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Post Office Card Account

24. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the decision not to renew the contract with the Royal Mail for the Post Office card account. [48343]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): Government funding for the Post Office card account will end in March 2010, as was always planned. All existing card account customers will still be able to use the Post Office to collect their benefit or pension, if they wish, by using a bank account there. Some 25 different bank accounts can be accessed at Post Office branches now, and we
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hope that there will be more in future. We aim to develop a joint strategy with the Post Office to move customers from the card account to other accounts with Post Office availability.

Mr. Hoyle: I hear the Minister's view, but mine is slightly different. I do not recall that the account was to be temporary. We were told there was a 10-year contract that could be rolled over beyond that. That was the emphasis given when the account began. Will the Minister reconsider his position? Pensioners throughout the country depend heavily on the post office to access their money. Please do not put them at risk. Please reconsider. The whole House will agree that it is important that pensioners have easy access to their money.

Mr. Plaskitt: That certainly is important. We have given an undertaking, which I am happy to give again now, that any pensioner who wishes to collect their pension from a post office in future will be able to do so. The same goes for any recipient of in-work benefits. However, the Post Office card account contract was run until 2010, and it was stated explicitly in that contract that the arrangement was a transitional one. As I said, 25 other bank accounts are currently accessible across a post office counter, and by the time the contract runs out in 2010 there are likely to be more. In the meantime, we will assist any pensioner or other benefit recipient who wants to make a transfer from card account to those accounts. There is no reason why anyone should be forced into a situation in which they can no longer collect their pension or benefit from the post office, if that is what they wish.
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London Demonstration (Policing)

3.31 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab) (Urgent Question) : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the policing of the London demonstration on 3 February.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr.   Charles Clarke): I am happy to make the statement requested by my hon. Friend. I am pleased that the response in Britain to publication of the Danish cartoons has, in general, been respectful and restrained. That is in the best traditions of British tolerance, and I hope and expect that it will continue.

Decisions on the arrest and prosecution of any participant in demonstrations, including those last Friday and over the past few days, are properly matters for the police and prosecuting authorities, who are undertaking rigorous assessments of the appropriate way to proceed in individual cases. If the police conclude that there have been breaches of the law and decide to take any action, we shall, of course, support them. The House will understand that I am not in a position to give any further details at this stage.

The Government stand in full solidarity with the Danish Government in resisting violence. We believe that they have done everything possible to handle a difficult situation. Nothing can justify the violence aimed at European embassies or at Denmark. We understand the offence caused by the cartoons depicting the Prophet, but freedom of expression must be exercised with respect for the views of others, including their religious beliefs. Such attacks on the citizens of Denmark and the people of other European countries are completely unacceptable.

Mr. Winnick: I agree with my right hon. Friend. I am against the cartoons, but is it not entirely unacceptable for a bunch of hooligans and thugs in London to demand that people be beheaded and to glorify the atrocities of 7 July and call for further such atrocities to be committed in Britain? Is that not a clear case of incitement to murder? Indeed, it is a deep insult to those who lost their loved ones in the July atrocities and to the    others who survived, but who will suffer the consequences of their serious injuries for the rest of their lives.

Have not mainstream Muslim organisations made it    perfectly clear that those hooligans are not representative of members of the Muslim faith and that they dissociate themselves from them? They have made it clear, as I do, and as I hope most people do, that legal action should be taken. Should not a message go out from the House that we should never again on British soil see the kind of slogans and incitement to murder that disgraced this country last Friday?

Mr. Clarke: I very much agree with my hon. Friend's remarks. The actions that he described were unacceptable. Decisions on arrest and prosecution are properly matters for the police and prosecuting authorities, and that is the way it should be.

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the way in which the many organisations within the Muslim communities have condemned this action in the
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strongest and most explicit terms. That is in part what I described earlier as the best tradition of British tolerance. I hope that that will continue.

The incident illustrates the merits of having all the necessary legislation on the statute book, which includes the offences created by the Terrorism Bill, including the proposed new offences of encouragement and glorification of terrorism, which I hope will now have the support of the whole House.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): May I start by saying that I did not much like the decision of various European newspapers to publish cartoons that are seen as offensive by Muslims. However, like many things of which I disapprove, it is not illegal, nor should it be. It would be entirely proper for those offended by the cartoons to mount a peaceful demonstration against their publication. The right to demonstrate is an extremely important part of the rights of British citizens. It is, however, a right with clear limits. That does not include a right to incite violence, which is outside the law.

Let us be clear: placards carrying slogans calling for people who insult Islam to be beheaded, massacred or annihilated are direct incitements to violence. It is less than a year since the terrorist atrocities last July at King's Cross.

Unlike the press, I do not criticise the police for not making immediate arrests at the demonstration. Public order decisions are difficult and should not be second-guessed on a minute-by-minute basis. However, I expect that action should be taken, and taken soon, against those who clearly incited violence. It is vital that we make it clear that incitement to violence has no place in our political life.

I am by no means the only one who believes that. Inayat Bunglawala, the spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said:

He added that

I was glad to hear the Home Secretary agree that our laws, both common and statute, before any recent changes, provide a range of offences that appeared to be either committed or infringed at the demonstration on Friday. If action is not taken, there will be a number of consequences, all of them bad. First, the perpetrators of these outrages will see that we are willing to tolerate anything, and as a result the next demonstration will be even more outrageous.

Secondly, especially after the prosecution and conviction of Maya Evans, the lady who held a memorial ceremony at the Cenotaph, many people will conclude that the law is inconsistent and unjust if real offenders against public order go free and unchallenged.

Thirdly, it will be difficult for moderate Muslim leaders to give a clear lead to their community if the Government refuse to give a clear lead.

I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement that an investigation or assessment of last Friday's events will take place. The right hon. Gentleman has properly
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been unwilling to be drawn into questions of individual prosecutions. I understand that, but I reiterate that the stance taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions has serious public policy implications for both community relations and public safety in this country. The right hon. Gentleman should be sure that he is made aware of that. As I have said before to him, I do not envy the difficult balance that he has to strike in this area. For all the decades that we have known each other it has been conventional wisdom and, I think, our shared view that the route to good community relations is a mix of generosity, tolerance and respect. It has been clear in the past few days that the two most generous and tolerant nations in the world, looking only at Europe, are Holland and Denmark, yet they are both in different ways going through agonies with community relations. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we must continue our traditions of generosity, tolerance and respect while drawing a line about what is acceptable civilised behaviour, given that that line was emphatically crossed at the demonstration last Friday?

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