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Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): Will the Home Secretary explain why sects of devil worshippers should be put on a footing where they would be protected if somebody were to express the view that devil worshippers' opinions are hateful and that devil worshippers should be shunned?
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): If the Home Secretary is keen to ensure no limit on free speech in respect of criticising or ridiculing religion and wants all religions to be treated equally, will he reconsider his position on the repeal of the blasphemy law? He should at least allow Government Members a free vote on the matter, which would go some way to reassuring those of us who feel that the Government's agenda might advertently or inadvertently cause restrictions on free speech in respect of criticising religion.
Mr. Clarke: That is a serious question, and I want to respond to it seriously. I have discussed the blasphemy law with a number of individuals, including representatives from various faiths, and have concludedI think correctlythat any reform in that area must begin on a considered basis across faiths. However, I am ready to discuss the matter with all faiths and to examine how we might make progress.
The third pillar is the counter-terrorism Bill, which simply fulfils a commitment given in this House at the end of the previous Session to clarify and strengthen existing legislation and, where necessary, to introduce new offences to improve the prospects of prosecuting suspected terrorists. You presided over our impassioned debates on that subject, Mr. Speaker, and you will recall that I made a commitment to the House to examine more effective ways of prosecuting terrorists, and introducing new offences is one of the ways to do so.
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I also confirm that the timetable that I set out at the close of the past Session on reports and further amendments will be adhered to.
John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): In drawing up the new legislation, will my right hon. Friend look very carefully at the recommendation that the Select Committee on Home Affairs published just before the House rose for the election, in which we stress the importance of fully involving the Muslim community in the construction of new anti-terrorism legislation? It is essential that that legislation does not appear to be "done to" the Muslim community, but is produced in full consultation with it.
Mr. Clarke: My right hon. Friend and his Select Committee are entirely correct and I can give him that assurance. Throughout the debate before, during and after the election campaign, I have been at very great pains to draw a distinction between things that affect the Muslim community on the one hand, and terrorism on the other. That is a false bringing together that I hope that discussion during the passage of this legislation will address in a way that finds approval with my right hon. Friend's Committee.
The final pillar of our activity relates to violent crime reduction. We touched on that in questions just a moment ago when we talked about legislation on knives. However, we also wish to have tougher laws on replica firearms, restrictions on the sale of primers and specialist equipment for making ammunitions, tighter laws on airguns, powers to require certain pubs and clubs to search for guns and knives on entry, powers for the police to impose 24-hour bans on pubs and clubs persistently selling alcohol to under-18s, and the establishment of alcohol disorder zones. The purpose of those steps is to arrive at the situation whereby we can deal with people's real concerns about the antisocial behaviour and violent crime that exists in many communities and take active steps to deal with it.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Will the Home Secretary consider the case of Tania Moore, who was murdered in my constituency by somebody who had been stalking her for more than a year and shot her at point-blank range, having already been the prime suspect in a robbery against her? Her mother believes that that person should not have been allowed to keep the gun. Will the Home Secretary also consider very carefully the investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into whether the investigation into the initial circumstances was carried out fairly? Can he reassure the mother of the victim that the sentence on the person who was convicted by the Crown court just over a week ago, and who the judge said should spend at least 30 years in jail, will not be reduced in any way?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving prior notice that he intended to raise this particular case. I agree with much of his language and concerns. There are many issues involved. As he will know, the Derbyshire constabulary felt that the standard of its officers' investigation into the robbery
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was below the standard expected, which is why a year or so ago it referred the matter to the IPCC.The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in summing up the judge stated that the failure to bring anyone to justice for the robbery in 2003, despite the apparent tip-offs, is a matter of serious concern. He will also knowhe referred to it in his questionthat as a result of the issues raised in connection with the alleged tip-offs Staffordshire police undertook an investigation that is currently under review by the IPCC. I will study such cases most closely to ensure that we learn the necessary lessons so that terrible circumstances such as those that he describes are not repeated.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Will the legislation include powers to deal with binge drinking; and will it then be possible for local authorities to work with the police to get control of pubs and clubs that open too late and cause such problems in many of our town centres?
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is entirely right. She has put her finger on the key question, which is the relationship between the police, the local authority and pubs and clubs in working together. I was absolutely delighted by today's statement by pub and club organisations that they are really going to try to crack down on the happy hour approach. That follows conversations that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety and others have been having with the industry, which must acknowledge that it has to bear responsibility for attacking these problemsit is not simply a matter of going through the law.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): In February, two of my constituents who worked at the Black Bull pub in Fulwood were attacked by three youths who entered the pub and held knives to their throats. Fortunately, no one was injured other than by what I would call a terrorist attack and the stress involved with it. The Home Secretary mentioned sentencing earlier. I understand that it is three times more likely for a fatality to occur through stabbing than through the use of a gun. Therefore, could he ensure that the sentencing for carrying knives with intent to use them in that way will be steeper and stiffer?
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Home Secretary will be aware that there are prolific opportunities to obtain knives and replica firearms through internet purchase. I understand how difficult it is to do something to restrict that supply, but is that something on which his Department will bring forward proposals as part of the proposed legislation?
Mr. Clarke: It is. We are working with other Governments throughout the world on ways to restrict some of the means by which the internet operates and bypasses individual jurisdiction, which addresses precisely the hon. Gentleman's concerns.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con):
At the end of the last Parliament, the Home Secretary said that he
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was consulting on whether those who benefit from binge drinkingthe vertical retail outletsshould make a financial contribution to the cost of policing. When does he expect to conclude that consultation and will he set a timetable?
Mr. Clarke: We will conclude the consultation very soon, and the Bill that we will publishthe violent crime reduction Bill, to which I referred earlierwill include measures to deal with binge drinking. Consultation has taken place and there has been a lot of responses, including from the industry itself, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and we will publish the full account of that when we discuss the Bill.
Ms Abbott : My right hon. Friend will be aware that the majority of so-called Yardie shootings in London are perpetrated with activated replica weapons. Given that there has been a 60 per cent. rise in the use of replica firearms, why can we not have a complete ban on replica weapons?
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