London Demonstration (Policing)

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 6 February 2006.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North 3:31, 6 February 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the policing of the London demonstration on 3 February.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I am happy to make the statement requested by my hon. Friend. I am pleased that the response in Britain to publication of the Danish cartoons has, in general, been respectful and restrained. That is in the best traditions of British tolerance, and I hope and expect that it will continue.

Decisions on the arrest and prosecution of any participant in demonstrations, including those last Friday and over the past few days, are properly matters for the police and prosecuting authorities, who are undertaking rigorous assessments of the appropriate way to proceed in individual cases. If the police conclude that there have been breaches of the law and decide to take any action, we shall, of course, support them. The House will understand that I am not in a position to give any further details at this stage.

The Government stand in full solidarity with the Danish Government in resisting violence. We believe that they have done everything possible to handle a difficult situation. Nothing can justify the violence aimed at European embassies or at Denmark. We understand the offence caused by the cartoons depicting the Prophet, but freedom of expression must be exercised with respect for the views of others, including their religious beliefs. Such attacks on the citizens of Denmark and the people of other European countries are completely unacceptable.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

I agree with my right hon. Friend. I am against the cartoons, but is it not entirely unacceptable for a bunch of hooligans and thugs in London to demand that people be beheaded and to glorify the atrocities of 7 July and call for further such atrocities to be committed in Britain? Is that not a clear case of incitement to murder? Indeed, it is a deep insult to those who lost their loved ones in the July atrocities and to the others who survived, but who will suffer the consequences of their serious injuries for the rest of their lives.

Have not mainstream Muslim organisations made it perfectly clear that those hooligans are not representative of members of the Muslim faith and that they dissociate themselves from them? They have made it clear, as I do, and as I hope most people do, that legal action should be taken. Should not a message go out from the House that we should never again on British soil see the kind of slogans and incitement to murder that disgraced this country last Friday?

A

It is too little to late for so called mainstream Muslims to condemn Islamic extremist only when they step out of line if mainstream Muslims truly want to co-exist with the British people then they should root out the cancer that is in their ranks by helping the police and Government to identify them. Once identified they should have their British sitizenship withdrawn and deported.This I believe would be the acid test for so called mainstream Muslims.

Submitted by Alexander Stanulis

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I very much agree with my hon. Friend's remarks. The actions that he described were unacceptable. Decisions on arrest and prosecution are properly matters for the police and prosecuting authorities, and that is the way it should be.

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the way in which the many organisations within the Muslim communities have condemned this action in the strongest and most explicit terms. That is in part what I described earlier as the best tradition of British tolerance. I hope that that will continue.

The incident illustrates the merits of having all the necessary legislation on the statute book, which includes the offences created by the Terrorism Bill, including the proposed new offences of encouragement and glorification of terrorism, which I hope will now have the support of the whole House.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

May I start by saying that I did not much like the decision of various European newspapers to publish cartoons that are seen as offensive by Muslims. However, like many things of which I disapprove, it is not illegal, nor should it be. It would be entirely proper for those offended by the cartoons to mount a peaceful demonstration against their publication. The right to demonstrate is an extremely important part of the rights of British citizens. It is, however, a right with clear limits. That does not include a right to incite violence, which is outside the law.

Let us be clear: placards carrying slogans calling for people who insult Islam to be beheaded, massacred or annihilated are direct incitements to violence. It is less than a year since the terrorist atrocities last July at King's Cross.

Unlike the press, I do not criticise the police for not making immediate arrests at the demonstration. Public order decisions are difficult and should not be second-guessed on a minute-by-minute basis. However, I expect that action should be taken, and taken soon, against those who clearly incited violence. It is vital that we make it clear that incitement to violence has no place in our political life.

I am by no means the only one who believes that. Inayat Bunglawala, the spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said:

"The placards were quite disgraceful and seemed to constitute a clear incitement to violence, even murder."

He added that

"Most Muslims will feel enormous distress and anguish at what has occurred. There will be no sympathy for the extremists when they are charged by the police."

