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Terrorism Bill

5. Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): What consultations he has undertaken with ethnic minority communities on the Terrorism Bill. [50394]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Government did not undertake consultation specifically with ethnic minority communities on the provisions in the Terrorism Bill partly because the timetable for bringing the legislation forward was accelerated in the wake of the July bombs and partly because the Bill goes to the entire community rather than specific communities. However, in order to provide ethnic minority and other communities with an opportunity to express their views on the Bill other than through their representatives in Parliament, the Government have asked the
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independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, to consider the impact of the Bill specifically on community and race equality issues.

Dr. Kumar: I thank the Minister for that reply and praise the Government for making immense efforts to talk to ethnic minority communities and to build up an excellent dialogue with them. I recently met members of the Hindu community who expressed their concerns that they have not been involved in consultation and their concerns about the legislation. May I urge the Minister to talk to the Hindu community and make them feel part and parcel of the integral discussions that he has been having?

Mr. McNulty: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. The point that he raises is entirely fair. There has been some concern expressed among some non-Muslim ethnic minority communities that perhaps attention has been focused too much on the Muslim community. However, we do not accept that. Clearly we have done much with the Muslim community, but if we have to do more with other communities, we will. My hon. Friend will know that we regularly meet the Hindu Council, the Hindu Forum of Britain, the National Council of Hindu Temples and the Swaminarayan temple at Neasden to discuss matters of terrorism and other matters not least, as he will know, in terms of immigration rules and ministers of religion. However, I take his point seriously. We need to consult all minority communities and, indeed, all communities as fairly and profoundly as possible.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the vast majority of mosques are dedicated to peace and enlightenment, as are the worshippers who attend them? They are precisely the people who suffer the most from the negative perceptions created by extremists. Last summer, the Prime Minister saw a need for the Government to establish powers to close down mosques that fomented extremism. Is that still Government policy?

Mr. McNulty: I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman's opening statement, as, I am sure, does the whole House. Everyone will know, not least because of    the disparity between the last two sets of demonstrations, that in any community, frankly, it is the extremists who do down the moderates far more than anyone else. The hon. Gentleman said it was suggested that we should consider, in extremis, closing down specific facilities. I understand that we have examined that, but found that it would not be terribly practical, or, as he suggests, fair on the remaining members of the community around a mosque. Working with a community to eradicate extremists would be far more fruitful than simply closing a mosque.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): One of the things about which members of all communities are concerned is that the Bill's provisions should be applied even-handedly and it should be clear against whom they are targeted. When the matter was debated in the House, I thought the Government accepted that there had to be a clear link between allegations regarding the glorification of terrorism and incitement—direct and indirect—or reckless
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disregard of the effect that glorification could have on someone about to commit a terrorist act. Is the Minister aware that several statements that Ministers have made recently to put distance between the view of this House and the amendments of the other place indicate that the Government might not still be thinking that way? Would he like to give some reassurance on that point?

Mr. McNulty: If my hon. Friend wants reassurance that we think that our proposals on glorification are preferable to the Lords amendments, I can certainly give that reassurance, but I suspect that that is not what he is after. On his first point, it is important not only that we focus our terrorism legislation on terrorists and extremists in all communities, but that we are seen to do so. If there is disquiet in any community because it is thought that that is not the case, we need to hear about it and allay fears, not least in the context of the question asked by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison).

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Does not the Abu Hamza case show a failure to enforce the existing law over many months, rather than a gap in the law, or a need for yet more offences? Will the Government and the Home Office thus stop using recent events as an excuse to pass yet more legislation and invent new offences, and instead enforce the existing law with more determination and dispatch?

Mr. McNulty: In the first instance, I should say in passing that the gentleman concerned has appealed, so it would be inappropriate for me to say much more. However, in the broadest sense, we do not legislate just for the sake of it—we legislate because there are real and present dangers. The right hon. Gentleman shows in his question a simplistic approach that is, like the comments of the shadow Home Secretary over the weekend, profoundly and utterly irresponsible.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend give me an absolute assurance that the Government will be tough on incitement, even if they judge that such action might be unpopular in some small, localised communities?

Mr. McNulty: I think that I can give such an assurance. If the point behind my hon. Friend's question is to ask whether we should in any way shackle the police in their interpretation of operational matters on the ground at any given time, whether during a demonstration or otherwise, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that that should not be the case. However, watch this space on subsequent prosecutions.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Minister is right to draw a distinction between the large and peaceful demonstration that we saw recently and the deplorable, less peaceful, smaller demonstration the week before. He must know that keeping minority communities united against terrorism is a vital weapon in the fight against terror, so how does he respond to Muslim leaders who support democratic values, such as Ajamal Masroor, of the Islamic Society of Britain, who says:

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Why will the Government not listen to moderate Muslim leaders, give up their ineffective anti-authoritarianism, and accept that bad anti-terrorism laws will simply bring the law into disrepute and not make British citizens any safer?

Mr. McNulty: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman meant to describe our approach as anti-authoritarian, but I understand the gist of his remarks.

There are myriad views and opinions throughout the community. First and foremost, we must shape and tailor our anti-terrorism legislation according to what is most effective and the advice that we get from security and police authorities. If, after that, there are messages to send to any community, we must do that to prevent misinterpretation—sometimes malevolent misinterpretation—of laws that go to the heart of the difficulties facing our society.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Whatever differences there may be between the two sides in respect of new laws, is it not encouraging that time and again in the past week we have seen Muslims make it perfectly clear that the hate merchants and agitators do not speak for the overwhelming majority of Muslims living in our country, who appreciate the freedoms and democracy that we have? Is it not important to deal with the small number of hate merchants that we know exist among the clerics?

Mr. McNulty: I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am sure that the entire House does, too. Just this morning, I received a message from representatives of the main mosque in my constituency, voicing precisely the same concerns. They started by saying that, like many others, the community was offended by the representations of the Prophet in the cartoons in the Danish magazine, but they went on to make precisely the same points as my hon. Friend makes. We cannot and should not tailor our response to terror or extremists out of fear of the response from the very terrorists and extremists with whom we are trying to deal.

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