HC Deb 27 June 1994 vol 245 cc546-7
20. Mr. Gapes

To ask the Attorney-General how many prosecutions there have been for incitement to racial hatred in each year since 1979; and how many cases were referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions each year.

The Attorney-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)

Since 1979, 79 defendants have been prosecuted for offences concerning incitement to racial hatred. I am placing a breakdown by year in the Library. Records of cases by reference to possible offences are not maintained.

Mr. Gapes

In view of the serious increase in the anti-Semitic and racist material being circulated in Britain and the increase in material being put out by neo-Nazi groups and an extremist group called Hizb ut Tahrir, which has been operating in my constituency, is not it about time that serious consideration was given to taking up the views of the Home Affairs Select Committee about strengthening and enforcing the law against all those who incite racial hatred?

The Attorney-General

I entirely understand and share the hon. Gentleman's concern. I have had constructive meetings recently with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the all-party committee on race and community, both of which centred on the aspects to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I have to make it clear, and it is worth the whole country bearing it in mind, that the groups which disseminate this disgraceful material can be extremely cunning. Every effort that can be made by the public, the hon. Gentleman and anyone else to bring to the attention of the police the necessary material to find the perpetrators should be made.

I should add one thing. In relation to some of the other material, I draw attention to the recent amendment in the Criminal Justice Bill to add a section beyond section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986 to introduce a new offence of causing intentional harassment, alarm and distress.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware not only that the racial minority groups in Britain do not feel that the law adequately protects them against the evil of racism but that, five years ago, a report of the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended that the Crown Prosecution Service should monitor the outcome of all racial incidents cases but it has so far failed to do so? The Home Affairs Select Committee has again recommended that that action be taken. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider that recommendation more positively this time than his predecessor did last time?

The Attorney-General

I will certainly take up the point that my hon. and learned Friend makes. He will be glad to know that it is already being taken up by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Two steps are in hand. The first is that in Greater London, where many of the problems occur, awareness training is beginning for 300 members of the Crown Prosecution Service. Secondly, a working group is examining precisely the point that my hon. and learned Friend makes about monitoring, with a view to constructive action in the near future.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the Attorney-General agree that where successful prosecutions are brought, the sentence should be more reflective of the hurt caused than of the oddity and eccentricity of the causer?

The Attorney-General

Without commenting on individual sentences, let me say that I well recognise the force of the hon. and learned Gentleman's point, and I am sure that it will be widely recognised in the relevant quarters.