I was glad to hear the Home Secretary agree that our laws, both common and statute, before any recent changes, provide a range of offences that appeared to be either committed or infringed at the demonstration on Friday. If action is not taken, there will be a number of consequences, all of them bad. First, the perpetrators of these outrages will see that we are willing to tolerate anything, and as a result the next demonstration will be even more outrageous.

Secondly, especially after the prosecution and conviction of Maya Evans, the lady who held a memorial ceremony at the Cenotaph, many people will conclude that the law is inconsistent and unjust if real offenders against public order go free and unchallenged.

Thirdly, it will be difficult for moderate Muslim leaders to give a clear lead to their community if the Government refuse to give a clear lead.

I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement that an investigation or assessment of last Friday's events will take place. The right hon. Gentleman has properly been unwilling to be drawn into questions of individual prosecutions. I understand that, but I reiterate that the stance taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions has serious public policy implications for both community relations and public safety in this country. The right hon. Gentleman should be sure that he is made aware of that. As I have said before to him, I do not envy the difficult balance that he has to strike in this area. For all the decades that we have known each other it has been conventional wisdom and, I think, our shared view that the route to good community relations is a mix of generosity, tolerance and respect. It has been clear in the past few days that the two most generous and tolerant nations in the world, looking only at Europe, are Holland and Denmark, yet they are both in different ways going through agonies with community relations. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we must continue our traditions of generosity, tolerance and respect while drawing a line about what is acceptable civilised behaviour, given that that line was emphatically crossed at the demonstration last Friday?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has decided not to join the criticism of the police that some parts of the media have made. There have been many occasions, including May day and football protests, when arrests have been made not immediately but subsequently. As I said, the police and prosecuting authorities are entirely right to examine the evidence in detail before deciding how best to proceed. Of course, I accept what he says about the importance of the implications of decisions taken on the matter. I assure him and the House that I am keeping in close contact with the situation.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to pay attention to the question of incitement to violence—and also, I would say, incitement to hatred. Freedom of speech has conventionally been proscribed in such areas for good reason, and that is why it is important to illustrate the merit of having the necessary legislation on the statute book, including the Terrorism Bill and its proposed new offence of the encouragement and glorification of terrorism. I draw hon. Members' attention to the fact that the Bill returns to the House on 15 February. Given the public position that the right hon. Gentleman has taken, I hope that Conservative Members will think long and hard about whether they need to revise their attitude to the offences in the Bill and support the Government's aim of getting it on to the statute book as quickly as possible.

More generally, it is important to reinforce the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the need to build a tolerant society and to stand firmly and strongly against incitement to violence and hatred, so I hope that the whole House will do just that.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I welcome what my right hon. Friend and others said about the need to prosecute clear breaches of the law. Does he agree that the whole sorry episode illustrates the deep and worrying confusion in our society about the boundaries of what causes offence, the ways in which free speech needs to be responsibly exercised, and the ways in which different cultures can have very different takes on apparently similar issues? Does he accept that we need the Government to take the lead on issues of integration so that everyone in this country understands the common rules of engagement and civic behaviour? This is not simply a policing matter, and most of the issues will be dealt with in other ways.

J

The only ones who appear to be incable of understanding the common rules of engagement and civic behaviour are those in the Islamic community. When a man called Mohammed was caricatured in a Danish newspaper Muslims took to the street of England threatening murder and mayhem. In contrast when Jesus is caraicatured and blasphemed on a daily basis by the media Christians protests in a peaceful fashion, strangely enough MPs...

Submitted by John Finhorn Continue reading

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I very much agree with my right hon. Friend, especially on the question of addressing integration in the way he suggests. I say again—it is important to be clear about this—that this country realises not only that freedom of speech and expression are absolutely essential to our national life, but that judgment, taste, courtesy, circumstance and respect means that there is no obligation to say or do something that gratuitously offends or provokes simply because there is a right to do so. One of the strengths of our society is the fact that most people, in general, weigh up the consequences of what they do before they act. However, beyond those matters, the House has consistently acknowledged that, in certain circumstances, it is appropriate to place legal restrictions on absolute freedom of expression. That is the case for incitement to violence, as has been said, and for certain aspects of incitement to hatred. I think that it is also the case for the incitement or glorification of terrorism. Those circumstances are the bounds beyond which absolute freedom of speech cannot be expressed. Parliament must address those matters, so my right hon. Friend's suggestions are helpful.

