On 18 October 2017, Bob Blackman, Conservative MP for Harrow East, hosted in Parliament an event organised by the National Council of Hindu Temples (UK).
Harrow East is a very diverse constituency, and the 2011 Census gives its religious breakdown as follows:
|Religion not stated||6,191|
One of the speakers, apparently the keynote speaker, was Tapan Ghosh, the founder of Hindu Samhati, a far-right nationalist group in West Bengal. His speech was recorded, and is on YouTube. You can watch the 20-min video below:
In the video, Mr Ghosh promotes hatred of Indian Muslims.
His speech follows the classic inflammatory ploy of alleging that what is actually an overwhelming national majority (here the Hindus of India) is threatened by what is actually a small minority (the Muslims of India.) Mr Ghosh also boasts of building up a 100,000 strong paramilitary force of Hindu volunteers.
A look at Mr Ghosh’s Twitter Feed and the website of his organisation Hindu Samhati will leave readers in no doubt about his deplorable views which promote hatred of Muslims. A good place to start is to read what his website says about his visit to Parliament.
It is quite obvious that a man who propagates such views should never have been allowed into the UK, let alone into Parliament.
QUESTION IN PARLIAMENT
On 26 October 2017 the matter was raised in Parliament by Naz Shah MP. The text below is copied from Hansard:
Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab)
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have informed the hon. Member concerned—the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)—that I intended to raise this matter.
According to many of today’s news outlets, the hon. Gentleman hosted anti-Muslim extremist Tapan Ghosh in Committee Room 12 last Wednesday.
Mr Ghosh holds abhorrent views, is on record calling on the United Nations to control the birth rate of Muslims and praising the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, and also said that Muslims should be forced to leave their religion if they come to a western country. Only this Monday, Mr Ghosh was pictured with UK far-right extremist leader Tommy Robinson.
It is incredible to me that any Member would think it acceptable to host a meeting with this individual, let alone invite him to the House of Commons.
Mr Deputy Speaker, would you please advise us all on our responsibilities to protect everything that this House stands for, and not to allow it to be used as a platform to propagate and legitimise hate and extremist views?
Mr Deputy Speaker
Bob Blackman, do you want to come in?
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
I do, Mr Speaker. I thank the hon. Lady for notifying me that she was going to raise this point of order. She has inadvertently misled the House. Let me be clear: I did not invite Tapan Ghosh to the House of Commons.
I hosted, in my capacity as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for British Hindus, two functions last Wednesday, which Tapan Ghosh attended. One was the annual Diwali celebration on the House of Commons Terrace, which a number of hon. and right hon. Members attended. Subsequently, in the evening, we had the launch by the National Council of Hindu Temples of a report into Hindu minority rights in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Tapan Ghosh was invited by the National Council of Hindu Temples to attend that meeting and present evidence of physical attacks, rapes, forced marriages and forced conversions that have taken place in West Bengal and other places. I have made clear, and the National Council of Hindu Temples has made clear, that it was only in that capacity—as presenting that evidence—that that individual was invited to this House.
He made no abhorrent remarks at the meeting, and I am quite clear that I and the National Council of Hindu Temples do not agree with the views he previously stated. We do not accept them, and we do not endorse them in any shape or form, but it is right that this House has the opportunity, and that Members have the opportunity, to hear evidence from people of what is happening in other countries.
Mr Deputy Speaker
It might help if I give you some of the facts about where the House stands. Obviously, I thank the hon. Lady for notice of the point of order, and I also thank the hon. Gentleman for clarifying his position.
The Speaker’s principal responsibility for access to this estate by members of the public relates to security, in which I have a particular role. Subject to that, it is open to an hon. Member to see who they wish, and we all value the exercise of the right of free speech here on the estate and elsewhere. We do not control the views of those who visit here. All hon. Members will inevitably hold meetings with individuals whose views they do not share.
That said, I want to place firmly on the record the abhorrence that I know is shared by all colleagues of all racism and bigotry. Such views have no place here. On the eve of International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day, I know that all colleagues want to do everything possible to foster tolerance and respect.
WHAT THE CMF HAS DONE
Our approach is to ensure that we have all the facts and that we have communicated with the relevant people before we go public. Hence the delay of five months between the incident and our publishing this website page.
In the intervening period, we have corresponded with the Party Chairman and with Mr Blackman.
(1) The Party Chairman
Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis MP has replied to our correspondence in writing and has met with CMF Chairman Mohammed Amin and CMF Deputy Chairman Ash Zaman.
While the correspondence was private, we are confident that Mr Lewis will have no objection to our reproducing below part of his reply to us:
“As a party, we are incredibly proud of the huge contribution that British Muslims, and people of Muslim origin, make to all walks of life in the United Kingdom. I know how much they help enrich our successful multi-race and multi-faith democracy. We are proud that Nus Ghani, a Conservative, became the first Muslim woman to speak from the dispatch box earlier this month.
The Conservative Party profoundly disagrees with Mr Ghosh’s views on Islam. We are clear that hate speech has no place anywhere in society. Indeed, whilst freedom of speech is a vital part of British society, there is a responsibility not to spread hatred or fear. If anyone is found to be using freedom of speech as an excuse to break the law, then they should face the full force of the law.
The Conservative Government has been committed to challenging those who preach hatred and to confronting the spread of divisive and poisonous ideology, and we have a strong record in doing so. Whilst Home Secretary, the Prime Minister excluded more extremist hate preachers coming to the UK than any previous Home Secretary. Since May 2010 the Government has excluded 110 individuals from the UK on the grounds of unacceptable extremist behaviour.
We utterly condemn anti-Muslim prejudice in any form. The Government has taken a number of steps to tackle it, including through the anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, the cross-Government Hate Crime Strategic Group, and the Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime – all of which include a number of representatives from Muslim organisations that actively tackle anti-Muslim hatred.
In his statement in the House of Commons on 26 October 2017, Bob Blackman MP explained the details surrounding Tapan Ghosh’s visit to Parliament. In addition, he stated clearly that neither he, nor the National Council of Hindu Temples, accept or endorse Tapan Ghosh’s views in any shape or form.”
(2) Bob Blackman MP
Despite several reminders, Mr Blackman has not responded in any way to our correspondence. Nor has he met with us.
We do not wish to speculate about Mr Blackman’s motives for ignoring us.
However, we consider this to be disappointing behaviour by a Member of Parliament, and not an appropriate way to behave with fellow Conservatives.
Had we been able to meet with Mr Blackman, we would have asked him a number of supplemental questions regarding his response in Parliament to Naz Shah which is quoted above.
We also encourage Mr Blackman to be more careful in future when acting as a Parliamentary host, to ensure that speakers with unacceptable views do not attend events for which he is ultimately responsible.