Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)

16 NOVEMBER 2004


  Q120 Mr Prosser: You mentioned that point in your written evidence. Those are quite well known cases but how generally widespread is this issue of the police tipping off the press and providing the photo opportunity for these events?

  Mr Khan: We do not know whether it is as common as we fear it is but the question needs to be asked—no journalist will disclose their source—how can journalists report so quickly, often with TV footage, of these arrests being made? There is a concern. There is also a concern about whether anybody arrested, if they are charged, can receive a fair trial, bearing in mind all the hoo-hah that goes on when an arrest is made. There are issues regarding the Attorney General's powers on contempt of court. There is a concern when an arrest is made and the press publicise it. The Home Secretary once or twice has said unhelpful things about the presumption of innocence, due process and that has been published and printed to a potential pool of jurors who will read this and a month later will be trying the case.

  Q121 Mr Prosser: Mr Singh, the Board of Deputies have told us in their evidence that the incidents of anti-Semitic attacks have been covered quite sympathetically in the British press. With that background, how important is the media coverage in all that goes on?

  Mr Jagdeesh Singh: We have found personally that the national press has not paid any coverage to the attacks on Sikh individuals whatsoever. It is a tragic contrast to coverage that has duly been given to the anti-Semitic attacks, bringing them to the public fore, bringing them to public attention and to the attention of decision makers in society, MPs and politicians. In contrast, the equally savage and equally far more numerous attacks on Sikhs have gone completely uncovered by the national newspapers. That is a deeply disturbing situation for the Sikh community. Why is that? Why this disinterest in the attacks on the Sikh community? It is very puzzling. It is very disturbing. It is a matter of great concern to us. In contrast, regional newspapers, local papers in local towns, have done important, powerful stories but that is where they remain. That is a matter of great concern. What is it about the national media psyche that brings them to have such disinterest in the attacks on the Sikh community? We feel that there is a pervasive culture of disinterest on racist attacks in the Sikh community. Is it because the whole phenomenon of racist attacks on the Sikh community that has been there for many decades is something which is only now being shouted about, is only now being vocalised in a significant way and therefore there is this culture of disinterest still. Black people get attacked. Jewish people get attacked. Muslim people get attacked but we have never heard of Sikh people getting attacked. Therefore, it will take a bit of a time for the issue to register with us. The fact of the matter remains we feel deeply aggrieved that the message of attacks on Sikhs is certainly not filtering through the media and the media is not performing its role. On a wider scale, noting that the media is essentially a private, independent entity with private, independent functions, we equally stress—I think this is self-evident and not a matter of argument in any sense—the media have a public function, a public information role, a public service role, whether they like it or not. Therefore, we feel there needs to be a lot more regulation and stronger regulation of what the media does with its resources and how it processes information than it is currently subjected to. There needs to be a lot more than just self-regulation. The media gives us information. We read that information. We process that information. That information informs our decision making, as it does on many aspects of society, ordinary people, ordinary residents, Members of Parliament, decision makers in local authorities. In so many different arenas, the media has a direct and indirect impact. Therefore, we believe very powerfully, coming to the questions of diversity, race equality, community cohesion, that the Race Relations Amendment Act should have been extended to the media as well, not just left to the traditional or conventional public service bodies. By reason of the fact that the media have a public service role and a public function role, albeit independent and private, they nonetheless still have a crucial role.

  Q122 Mr Prosser: Mr Khan, you said in your evidence that you were astonished by the lack of measures to counter the discriminatory effects of current counter terrorism legislation. Do you want to tell us a bit more about that?