J

If freedom of speech and expression are "Absolutley" essential to our national life why the need for the infamous "religious hatereIf Bill"? was not this Bill in the beginning drafted in such away as to shut the mouths if Islams opponents? "One of the srengths of our society is that most people,in general, weigh up the consequences of what they do before the act" No doubt when you said this you obviously did not have in mind the British Media or the Idiots who took to the streets last week breathing out death threats against british subjects.

Submitted by John Finhorn Read 3 more annotations

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I accept what the Home Secretary says about the operational nature of many decisions taken about Friday's demonstration, but does he accept that the House deserves to be told, in the fullness of time, the reasons for those decisions and the level at which they were taken? Were they taken as a result of a policy decision, or taken at ground level by the senior officer in charge of policing the demonstration? Will the Home Secretary undertake to inform the House of those matters at the earliest available opportunity?

It is accepted that many of those who were quick to criticise the police for making no arrests at the weekend would doubtless have been even to quicker to criticise if arrests had been made that inflamed a highly volatile situation. Does the Home Secretary accept that it is essential that there is a full inquiry and that prosecutions follow, provided there is sufficient evidence to justify them and that the CPS and, perhaps, the Attorney-General feel that that is in the public interest?

Finally, do not these events illustrate the wisdom of the position taken by this House last week on the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill? The decision by these newspapers to publish the cartoons was almost certainly unwise, but it should never have been made illegal.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

On the final point, the decision whether to publish the cartoons would not, in my view, have been affected by the Bill. The issue to which the hon. Gentleman refers is one of blasphemy, not of incitement to hatred, which is addressed in that Bill.

I am certainly ready to give the fullest information I can to the House, and I will operate on that basis.

Photo of Ashok Kumar Ashok Kumar PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State), Department for International Development

Does my right hon. Friend agree that some Muslim extremists are poisoning the atmosphere in this country, in what has been a great multicultural society? There has been a great achievement by the Asian community, with Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims working with the rest of the community. What these extremists are doing is destroying the fundamental fabric of what has been achieved. Will the Home Secretary call in moderate Muslims and ask them to demonstrate publicly in the same spirit as those other people were demonstrating, to show that they have nothing to do with what those people were doing on Friday? The grotesque, inflammatory language that they used was not part and parcel of this society.

J

I agree as do most right thinking people that muslim extremist are indeed destroying the fabric of this society problem is the Government appear to be in denial they have the power to strip all Islamic extremist of the sitizenship and deport them but not wishing to offend Islam they keep a low profile, by adopting this shameful approach they allow this cancer to spread to the next generation of Muslims. Mr Ashok Kumar...

Submitted by John Finhorn Continue reading (and 1 more annotation)

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I agree. Perhaps I should reinforce the point that I made earlier: the leadership of all parts of the Muslim community has expressed exactly the sentiments set out by my hon. Friend. I do not need to call in the leaders of the Muslim community to make that point because they have been doing so, and I am confident that they will continue to do so very strongly.

Perhaps I can make one other point in response to the question. My hon. Friend is right to identify the fact that there are forces in this country, including within the Muslim community, who seek to weaken and damage the democratic fabric of our society. That is why the Terrorism Bill that is now before Parliament contains proposals on proscription of certain organisations that set out to do that. We are widening the criteria for proscription precisely to address the point that my hon. Friend makes, and I hope that those considerations, too, will have the support of the House when we come to look at the Terrorism Bill in the round.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

The behaviour of the police in the next few weeks will help us to define whether our tolerance has slipped to become licence for a small minority, and we will watch very carefully to see how they proceed.

Has the Home Secretary had any conversations with his colleagues in the Foreign Office? It is absolutely clear from all events that the behaviour of some middle eastern Governments in fomenting, stirring up and creating even worse elements of hatred over the last three or four days should be approached and dealt with publicly. After all, those Governments have been the sponsors of some of the worst cartoons, showing Israelis in absolutely the worst light, with Jewish flags flying from concentration camp photographs. That was quite outrageous, but nothing was ever done. Will the Home Secretary please now urge his colleagues to make very strong representations, and public ones at that?

