HC Deb 17 February 1997 vol 290 cc617-8
24. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Attorney-General if he will make a statement about recent prosecutions for racial harassment. [14434]

The Attorney-General

Since 1 January 1995, there have been 21 applications for consent to prosecute under part III of the Public Order Act 1986 for offences of incitement to racial hatred, of which 19 have been granted, one has been refused and one has been withdrawn.

Mr. Marshall

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the fact that Sheik Bakri and Mr. al-Masari can spew forth racist hatred with impunity demonstrates the need for the law to be strengthened so that they can be prosecuted rather than pampered by social security?

The Attorney-General

Without wishing to comment on an individual case, I should say to my hon. Friend that, if he knows of evidence of people seeking to stir up racial hatred or behaving in such a way that racial hatred is likely to be stirred up, that evidence should be given to the police. My hon. Friend will recognise from the figures that I have given that increasing evidence has been forthcoming in the past two years and that the number of prosecutions has increased significantly in recent years. I invite him or anyone else who might have such evidence to pass it to the police so that the matter can be properly considered by the prosecuting authorities.

Mr. Winnick

On racial harassment, is not it a matter of the gravest concern that the murderers of Stephen Lawrence have yet to be brought to justice? Perhaps the Attorney-General can understand the sheer agony felt by his parents that justice has been denied and mocked. If it is right for newspapers—as indeed it is—to campaign on behalf of those in prison whom they believe are innocent, why should not a newspaper, to its credit, campaign against those whom it believes are responsible for one of the most foul racially motivated murders in recent times? I congratulate the Daily Mail.

The Attorney-General

The whole House will once again wish to express its sympathy to the parents of Stephen Lawrence, who was attacked and murdered in an entirely unprovoked racist attack at a bus stop. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is not because of lack of effort that it has not been possible to bring that case to a conclusion. A prosecution was initiated by the Crown Prosecution Service in 1993, but it was discontinued because of lack of evidence. A private prosecution was brought in 1995, but the judge stopped it precisely because the identification evidence was entirely unreliable. However, should evidence in that case or in other cases be forthcoming, it will be examined. There is no lack of will to prosecute such cases.

Mr. Sumberg

I support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), particularly in relation to the al-Masari case, in which evidence has been presented to the prosecution authorities yet no action has been taken. Is not the concern that there is a lack of will in the CPS to take the action necessary to bring such people before the courts?

The Attorney-General

I assure my hon. Friend that there is absolutely no lack of will. If he—who is himself a lawyer—believes that there is evidence in that case and wishes to present it, it is open to him to draw it to the police's attention. All such cases are examined extremely carefully, and, as I have said, statistics demonstrate a substantial increase in the number of prosecutions in recent years.