HL Deb 12 July 1991 vol 530 cc1599-601

11.31 a.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

What has so far been the cost of providing police protection for Mr. Salman Rushdie.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the cost of providing protection for Mr. Rushdie is a matter for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. In any case it would not be proper for me to disclose information about police protection which might indicate its scale in a particular case.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I thank my friend for that Answer. I understand his difficulty about revealing the cost in this or any other case, but what steps are being taken to deal with the people who make the threats which inevitably cause the police to incur enormous public expense?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government deplore any incitement to criminal action whether it comes from outside or inside this country. The main threat came from Iran. It continues to exist, because the death threat against Mr. Rushdie has not been revoked by the Government of Iran. Unfortunately, the threat to him is assessed to be still very high.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the recent past there have been two murderous attacks outside this country on people involved in the publication of the book? Does that not demonstrate the continuing need for Special Branch protection for Mr. Rushdie? Is the Minister aware of the anxiety of many of us, which was expressed during a debate on an Unstarred Question, at the DPP's failure to prosecute those who have made explicit threats against Mr. Rushdie's life?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harris. is correct. There have been two attacks. A Japanese professor who translated Mr. Rushdie's book has been stabbed to death in Tokyo. The motive has not yet been established. I understand that there has been an attack in Italy, but I am afraid that I have no further details of it. There are formal and long-standing arrangements for the assessment of terrorist threats. It is not appropriate for me to comment upon them in detail. Where instances of incitement to criminal action appear to have occurred, it is for the local police force to investigate. A decision on whether to prosecute in any case is a matter for the police and the CPS. It is not a matter for the Home Secretary.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the Minister aware that while the Government's efforts to improve relations with Iran are easy to understand, public opinion will lag a long way behind until the threats have been removed?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lord is entirely right.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, whatever the case relating to Mr. Rushdie may be, does the Minister agree that he is not responsible for his present plight? Does he not deserve sympathy rather than any suggestion that he may be in some way responsible for public expenditure properly undertaken by the Government to prevent happening to him what has happened elsewhere to translators of his work?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I do not believe that anyone has suggested—certainly not in the House—anything like that about Mr. Rushdie. His life has been threatened in such a way to entitle him, like any other British citizen, to request protection. The police have taken the action that they consider appropriate.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I do not wish to appear to disagree with my noble friend Lord Jenkins, but could Mr. Rushdie be asked to make some contribution to the protection that he is enjoying as he has made a great deal of money from the book that he wrote?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, Mr. Rushdie's private means are immaterial to his need for protection. Any arrangements that may be made between Mr. Rushdie and the police are a matter for him and the police.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, what would satisfy the Government that police protection is no longer required? Would an undertaking or a pronouncement by the head of the other Government involved be adequate, because even then threats might come from other sources? Otherwise, it seems to everyone in the House that the protection might continue for many years.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition may be right when he says that the protection might continue for many years. The protection will remain in place so long as the police judge that the threat to Mr. Rushdie remains high.

Lord Annan

My Lords, have the Government made representations to the Government of Iran that it is that contempt for human rights which, in so many Moslem countries, creates great difficulties and brings law and order into contempt and greatly increases the difficulties in reaching any Middle Eastern settlement?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is right when he says that the contempt for common laws and the laws of this country is most despicable.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am well aware that the Home Secretary is not responsible for prosecutions? Is he aware that in debate some of us expressed our anxiety at the fact that the DPP had decided not to prosecute when there appeared to many people to be abundant evidence of a threat to Mr. Rushdie's life?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, as I said, that is a matter for the police and the CPS.

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