HL Deb 21 July 2004 vol 664 cc221-3

3.12 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take action against Mr Nick Griffin and other British National Party members in respect of their behaviour and comments as filmed in the BBC documentary "The Secret Agent".

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the Government take very seriously all forms of racism and hate crime. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service have been working closely together in response to the material published in the BBC documentary. Five people were arrested yesterday. The case is still being investigated and so the Home Office is not able to comment further.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her Answer. Will she join me in congratulating the BBC on its documentary, especially its brave reporter, Jason Gwynne? Will she also congratulate Barclays Bank which today has frozen the accounts of the British National Party? Does she agree that the British National Party is a nasty Nazi party whose policies bring back the smell of Hitler's Nazism, which some of us can remember and some of us fought against? Will she now ensure that the Government probe, monitor and investigate the activities of this evil party and of its leaders, and do everything possible to promote the decent good will with our minority groups in this good country which the Nazi British National Party has been trying to destroy?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I join my noble friend in saying that the BBC programme was indeed a startling and shocking revelation of the true face of what appears to be happening within the British National Party, certainly at the meetings that were filmed. Of course I have to accept that the British National Party is a political party in this country. No one in this House will be surprised if I say that its policies are abhorrent both to me and to my party. However, we must accept that the British National Party is a legitimate, democratic political party in this country. A huge amount of work must be undertaken by all those who disagree with its policies to make sure that it does not thrive.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, has the Minister noted that, among those of the British National Party who were arrested, not included among them was Mr Nick Griffin? However, had he made remarks about Jews and Judaism like those that he made about Muslims and Islam, he would have been liable to prosecution under public order legislation. Does that not mean, as has been pointed out by the Muslim Council of Britain, that it is important that we get on with the legislation to create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred in order to parallel that which is already on the statute book against incitement to racial hatred?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, it would be quite wrong for me to say anything about the first matter mentioned by the noble Lord. Noble Lords know that both the Crown Prosecution Service and the police are continuing their investigations. Given that, I am sure that the noble Lord will understand if I do not respond to the first part of his question.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been anxious about these issues and our need to address them. He has made it absolutely clear that he will seek to address this matter in the short rather than the medium term.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Janner for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. Although the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has to some extent pre-empted my question, does my noble friend the Minister feel that the Muslim community is a specific target of the BNP, and that of late it has directed all its efforts against Muslims? Does she also consider that the legislation proposed by her right honourable friend the Home Secretary, which would bring the issue forward in terror legislation, will not go far enough to ensure proper protection of the Muslim community from acts of the kind being suggested by the BNP?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I should say to my noble friend that, regrettably, I do not believe that the Muslim community is the only group in the sights of those who want to spread hatred, dissension and division among us. The tragedy is that they have us all in their sights. That is why I can reassure my noble friend that the work we are doing in the publication of the consultation paper Strength in Diversity and the speech of the Home Secretary to the Institute for Public Policy Research is so important. I say that because we are absolutely determined to ensure that evil will not prevail.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Janner, is very specific, with all that that involves. Do not the Government agree that the concerns which lie behind it could be addressed by better teaching on racial and religious awareness in the early years; namely, starting in our schools?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, teaching is very important, as is building better communities in our society, as well as sharing and being together. Anything we can do to enhance the good will that exists between people of good will is a task that we should all set ourselves. Teaching is one such task.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, did the Minister notice the discrepancy between the percentage of votes secured by the BNP in the European elections and those it secured at the local government elections, suggesting that people find it easier to vote for a party than for the people representing that party? Will she bear that in mind when the Government contemplate any extension of the list method of voting?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, although that point is somewhat wide of the Question, I can certainly say to the noble Lord that all of these matters are extremely important. However, I would say to political parties of all complexions, other than the BNP, that this puts a huge burden on all of us to ensure that that party is given no room to breathe.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that challenging and exposing extreme racists and fascists is better than ignoring them?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I certainly agree. I therefore say again that that is why our Strength in Diversity work is so important. I hope that I can say on behalf of everyone in the House that we are fighting extremism in all its forms.

Lord Winston

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister referred to the British National Party as "democratic". On reflection, does she feel perhaps that that is a word wrongly used in this context?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I did not mean to say that its members are democratic. The party is a part of the democratic process, which I have to acknowledge. As I said earlier, noble Lords will not be surprised when I say that I find what it stands for entirely abhorrent, not only politically but also personally.

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the criterion for restricting free speech is not that it causes offence, however gross, but that it tends to provoke a breach of the peace? Does she further agree that the question of whether Mr Griffin passes that test is open enough for us to wish to hear the verdict of a court upon it?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, perhaps I may first warmly welcome the noble Earl back to his seat. Those of us who enjoy his contributions have missed him greatly.

Those judgments will have to be made by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service working together. However, I am sure that the views of the House are absolutely clear.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

My Lords, however shocking and vile were the comments, we would hear them in many pubs and work places up and down the country. It is no good not recognising that fact. Does my noble friend agree that, in an attempt to draw attention to these fascists, neo-fascists and anti-Semites, we should give help to organisations that want to expel from their memberships those who hold a brief for the BNP? I refer specifically to trade unions that want to divest themselves of these evil people.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I absolutely agree that we should do everything we can to ensure that they find no place to rest in any of our institutions or organisations.