HC Deb 18 December 1980 vol 996 c540
8. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will take steps to investigate, with a view to amending the law, the military and para-military training undertaken by extremist political organisations.

Mr. Whitelaw

Under section 2 of the Public Order Act 1936, it is an offence to control, manage, organise or train an association of persons for the purpose of usurping the functions of the police or the Armed Forces or for the use or display of physical force in promoting any political object. The enforcement of the law is a matter for the police, in consultation as necessary with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. I am not aware of any deficiency in the law in this respect.

Mr. Winnick

Based on that reply, will the Home Secretary examine the allegations that one Nazi type of organisation is receiving military training, which, if true, are very disturbing? Will he draw a distinction between marches by perfectly law-abiding citizens, as part of our normal political democracy, and marches by groups organised by the professional promoters of race hatred? Is it not necessary to make a clear distinction?

Mr. Whitelaw

It would be very dangerous for any Home Secretary to try to differentiate all the time between the various groups who decide to march and demonstrate. Of course I accept that there are those, political parties and others, who have a perfect right to do so and who do so without violence. However, it would be dangerous for me to differentiate among the others. We should await the review of the Public Order Act and consider what we are going to do. There is a difficult balance to be struck in all these matters between the democratic rights of people to demonstrate and protest and anything which is provocative and damaging to our society. It is a difficult balance for all of us, but we must be totally even-handed in how we deal with it.

Mr. Adley

On the last point, will my right hon. Friend make it clear that he is much less partial than Labour Members to the use of the word "extremist"? Does he not agree that although the National Front is nauseating, so are the Anti-Nazi League, the Socialist Workers Party and such organisations as Militant? Does he not also agree that the sort of people we saw outside the Conservative Party conference deliberately stirring up trouble are every bit as bad as the National Front?

Mr. Whitelaw

When I look at the television screen, which is not very often, and see some of the demonstrations which are held by all kinds of organisations, I find them pretty nauseating.