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Mr. Gordon Prentice:
I am interested in how the legislation would operate in practice. This business about the Taoiseach is a complete diversion. Will my hon. Friend comment on the concrete example given by the Home Secretary earlier, when he said that context would be all-important? If a group of people were parading with placards that said, "Free Kashmir now", which is a legitimate aspiration, and there happened to be bombings in Kashmir the day after, could those demonstrators be caught under the legislation after the bombing, even if they had been doing something completely legitimate before the bombing?
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Keith Vaz: I know that my hon. Friend has a large Kashmiri constituency base in Pendle, and he is right to say that these practical points need to be addressed. I would hope that such demonstrators should not be prosecuted. I go to many events where such sentiments are expressed, although less so in recent years as the relationship between India and Pakistan has improved.
Mr. Grieve: I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and particularly to his response to the intervention of the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). I appreciate the point that he makes, but does he not understand that the provisions that the Government are asking us to vote on this afternoon will create precisely such a climate of uncertainty in the minds of those Kashmiris as to what is permissible and what is not, and will risk criminalising people who have not the slightest intention of encouraging terrorism, but who wish to have a proper debate on difficult issues of international affairs?
Keith Vaz: I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's point about uncertainty, but the Home Secretary dealt with that when he told the House why he could not accept the Lords amendment, and I accept what he said. There is certainty in the Bill, but the problem lies in explaining that certainty and sending out the proper message to the various communities. The Government have made it clear, in answer to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) and reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), that this provision is not about inadvertence; it is about subjective recklessness and intent. The fact that the Home Secretary has said that means that that must be the direction in which the police must move when they wish to prosecute.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Even if the hon. Gentleman accepts the Home Secretary's assurances, does he not share my concern that a legitimate demonstration after an awful event in Kashmir might be stopped because of uncertainty among the Kashmiri community about whether they would be prosecuted?
Keith Vaz: As I have said, I do not think that anyone would be prosecuted in those circumstances. I do not think that it would be the Home Secretary's intention. Of course, it would be up to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether a prosecution should take place. The evidence would have to be gathered and presented to the CPS. A prosecution could not be brought automatically just because someone had held up a placard.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab):
May I give my Friend another example that is equally apposite? A number of Tamil organisations are banned in this country, yet members of the Tamil community here continue to be very concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka and frequently wish to hold meetings to discuss it. Under the Bill, people attending those meetings could be construed to be supporting the Tamil Tigers and therefore glorifying a form of terrorism. Does my Friend accept that that would present a real danger for
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the people in that community, and that it would have the effect of reducing or preventing legitimate public debate about Sri Lanka?
Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable about international matters and is a great champion of the ethnic minority communities in London and elsewhere. I do not think that the people he mentions would be caught by the provisions of the Bill; in fact, I am sure that they would not. The uncertainty is being created by some Conservative Members who are seeking to exploit that uncertainty for political advantage, thus making it much more difficult to get the message across. That is why the dialogue that the Home Office has, and that this Home Secretary has created, with the wider Asian communitynot just the Muslim communityis so vital. These provisions are not going to affect only the Muslim community. When a person of Asian origin is stopped in the street, people do not automatically know whether they are a Muslim. The fact is that the legislation will affect a much wider community, which is why it is vital to have this dialogue and to deal with these explanations in a proper way.
Mr. Garnier: I am most grateful to my parliamentary neighbour for giving way. Is not the problem that the Government wish to send out a message? It is one thing for Ministers to make speeches and utter statements to indicate the Government's intention to deter and prevent terrorism in the national interest; it is quite another to use the language of a statute as a form of message-making machine. We need clarity and sureness of language in statute, notwithstanding that it might reflect a wider message. The language used in message-giving is entirely different and much looser. That is the problem that the Home Secretary is walking into.
Keith Vaz: The fact is that we have clarity in the Bill because the Home Secretary has listened carefully to the views that have been put forward. He has had many meetings about the provisions. He did not reach agreement with the hon. Member for Beaconsfield or with the Liberal Democrats, but he tried to do so. As a nation, we cannot stand by and do nothing. All communities are united in the belief that something ought to be done, and this is the legislation that the Home Secretary, the Government and their experts believe is necessary to meet the concerns that have been raised. My worry is that, in passing this legislation, we might feel that we have done enough. We have not. We must reinforce what we are doing with the messages that we put out.
Mr. McFadden: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is greater clarity in the Bill than has been implied in questions about Kashmir and the Tamils or, in a completely different dimension, in the Conservatives' suggestion that the Taoiseach might be arrested at Heathrow airport for attending a commemoration of the Easter rising? Is not that clarity provided by the provision that anyone engaged in such an act could
that someone would emulate them? There is guidance in the legislation that will enable people to draw a distinction between someone making a political point about Kashmir, for example, and someone who is engaged in glorifying terrorism.
Mr. Khan: My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) referred to the Tamil Tigers, and he will recall that they were proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000, based on their behaviour before that act came into force. Colleagues were critical of that decision. Is it my hon. Friend's understanding of clause 21 of the Bill that conduct carried out only after the Bill receives Royal Assent will be considered when assessing whether a group should be proscribed, and that the group's conduct will not be assessed retrospectively?
Keith Vaz: That is my understanding, but I am sure that if I and my hon. Friend are wrong, somebody will correct us before the end of the debatesomebody who knows about these matters, rather than the hon. Member for Beaconsfield who is nodding his head at the moment.
We need to take great care over the way in which we foster the wonderful race relations that we have in Britain's multicultural society. I came to this country at the age of nine as a first-generation immigrant. I have seen race relations develop to such an extent that we have a proud record to show not just in this country but to Europe and the rest of the world. That is why what happened in France did not happen here. We should take great care of that legacy, however, and when we pass laws that will disproportionately affect a section of our community, we should do so with the utmost care.
The British Asian community should be able to demonstrate with placards when they feel that there is a grievance, as they did a couple of weeks ago in London. Of course there is a limit to freedom of speechI have acknowledged that for all the time that I have been in Parliament. One cannot just say whatever one wants about different communities and not be subject to the rule of law. The community is mindful of that. Those who step over the line will have to be prosecuted. Within that context and the context of the law, however, the community must be able to demonstrate as it sees fit. If a cartoon is published in a newspaper that defames a particular religion, and groups of our citizens wish to demonstrate against that within the law, they should be entitled to do so. As we all know, because there is unity in the House, the line is drawn at transgression, where something more is asked for than is legitimate in a free and democratic society.
I understand that the Home Secretary has condemned the insensitivity of some of the things that have happened in the past two weeks but has said clearly that we need laws to deal with those who act to subvert our democracy. He is right to do so. I urge him, as I know that he listens to members of the communities, to continue that dialogue, to explain constantly why we need this legislation and to bring the communities on board. We will not be able to catch the perpetrators of
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violence unless the communities feel that they have a stake in ensuring that we retain our great vision of a democratic, free and multicultural society.
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