J

Mr Duncan Smiths speech broke with the usual politically correct drivel that the Commons has become famouse for, he is to be commended for his courage in speaking the truth in the face of politically correct adversity which is rife in Parliament.

Submitted by John Finhorn

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

It is for that reason that I made remarks in my initial statement supporting the Danish Government against the attacks that they are experiencing from a number of countries. Yes, I have talked about the matter with colleagues in the Foreign Office, and yes, I can give the House the assurance that strong representations are being made in the direction to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Does the Home Secretary agree that if sections of the Muslim community had sought to demonstrate peacefully against the war in Iraq or what I believe to be the excesses of the so-called war on terror, some of us in the House would have supported them, and the entire House would accept that they had an absolute right to do it? But to stage a demonstration that is a clear incitement to violence in an attempt to impose censorship on others is quite a different thing. Difficult as it may be, the test of a society's commitment to freedom of speech, which I think is particularly important in the multicultural society that we have today, is not just our willingness to defend people who say things that we agree with, but our willingness to defend those who say things with which we profoundly disagree.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I agree with that statement. That is an important aspect of everything that we have said on these matters. But I say again that incitement to violence, to hatred and to terrorism is, in my opinion, a step beyond the absolute freedom of speech and needs legislation if it is to be addressed properly.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

In the past, the Home Office has extolled the virtues of the stop forms that now have to be completed when officers stop people in the street. On Friday, however, on the one recent occasion when the information collated from such forms might just have been of value, it would appear that they were not being issued. Why? If the answer is that it would have been unsafe to do so, will the Home Secretary now consider abandoning them?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

As I said earlier, these are operational matters for the police to consider, and that was the judgment that they made. I will look at the matter in the round when the whole situation is analysed, but it would be a mistake for any Home Secretary to cut across the operational decisions made by the police in these circumstances.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Does the Home Secretary accept that, in the multi-faith, multicultural society of modern Britain, we should obviously condemn the ludicrous and obscene language that was used last week? Does he also accept that we should ask those with power in the media and elsewhere not to turn this into a condemnation of Islam as a whole, thus further damaging community relations in this country? Should they not instead extol the virtues of a free society in which everyone is free to practise whatever religion they choose?

J

Mr Corbyns use of terms like "Multi-faith and Multicultural" are clearly politically correct terms and are meaningless in the real world when such terms are used they normaly excude Christianity. Corbyn is relating to only one religion in his speech which is Islam. As for asking the media not to condemn Islam, they...

Submitted by John Finhorn Continue reading

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I agree with my hon. Friend. However, I shall now say something that is very rare for me: a word of defence for the media in these circumstances. Their coverage of these matters has generally not been a critique of Islam or the Muslim world as a whole. In fact, even some of the most vociferous newspapers have quoted prominently the position of Muslim leaders who oppose these actions. I agree with my hon. Friend, but I am not sure that the media have gone out of line with his views on this occasion.

J

Mr Clarks praise for the media on this occasion is mis leading the Media kept a low profile and did not print the Mohammed cartoons not out of respect or for the good of the country but out of self-preservation,in other words they were scared stiff such is the terror that islam commands both her and in the...

Submitted by John Finhorn Continue reading

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

Is it not significant that the very people who were behaving in the way that has so outraged the House are also the very people who would have supported the original atrocities that led to the ill-considered cartoons in the first place? Is not the one good thing to come out of all this the fact that the leaders of the moderate Muslim majority have passed with flying colours the test that so many people set when they asked them to come out and condemn the extremists? Let us hope that they will continue to do that.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I am not going to make judgments about what the individuals at those demonstrations would or would not have done on any particular occasion. I have never doubted—and I do not think that most hon. Members have doubted—that the leadership of the Muslim community across the whole country would deplore acts of this kind, and that they would come out and state that. That is indeed what they have done.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The Home Secretary keeps referring to the fact that the police have certain duties and that he has certain duties, and that ne'er the twain shall meet. Why is there one set of rules for those who engage in a holy war, while there is quite another for those who engage in a class war, such as the miners' strike of 1984–85? That highly volatile situation lasted for a whole year and 7,000 miners were arrested, some only for shouting, "Scab!" Why do the police have one set of rules for them, and another set for others? During that period, not one Tory Minister condemned the police for their actions.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I hope that policing has moved on since those days, when, as I know my hon. Friend recalls, a Conservative Government were in place. It is important to emphasise that my hon. Friend is right to say that it is appropriate for policing decisions to be taken on policing grounds, and for politics to be done on political grounds. The question of what happened during the miners' strike remains a matter of debate.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

