HC Deb 05 March 1981 vol 1000 cc408-10
9. Mr. John Hunt

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to complete his study of racialist organisations in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Whitelaw

The study will gather evidence not only on the activities of racialist organisations but, in particular, on the incidence of alleged attacks by members of any one racial group on another. It must be quick, but it must also be thorough. My officials are, therefore, arranging for a survey of the incidence of alleged attacks to be conducted in a number of police areas, and will also visit these areas to obtain the view of the police, local authorities and the ethnic minority communities. I cannot yet give an exact date, but I shall report the outcome to the House as soon as possible.

Mr. Hunt

I welcome and applaud my right hon. Friend's initiative. Will his inquiry also cover the role of racialist publications such as Spearhead, Bulldog and a nasty little paper called Choice which pander to ignorance and prejudice and promote the kind of racialism and anti-Semitism that is now disfiguring our country?

Mr. Alan Clark

What about the black publications?

Mr. Whitelaw

We shall look at publications of allsorts, from wherever they come.

Mr. Bidwell

I thank the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the people of Ealing-Southall for his action in ordering this probe. Will he consider ordering a wider examination of publications and a deep probe into the heart of the organisations that base themselves on the barbarous extermination policies of the Nazis of Germany?

Mr. Whitelaw

All these matters must be properly and carefully looked at.

Mr. Budgen

Will my right hon. Friend undertake that, whenever he bans a march, whether a march of Labour right hon. and hon. Members or of racialist organisations—

Mrs. Renée Short

The National Front.

Mr. Budgen

—or any march, he will publish the evidence that supports the application to him by the police so that the public may be satisfied that the ban is being made on the grounds of public order and not on the grounds of dislike of the political beliefs expressed?

Mr. Whitelaw

The Public Order Act lays down clearly that a chief officer of police cannot apply to me for a ban unless it is clear that the march, if it took place, might lead to grave public disorder. That must be a matter for decision based on the view on the ground. It cannot always be a matter of clear evidence. Those are the provisions of the Act, which will be rigidly adhered to.

There can be no question of chief officers of police applying for a ban, or my granting one, on the basis of liking or not liking any particular organisation which may march. The test is whether such a march would be likely to lead to grave public disorder. That is the only test by which we are prepared to be guided.

Mr. Hattersley

May I offer the Home Secretary the support and congratulations of the Labour Benches on the prohibition of marchers in the Metropolitan area? The march which has been prevented was a squalid affair, even by the sordid standards of the National Front. I have no doubt that the Home Secretary was right to behave in the way that he did.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the publications to which an earlier question referred have fallen into the habit of naming individuals and giving their addresses, clearly inciting the recipients of those publications to harass those individuals? What protection can the Home Secretary provide for those unfortunate people?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remark. I believe that there may be some misunderstanding. Under the Public Order Act, as it stands, neither the police in their application nor I in giving assent to it, can pick and choose in a police area. If we have a ban, it has to apply throughout the whole of the Metropolitan Police area. That is so under the Act. I must also say to those who might like to choose a particular area that I do not think that, even if this was possible, it would be satisfactory because it would be possible to put the march in an area close at hand to the one where the trouble might lie. While I do not like bans I believe that, if there is a danger of grave public disorder and disadvantage to the many people who wish to live a peaceful life in an area, it is the duty of the Government and the House to make a ban in such instances.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is worry about"hit lists". I have had a letter from the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) on that subject. I shall give the matter consideration. I hope that anyone who is threatened in that way will immediately contact the police. We shall do everything that we can to ensure that he has proper protection.

Mr. Alan Clark

Can my right hon. Friend think of anything more overtly racist and criminal, or a clearer demonstration of a breakdown in public order, than the behaviour of the young blacks in the march through Southwark on Monday, when they broke into and damaged shops, terrorised the white population and shouted objectionable slogans about the monarchy to try to provoke the police? Will he not recognise that he has to be seen as being completely even-handed or else he will simply add to the very discontent that gives rise to the organisations that Labour Members find so objectionable?

Mr. Whitelaw

There were various features of the march on Monday that distressed us all. It is only fair to say that it distressed some of those who organised the march. It is important to say that too. It was extremely distressing. I agree that even-handedness is crucial, and I have been totally even-handed in my response to the application from the police for a ban on all marches throughout the whole of the Metropolitan Police area for three weeks. I note that some Labour Members appear not to like that. They cannot accuse me of not being even-handed because that ban will apply to every march.

Mr. Greville Janner

Surely the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the dislike of these organisations is not confined to Labour Members, as suggested by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark). No doubt the House will wish well the study that the right hon. Gentleman is undertaking and will ask him to include the effect of marches on the incitement to racial violence in cities outside London, such as Leicester—where marches are planned—and to consider whether the law should be changed to strengthen the powers of the Home Office and the police in banning such marches in circumstances other than those carefully explained by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Whitelaw

When we publish the review of public order affairs there will be an opportunity for the House to consider how marches should be dealt with. There appears always to be a desire to consider these attacks purely on the basis of colour. That is not right. There are other ethnic minorities—I mention the Jews—that feel threatened and are worried by some of the developments. They are as much entitled as those of every colour, race and creed in Britain to the proper protection of our society. It is important to say that. We are a tolerant society. I believe that the House is determined to ensure that we continue to be such a society.