HC Deb 13 December 1979 vol 975 cc1523-5
16. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the Southall events during April since he made his last statement to the House; and if he will now consider a public judicial inquiry.

Mr. Whitelaw

Since my statement on 27 June I have received representations from some 40 hon. Members and 143 individuals or organisations, including the national executive committee of the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress.

As I said on 23 October in reply to a question from the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), it would be inappropriate for me to intervene or comment until the coroner's inquest into the death of Mr. Peach has been completed and any consequent decisions about further statutory or judicial action have been made.

Mr. Bidwell

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. As it seems that the position is still wide open, pending the completion of the coroner's inquest on the death of Mr. Blair Peach, does he agree that there is still considerable, widespread concern and a determination in most quarters to ensure that such an event never occurs again? Has he under active consideration the proposals of the Ealing community relations council which is seeking to write into the Public Order Act references to the Race Relations Act, which prevents a meeting from taking place at election time which has the intention of stirring up race hatred?

Mr. Whitelaw

In answer to the hon. Gentleman, whose interest and concern in, and help with, this matter has been considerable, may I say, first, that I should not wish to comment on anything to do with a review of the public order legislation. It is important that we should examine the problems and the representations made in that context. Of course I appreciate that there is concern, and I understand the problems, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment before the completion of the judicial proceedings.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one representation of the events in Southall that did no good to anyone was the BBC's "Open Door" programme, which contained some totally mendacious allegations against those who could not answer back? I accept that my right hon. Friend has no responsibility for the content of television programmes, but does he agree that it is no part of the BBC's charter to make unfounded allegations against those who are unable to reply?

Mr. Whitelaw

My hon. Friend will appreciate that I must not comment on BBC programmes. I can, however, say this. I understand that the principle of the "Open Door" series, organised by the BBC, is that people on both sides of any controversy can produce and put forward their own programmes. Those who wish to argue a particular case can do so on that programme.

Mr. George Cunningham

While fully accepting that the Secretary of State will not want to say much before the result of the inquest is known, may I again appeal to him not to close his mind to the possibility of a public inquiry on this issue? This could be as much in the interests of the police as of other people.

Mr. Whitelaw

The essence of not making any comment until after judicial proceedings have been completed is not to make any comment until they have been completed.

Mr. Jessel

While both the National Front and the Anti-Nazi League acted provocatively in April, are they not as bad as each other? Do we really need another public judicial inquiry to show that both these bodies have some responsibility for the fact that this episode ended in tears?

Mr. Whitelaw

I told the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) that I will not comment, and I must make the same reply to my hon. Friend.