Does the Home Secretary agree that the restraint and objectivity that the media have shown in dealing with the publication of the cartoons, and with the events that have followed, have greatly assisted the police in their tasks over the past few days? Would it not be a good idea if that restraint continued? Does not this also show that the British media are not institutionally racist?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the British media in this case, which is why I said "the response in Britain to publication of the Danish cartoons has, in general, been respectful and restrained". I think that that is correct. I also said, and meant, "I hope and expect that it will continue."

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

Did not this weekend's events show not so much the real face of Islam but a hideous distortion of Islam, effectively undermined by the fundamentalism that can affect any religion in the world and is not by any means the sole prerogative of Islam? Does my right hon. Friend accept that Sir Iqbal Sacranie had every right to say whatever he wanted about homosexuality on the "Today" programme, without the police having to visit him afterwards? Does he think that we need to ensure that people understand fully, and the police understand fully, their responsibilities as well as people's rights in regard to freedom of expression?

J

Mr Bryants views I am sure reflect the views of the majority of the electorate I thank him for having the courage of his convictions and ignoring political correctness which has gripped moste MPs.

Mr A.Lennox

Submitted by John Finhorn Read 1 more annotation

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I do agree that in this flurry of different and difficult circumstances, the more clarity can be provided about how freedom of speech is operated in particular circumstances the better, and I am considering how better to achieve that.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The conduct of most, of many, of the demonstrators was pretty atrocious, but should we not be very careful about invoking criminal law? After all, most of the relevant offences, particularly incitement, require specific intent. That is different in kind from hot-headed and unpleasant rhetoric. The truth is, surely, that in a democracy we have to put up with a great deal that we dislike and of which we disapprove, and in general we should not invoke the criminal law. Failed prosecutions, after all, tend to be extremely counter-productive.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

It is because I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we must be very careful when dealing with the criminal law in these areas that I believe the best people to make those judgments are the police and the prosecuting authorities.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

Does the Secretary of State agree that if we are to build a just and tolerant society we must also have a better understanding of the hurt that was caused in the Islamic world by the original cartoons? Had that incident not already shown, before the demonstration took place, that we should all recognise the need to engage in a much better and deeper dialogue with the world of Islam? Do not all of us, as Members of Parliament, have a responsibility to work out how we can better understand the world of Islam if we are to live peacefully in the 21st century?

J

Mr Baldry "says We must also have a better understanding of the hurt that was caused in the islamic world by the original cartoons" does his sentiments extend to Christianity who's God is blasphemed on a daily basis in the media? When Christ is blasphemed MPs simply ignore it but then Christians would never dream of causing the mayhem that we...

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Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I agree, which is why I supported what was said by my right hon. Friend Mr. Denham, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. He said that we should view integration in that way. As a matter of fact, I think that various discussions that were held within the Muslim world and community after 7 July have been beneficial in achieving some of those understandings and addressing some of the issues, and I hope that that will continue.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I want to praise the police for the way in which they handled the demonstration on the day. It is very good that they did not take action that would have provoked violent or criminal damage. However, I think that many of my constituents and others will want a reassurance, which I hope the Home Secretary can give, that the police were at the same time collecting names, addresses and evidence in relation to the small minority in the demonstration whose behaviour clearly went well beyond the normal conduct of peaceful demonstrations. Can the right hon. Gentleman give that reassurance?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary

I can say that the police have indeed been collecting evidence and information. That is the basis on which they will make the decisions to which I referred earlier.