HL Deb 04 June 1981 vol 420 cc1351-2

3.22 p.m.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to contain the spread of inflammatory literature that is at present being circulated by politically extremist groups, particularly among school children and young people.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)

My Lords, it is an offence to publish or distribute written matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting, and likely to stir up hatred against any racial group. It is the responsibility of local authorities and teachers to deal with any attempts to distribute politically extremist literature in schools and other educational establishments; they have a good record in this respect. I would advise them to inform the police if they believe that an offence may have been committed.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for that Answer, may I ask whether she would agree that my Question is of national importance, being concerned with education and the youth of this country? Is any procedure in operation by her department or the Government to monitor the distribution of pamphlets by extremists to schools, colleges and, even now, to the unemployed? They seem to set one section of our youth against the other. Is my noble friend aware—I think she is—that since tabling the Question, further pamphlets which I consider to be inflammatory have come into my possession? I am of course prepared to hand them to my noble friend. In the circumstances, as it would be more appropriate for the House to debate these issues so that noble Lords could express opinions and we could have the benefit of their experience, may I ask my noble friend to agree, through the usual channels, to have such a debate?

Baroness Young

My Lords, to answer the first part of my noble friend's supplementary, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary recently announced the setting up of an inquiry into the activities of racialist organisations and incidence of racialist attacks. One of the areas to be covered during the course of the inquiry is alleged recruitment and racialist activities by extremist groups in schools and other educational establishments, and in that connection my department has recently initiated further inquiries of local education authorities for information on this matter.

To answer the second part of my noble friend's supplementary; yes, I should be glad to have copies of the pamphlets to which he referred and, indeed, detailed information about any distribution of which he may know in particular schools. Regarding his comments about an Unstarred Question, that is of course a matter for him to determine through the usual channels.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to say whether the documents referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, as advertising racialism, genocide and violence include the Old Testament?

Baroness Young

No, my Lords.

Baroness David

My Lords, would the Minister agree that it is really up to the heads of schools to notice what is going on? There is of course a difference between this and proper political education, which I hope young people would receive, as they are often at school until they are of an age to vote. I believe that a number of heads in some London schools are taking responsible action and, in that connection, may I ask her to agree that it is up to the heads to keep an eye on the matter?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, I would agree with both parts of that supplementary. There is of course a distinction between political education whereby children learn about democratic processes, and the type of literature which is circulating, which could in effect be a breach of the law. The noble Baroness is right to say that this is a responsibility of head teachers and local education authorities, and, as I indicated in my original Answer, we have reason to think that they act responsibly in this matter, so I entirely agree with the points that the noble Baroness made.