  Mr Khan: There are a number of markers we can use and objective criteria to see how successful the implementation of the legislation has been. For example, section 44 of the Terrorism Act allows stop and search without reasonable suspicion. As a consequence, we have seen a more than 300% increased rise in stops and searches of "Asians". There are no records kept by faith. We have examples of individuals who are white but are visible Muslims because of the beard and other things, who have had their house searched, have been searched in the street and arrested. They all come under this categorisation because they are white. There are issues about whether the definition of ethnicity is enough to gauge the number of arrests made of Muslims. There have been more than 600 arrests. There have been 48 or so charges, 14 convictions and only three of the four were of the Muslim faith. The others were loyalists to Irish activities. We also have those who are detained indefinitely. What you have are measures of success which show that the way the legislation has been implemented has a disproportionate impact on Muslims, mainly British and 14 non-British. We are concerned about whether there are systems in place to properly monitor how successful some police forces are compared to others, that best practice is being shared; whether, for example, there is enough independent scrutiny of the intelligence relied upon. We understand that it is not sensible for people like us to monitor intelligence and its reliability but it may be appropriate for a joint select committee in the House of Commons to be monitoring that. Either the intelligence is extremely shoddy which is leading to so many incidents of people being picked up, which begs a number of questions, or the intelligence is not being used but maybe stereotyping and prejudice are being allowed to get in the way of effective policing. The importance is that it is incumbent upon all of us, if we are going to fight terrorism and crime generally, to work in partnership with the authorities, but it is not conducive to good community relations, to encourage people to come forward and report suspicious activities, when a week or a month previously either they themselves or family members have been wrongfully searched or arrested or had their property searched.

  Q123 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Mr Khan, in front of me I have a copy of the Home Affairs Report into the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 2001. The British Council of Muslims submitted evidence to that particular inquiry. I will read a paragraph of their evidence: "The extension of incitement legislation at this particular time is unlikely to protect Muslims. We have grave reservations about the introduction of legislation at this particular time". There is a signatory to these particular statements and the entire statement was submitted on behalf of a number of Muslim organisations. That statement conflicts very much indeed with the statement you now give which is to say that the lack of legislation protecting followers of multi ethnic faiths such as Islam and the failure to outlaw incitement to religious hatred exposes one of the most vulnerable and marginalised minorities in the UK to further harm. One statement in 2001 and another today. What has changed to produce this significant change of heart, as far as you are concerned?

  Mr Khan: We have always believed that an offence of incitement against religious hatred is important. We thought it inappropriate for emergency legislation, an emergency Act brought in over concerns about security, to be the vehicle for bringing in this important change in legislation. The proper forum is for there to be legislation properly discussed in both Houses, for there to be discussions about the balancing act between freedom of speech and for that to be the vehicle for that to happen. If you bring in a piece of legislation to protect a community what you should not do presentationally is bring that in as a sop to a community at a time when you are bringing in legislation that is emergency, which many people believe will be used against them.

  Q124 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Do you think the environment and circumstances are now adequate enough to allow the Government to bring in an offence of incitement to religious hatred? Do you think now is the appropriate time?

  Mr Khan: The actions of the far right groups post-9/11 and the sophisticated methods they have used provide the government and those of us who believe legislation is important the ammunition to show how the lacunae and loopholes are being used by far right groups.

  Q125 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: The answer is yes then. Mr Singh, do you think now is the right time to introduce this legislation?

  Mr Jagdeesh Singh: Could you reiterate that question?

  Q126 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Should there be an offence of incitement to religious hatred?

  Mr Jagdeesh Singh: We certainly feel that conditions are correct and right for such legislation. We feel that there are groups active from different communities, not just traditional, white, racist groups, but equally experienced religious groups in this country from different ethnic minority groups as well, who are inciting religious hatred. One example that we would cite is a prominent group called the Al-Muhajiroun, which recently disbanded, but that group has been the subject of much anxiety for the Sikh community because it has directed much of its rabid hate propaganda against the Sikh community as well as other communities like the Jewish community, the Hindu community and others. We feel that there definitely needs to be some legislation in place which is robust and clear cut and which the Government needs to be ready to enforce at the right time, in the right circumstances.

  Mr Grunwald: Jews and Sikhs have been protected by such legislation as there is at the moment because we have been considered to be not only religious groups but ethnic groups as well. Therefore, we could not possibly say that there should not be legislation to extend the protection that we have had to other groups. It must follow.

  Q127 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Mr Khan, we have had some evidence from the National Secular Society who say that we should not introduce legislation of this kind. How do you answer critics of the proposal to create an offence of incitement to religious hatred, who say both that it would not work because of difficulties in definition religion and that it would unacceptably restrict free speech?

