discrimination be viewed on an individual basis? It might be argued that some groups are over-represented at Oxford and Cambridge because a disproportionate number of their members pass the entrance examinations.