HL Deb 08 March 1993 vol 543 cc814-6

2.39 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the statements attributed to Dr. Kalim Siddiqui, the leader of the "Moslem Parliament", in The Times of 15th February, involving threats directed at Mr. Salman Rushdie, will be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, the Crown Prosecution Service has carefully considered a transcript of the interview with Dr. Siddiqui on LBC Radio to which the article in The Times refers and has concluded that the contents taken as a whole are not such as would afford a realistic prospect of conviction for incitement to murder or any other offence.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, in thanking the noble and learned Lord for that slightly surprising Answer, is he aware that, according to The Times, Dr. Siddiqui said of Mr. Rushdie: I do not want to kill him. We will just break every bone in his body"? Is it not clear that threats of that kind made against a British citizen who has been sentenced to death by a foreign government are wholly unacceptable? If we allow this situation to continue, it will raise' serious questions about the safety .of not only Mr. Rushdie but also of other people in this country.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, as I said in the first Answer, it is important, in considering whether or not a conviction would be obtained, to look at the contents of the interview as a whole. The interview started with Dr. Siddiqui being asked why he still wanted to kill Salman Rushdie. Dr. Siddiqui replied: I do not want to kill Salman Rushdie. I do not believe that anyone in this country wants to kill Salman Rushdie". Dr. Siddiqui replied to other questions, and stated: We don't want to kill him". The interviewer said: You just said you might have to come and get him". Dr. Siddiqui replied: Absolutely, if we have to come we will break every bone in his body, if this man does not leave centre stage and doesn't stop insulting and abusing. If he really wants to get off the hook, he should withdraw the book". As I said, one has to consider the whole interview to decide what inference a jury might properly take from it. One has to consider the various parts of the interview which indicate that the speaker did not wish the death of Salman Rushdie.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, quite apart from any potential criminality about the utterance, can nothing be done to bring home to Dr. Siddiqui the appalling damage he is doing to Moslems and to Islam in this country from the point of view of public opinion by intemperate remarks of this kind? Can we not remind him that in the Koran the three great world religions, the theistic religions, are referred to as the peoples of the book—'Ahl el Kitab? Should he not remember that?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am sure that he would be very well advised to take account of the wise advice proffered by my noble and learned friend. The prosecuting authorities, for whom I am speaking this afternoon, and the Question are concerned with prosecution, and it is that matter alone that I have sought to address.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I listened carefully to what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had to say, and I am sure that the House will also have listened carefully to the extracts from the interview. Does he not believe that those words of Mr. Siddiqui were an incitement to violence? Are we not at this very moment trying to reduce the amount of violence in this country, and is the Prime Minister not asking the television companies to reduce the amount of violence that is shown? Yet here we have a case where there is to be no prosecution of a man who is inciting people to break the bones of someone else. I hope that the authorities will have more guts and will do something about that awful man.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the noble Lord would like the prosecution authorities to have more guts. I have to draw attention to the fact that the prosecution authorities must be guided by the law in exercising that authority and by the prospects of obtaining a successful conviction. It must be right that in considering what was said in the interview one takes account of everything that was said. I have no doubt that in such a context the hypothetical and provisional nature of the observations to which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, referred would be heavily emphasised.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that in this House there are a number of noble Lords who have had the duty of advising prosecution authorities? The noble and learned Lord read out some words from the interview. There are further words. For example, the fatwa is "binding and irrevocable"; and, it is the duty of all Moslems … to remove this harmful being". It cannot be a question of reading those words in context. Is the noble and learned Lord really saying that those words by themselves do not amount to a clear and unequivocal offence under Section 4 of the relevant Act? Why has that man not been brought before the court and bound over to keep the peace and behave properly? Is not the role of the noble and learned Lord in this affair robustly to support the rule of law and the historic role of the law in supporting and defending Her Majesty's subjects against persecution and threats and not to come forward with intellectual arguments for taking no action whatever?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I hope that none of your Lordships will think that an argument is any the worse for being intellectual. I have informed your Lordships of the view of the prosecuting authorities in this country. As the noble Lord said, some Members of your Lordships' House have had experience of advising prosecuting authorities. I myself have experience as a law officer of instituting prosecutions. I am convinced that it is extremely unwise to institute a prosecution unless one has reasonable grounds for believing that the prosecution will be successful. There may be other ways of reaching the result which the noble Lord suggests, and the gentleman concerned taking the advice of my noble and learned friend may be one of them.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington, reminded the noble and learned Lord that a court can require a person to be bound over to keep the peace. Why has that not been done in this case?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I take it that the reason is that no prosecution has been instituted. The reason no prosecution has been instituted is the one that I sought to give.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, to take the matter one step further, is it not possible to convey to Mr. Siddiqui that if a Christian behaved in a Moslem country as he is behaving in this country he would find himself in serious trouble?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am sure that that is also a consideration which the gentleman would be wise to have in mind.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, in view of the fact that the fatwa remains open and there is a large sum of money to be earned by anybody who obeys it—and kills—and probably something to be earned on account by breaking some of Mr. Rushdie's bones, I find it incredible that we should receive such a complacent reply from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Will the noble and learned Lord consider whether there is any way in which he can ensure that some action is taken, despite the view of the prosecuting authorities?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am not conscious of being complacent in any way in this matter: I have to inform your Lordships of the realities of the situation. In the interview Dr. Siddiqui said: I had nothing to do with the fatwa". That is also part of the interview. It is true that I have not read out the whole of the interview. I do not believe that your Lordships would welcome it if I did. However, I am endeavouring to point out that there are many different parts of the interview which have to be taken into account in considering the contents as a whole.