  Mr Khan: As far as the definition is concerned, we already have legislation that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief in the employment context. Those arguments have been had. From December last year, it is now against the law for an employer to discriminate against somebody on the basis of their religion or belief. The important point raised by the Secular Society is: how do you ensure that you do not prohibit legitimate, free speech and candour between different faiths and those of no faith? The importance is this: the law should be framed to outlaw incitement of hatred against persons who are associated with a religion because of their association with that religion. If it be the case that that falls foul of criminal law, that is fine but we know there are examples where there is incitement of hatred against persons due to the linkage with, for example, Islam that is currently not able to be prosecuted. What it is not designed to do is to open the floodgates, but that there are safeguards in place to ensure that a prosecution can only take place with the Attorney General's consent, for example. We know from the race hatred legislation that Henry talked about that, over the years, it has been used pretty successfully, although not as much as some people would like. What it has not led to is the floodgates opening up and comedians not being able to make very bad jokes about different races and religions. What it has led to perversely is far right groups having self-censorship now. They do not openly incite hatred against Jews and Sikhs for very obvious reasons. They would fall foul of the law but they are a bit more subtle in inciting hatred against persons associated with Islam.

  Q128 Mrs Dean: Mr Khan, you are critical of the stop and search powers created by the Terrorist Act. What do you think would have been a reasonable response to the greater threat of terror worldwide after 11 September?

  Mr Khan: Do you mean generally or stop and search?

  Q129 Mrs Dean: Generally and stop and search.

  Mr Khan: In our view, stop and search is a legitimate tool for police when it comes to fighting crime. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act allows the police to stop and search if they have reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed. The Terrorism Act allowed the authorities to deem an area a designated area to allow the police to stop and search even without suspicion. If, for example, the police received a tip-off that there was going to be a bomb in Canary Wharf, it seems sensible for the police to be able to stop and search anybody going in and out of Canary Wharf. The problem is that the whole of Greater London has been deemed a designated area. It is possible for the police to stop and search anybody in London, even without reasonable suspicion. Our view is that was not the intention behind this piece of legislation. That is one example on stop and search. It is not a problem with intelligence led, proper policing. As far as other measures that could be used, we have seen that no other European country, for example, suspended Article 5 of the European Convention, the right to liberty. Other countries have used other forms of surveillance, whether it is covert surveillance or telephone tapping. Another thing discussed by the Home Secretary which we have no objections to and we welcome is the use of telephone taps in court proceedings. We do not see any objection to that on human rights grounds. The objection to that comes from the security services about unsavoury characters then knowing what is being tapped and how they are tapping. We cannot see any objection to that. We have seen in some countries the use of restriction orders so people have to report regularly to the police, and we have one case where one of those detained indefinitely is now under house arrest. Thus it is possible to keep an eye on those deemed to be a threat to national security, but the basic point is this: if somebody is suspected of having committed a criminal offence or is suspected of planning to commit a criminal offence, there is enough legislation to charge them and for them to have an open and fair trial. Conspiracy and other offences already exist.

  Q130 Mrs Dean: Thank you. Statistics show wide regional variations in the use of stop and search powers. Why do you think different forces use them in different ways and to different extents?

  Mr Khan: That is one of the things we raised some time ago. One of the things when I was here last time was we welcomed the announcement by Hazel Blears of a Stop and Search Action Team. We have heard nothing about it since. One of the things that needs to be looked at is best practice and bad practice. If, for example, in Greater Manchester (I am just making this up) there are only 20 people stopped and searched using this piece of legislation, but it has led to eight arrests, four charges and one conviction, that is not bad. If, for example, you have in the Met Police 3,000 stops and searches, zero arrests and zero convictions, then serious questions need to be asked. One of the problems is that there is no proper monitoring and analysis of stop and search. The Met Police Authority did some very good work in the scrutiny committee on the use of stop and search in London. Nobody else around the country has. The Home Office promised us leadership back in July with a Stop and Search Action Team but so far we have not seen the fruits of any evidence of that. There is a real issue about best practice and bad practice.

  Q131 Mrs Dean: Mr Singh, do you have any comment to make on the variations in the use of stop and search between different forces?

