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House of Lords

Thursday, 4th February 1999.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Southwell): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Viscount Greenwood--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his brother.

Finsbury Park Mosque

Lord Rowallan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will investigate the allegation that a terrorist cell is being run within the mosque in Finsbury Park in north London.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, investigations into any activities in this country that may involve criminal or terrorist offences are a matter for the police and the Security Service. All allegations of this kind are, of course, studied closely by the interested agencies. Your Lordships will understand that it would not be right for me to discuss any current inquiries that they may be undertaking.

Lord Rowallan: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply which I nevertheless find slightly unsatisfactory. Will he confirm that as a result of the trial of six of his henchmen in the Yemen at the moment, including his son and stepson, an official request has been received for the extradition of Abu Hamza who is the leader of the Supporters of Sharia? If that is a fact, will the Minister further confirm that the Government will accede to that request and that he will take the necessary steps to stop the activities of Abu Hamza's supporters within the mosque which must contravene the 1998 criminal justice Act which makes it an offence to commit terrorist offences abroad?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it would not be suitable or appropriate for me to comment on judicial proceedings which are still continuing in another jurisdiction. All governments have adhered to the policy which I shall repeat--I think to the disappointment of the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan--namely, we never confirm or deny that any such request has been received.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, will my noble friend please assure the House that the Government will take great care that in dealing with cases of this kind they will not stigmatise the Moslem communities of this country? Is he aware that the vast majority of members of those communities are law-abiding, honourable, decent citizens who add a great deal to the diversity and decency of this country

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in which we are fortunate to live? The greatest of care must be taken not to attribute to a community the possible sins of individuals within it.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. There is remarkable ignorance in many quarters about the true nature of Islam. It is a tradition of great beauty and wisdom. It has enriched our lives in many, many ways, not least through art, science and philosophy.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, how effective has the terrorism and conspiracy Act been in identifying terrorist cells in this country? Will the Minister make sure that the ethnic minority press is used extensively to demonstrate clearly the provisions of that Act and to make it clear that we in this democracy will not tolerate at any stage acts of terrorism committed either in this country or abroad? I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Janner, said; namely, that a large number of Moslems in this country are law-abiding citizens and we should value the contribution they make to the good name of this country.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am happy to underline the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. The overwhelming majority of Moslems in this country are peaceful, law-abiding citizens who detest any suggestion that their religion is polluted by the alleged activities of those who are extreme. Your Lordships will know that the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act has been on the statute book only since August. I believe that it will be an extremely effective tool, as I pointed out when I introduced it, in circumstances not entirely free of controversy.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Supporters of Sharia have a website in which they proclaim that,

    "the walls of oppression and humiliation cannot be demolished except in a rain of bullets"?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am aware that incendiary material of that kind is on websites. I stress that I believe the legislation we have is extremely effective. I remind the House--I hope to assist your Lordships--that a consultation paper on the subject of taking a new look at anti-terrorism legislation was published in December last year. It followed the admirable report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. The consultation period is quite limited and comes to an end on 16th March this year. When we have the results of that consultation we shall have to focus carefully on any gaps which exist in our anti-terrorism legislation.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the problem really arises in the form in which the Question is put which confuses its purpose? Does he agree that it is not for the Government on any showing to investigate this matter? It is for the police to investigate it. It would be proper to ask if the Government are aware of investigations that are

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proceeding and so forth, but to ask them to investigate the matter is frankly impossible. Does the noble Lord agree?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Yes, my Lords. That is why I answered in the form I did; namely, that investigations into the alleged activities are a matter for the police and the Security Service. I repeat that it would be extremely imprudent for me to comment on any investigations that may be continuing at the moment. It would simply help those who may or may not be being investigated.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, with regard to the question about the website, are words that are threatening, abusive or insulting within the meaning of the Public Order Act caught by that legislation if they appear on a website just as if they appeared on a hard copy document?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, any publication in any form is capable of being caught by the present law.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I endorse strongly what the noble Lord, Lord Janner, said, but as we have a serious, ongoing terrorist threat ourselves in this country and constantly ask for the assistance of other governments in dealing with it, is it not right that we should assist friendly governments in this matter whenever we can?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this Government, like our predecessors, have a good record in assisting in that kind of request. The person whom the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, may have in mind is a British citizen, that citizenship having been granted by our predecessor government.

House of Lords: Members' Interests

3.10 p.m.

Lord Marlesford asked the Leader of the House:

    Whether she will arrange for a committee of the House to consider whether it should now be made mandatory for those Lords who have taken the oath to register matters which they consider may affect the public perception of the way they discharge their parliamentary duties.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the straightforward answer to the noble Lord is yes, I will certainly consider establishing such a committee in due course. My understanding of the feeling of the House at present is that this is not regarded as an appropriate time to undertake this particular remit. If I am given countersignals from Members of the House in all quarters, and there is consensus that it would be appropriate to move ahead rapidly with this, I will certainly listen to that advice.

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Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for the first part of her Answer. Given the sensible scope of our present register, does the noble Baroness agree that on any occasion when there is adverse publicity--for instance, when a Member of the House has failed to declare an interest which the public as a whole feel should have been declared--such publicity damages the reputation of the House? In this context, does she further agree that the public make no distinction between Law Lords and the rest of us? Does she not accept that this is a matter of urgency and that the sooner the loophole is closed the better it will be for the reputation of your Lordships' House?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, on the noble Lord's general point about the perception of your Lordships' House from outside, I am not sure that I entirely agree. The many people who understand the way in which the House works appreciate that we are not paid to be Members and that it is not in that sense a professional body which needs the kind of arrangements which are perhaps more appropriate in another place.

As to the specific question about the judicial element of your Lordships' House, noble Lords will be aware that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has written recently to the senior Law Lord on this question. At present there are no plans to introduce a separate judicial register of interests.

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