  Mr Jagdeesh Singh: I would make two very quick comments. As a community we have not experienced anything significant in terms of stop and search both prior to the recent terrorist legislation and post the terrorist legislation, so we do not have any significant concerns with regards to our experience of stop and search. Equally, we are mindful of the concerns raised by the Muslim community. We have read their document and the comments they raise do make significant reading and the disparities that have just been raised again now by Sadiq between the large numbers of stop and searches and zero output in terms of end product also make alarming reading and we can share their sense of concern on this. We recognise the importance of stop and search as a tool in preventing terrorism and fighting crime and so forth, but we recognise equally that there needs to be some more conscientious effort made to carry out stop and search in such a way that it is substantively fair and is seen to be fair and proper. The current concerns do not give a reassuring picture and therefore we share those concerns.

  Q132 Mrs Dean: You have no evidence of increased stop and search of Sikh communities?

  Mr Singh: For the simple reason as Sadiq has said quite plainly, that with stop and search as with racist attacks on Sikhs, as with many other forms of crime on Sikhs and on Muslims and many other groups, there is no form of monitoring. If I were to be stopped and searched tomorrow on the street, there is no mechanism by any police force in place now which would register the fact that Jagdeesh Singh was stopped and searched on such-and-such a road, a person of Sikh ethnic origin, a person of Sikh religion. I would just be a blob on their report with no ethnic or religious significance. That is one of the core issues that we have highlighted in our document and hope to further elaborate on during the course of our discussion today. There needs to be comprehensive and clear-cut monitoring so that you know which groups are being stopped and you know which groups are being victimised and you know which groups are being subjected to the criminal process in whichever way they are.

  Q133 Mrs Dean: Could I ask Mr Grunwald, do you have any information that you could give us on the variations between authorities on stop and search?

  Mr Grunwald: No we do not, I am afraid. We cannot assist on that.

  Q134 Mrs Dean: Thank you very much. Can I ask then if either Mr Khan or Mr Singh have any feelings about any police force that could be cited as a model of good practice as far as this is concerned?

  Mr Jagdeesh Singh: We certainly do not know of such an example. There may well be but we are not mindful of such an example.

  Q135 Mrs Dean: Mr Khan?

  Mr Khan: As I say, the police have a hard time and we recognise that. I think that the Met Police deserve a mention. You have a Met Police Authority which is holding to account its police officers and you have a police force that has set up a Muslim Safety Forum that meets regularly with Muslim groups. There are issues about who is on there and the accountability stuff but I think those are issues of detail. The main thing is that you have senior members of the Met Police meeting with Muslim communities and coming along to meetings. I think it is worthy of mention as is the leadership shown by the Mayor of London and the pilot project set up to do with recommendation 61 of the Lawrence Report about giving records of stop and search, for example. So if I were doing a school report on the Met I would say "work in progress, doing okay, a lot more to be done". It is also working very hard on recruitment and retention, so I think there are good examples of the Met Police doing some good work but there is clearly more that can be done.

  Q136 Chairman: Can I just confirm a couple of points. Mr Khan, you have said that you have not heard anything from the Minister about the stop and search group that was set up. We were told it was going to be set up in the summer. Is that you personally or as far as you are aware the MCB?

  Mr Khan: The MCB. We are involved in the Met project. There are two separate things, Chairman. There is a national thing and the question was about variation which is why the national thing is more important. We are involved with the Met Police work and Khalid is on the Met Police group, but it is the national work which is more important with regard to best practice.

  Q137 Chairman: And so far as you are aware the MCB has had no contact about that?

  Mr Sofi: Can I just explain, there are two things. One is the Metropolitan Police has set up a stop and search steering group. We are there but we have been told that although the action team has not taken off fully a community panel is being set up and ministers have identified someone as chairman but they will announce it at the appropriate time. That is information we were given in that steering group but nothing else has been officially sent to us at the MCB. That was information given to us in that steering group.

  Q138 Chairman: I ask because that is something we can pursue as a Committee.

  Mr Khan: Yes, please.

  Chairman: Mr Taylor?

  Q139 Mr Taylor: My first question perhaps is primarily to you, Mr Khan, if I may. You argue, I understand, that the fact that complaints have not risen in line with stops and searches suggests that there is a loss of confidence in the authorities. Would you first of all confirm if that is your view and, secondly, say what you think should be done to address the matter?

  Mr Khan: Thank you for the question. I reread that this morning and I think it would be unfair to accuse the IPPC of lacking the confidence of the community simply by the low level of complaints made to the IPPC. I think that would be unfair and probably the way it is written is not as tight as it could be. Our views are this—

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