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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does the Minister recollect that in recent times Ministers have been very free in giving their opinions on the political affiliations of those responsible for violent crimes in London, even when those responsible have not been identified or apprehended? Would the Minister like to follow that practice today and give us his own view on the likely political affiliations of those responsible for this outbreak of violence?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as I think the noble Lord will agree, I am normally careful about not making assertions without proof. I try to follow that rule, not least because it is a particular irritation and mischief if trials are abandoned or aborted because it is suggested that there has been prejudicial publicity. All I can is say is what your Lordships know. Claims were made that these were anarchists and that the demonstration had something to do with ethical investment. I repudiate any claim of that sort. It does not seem to me that anyone holding a political view in a free country is entitled to behave in the disgraceful way in which many of those people behaved. It may be that more positive answers to the noble Lord's questions will be forthcoming when the trials are held--I simply do not know--but there is no justification at all, for political or apolitical motives, for behaving in a way that disrupts the lives of ordinary, decent people trying to go to work.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, do the Government have any plans to bring forward legislation to ban the use of masks in such demonstrations? My noble friend Lord Cope said--I know that the Minister agrees--that this country has a long history of peaceful demonstrations, but given what we have heard from the Minister, as well as from the other Front Bench spokesmen, this was certainly not a peaceful demonstration; certainly the police and others had already acknowledged that it would be a very unpeaceful demonstration.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am happy to say that we have already delivered on that particular aspect. The House will remember that the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, raised the question of face coverings a short while ago. I promised to think about it carefully. We did think about it, and we therefore introduced an amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill, as it then was, to ban in some circumstances--I am putting it crudely and paraphrasing the effect of the legislation--
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister to take some care in rushing to the immediate judgment that the demonstration was all of one kind. I have nothing but contempt, which I am sure is shared by the whole House, for those who acted violently and clearly set out to act in a disreputable way in the course of the demonstration. However, I was on a No. 8 bus after walking from Liverpool Street in the early part of that morning, at a time when there were large numbers of people on bicycles with many decorations, disporting themselves in a peaceful, although, it must be said, temporarily obstructive manner. The atmosphere was extremely good. A policeman was cheered for the way in which he was directing traffic in order that the people on cycles could progress satisfactorily. I therefore have no doubt that there were different phases to the demonstration. I ask the Minister to recognise that although there were clearly some extremely malicious, dangerous elements who acted criminally and ought to be brought to justice, that may not be the case with regard to others who were involved.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I entirely agree that one has to look at the individual in a particular way, but I do not think that anyone can justify the attack on the LIFFE building for instance, or the attempted terrorisation of people who were just going about their lawful daily occasions.
"Around midday, however, a much larger group, soon numbering several thousand, began to assemble in Liverpool Street ... [and thereafter] split into four groups". So, I do not think that the noble Lord and I are in disagreement.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, yes, I think that any peaceful demonstration, whether or not one agrees with its purpose, demonstrates what I sought to indicate earlier; namely, that we live in a peaceful society, in which views of all kinds are able to be
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I believe that this is the first occasion in our history on which a riot has been organised through the Internet. The Internet allowed various small groups of fanatics, anarchists and extremists to advertise what was happening in a very beguiling and misleading way and therefore broadened the appeal to a much larger audience of people, who were invited virtually to come to a carnival. It is not possible to stop this kind of activity on the Internet. However, I hope that one of the lessons will be that the police and the other forces concerned with public order in our society will be able to increase their surveillance and vigilance on the Internet. I am sure that this will not be the only time that the Internet will be used to summon such people together. I hope that some lessons will be learnt.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, they are extremely important lessons. The difficulty in terms of law enforcement is that we are often lagging behind a technology which the noble Lord, in a previous incarnation, did much to develop in the commercial life of this country. Without going into detail, I know that the police had that well in mind in the briefing documents. However, in regard to the Internet, it is rather like trying to grab an octopus that is many-headed. It is extremely difficult to deal with this in terms of law and legal jurisdiction. I entirely agree that that lesson must be learnt.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, having been in London on the day of the so-called "poll tax riots" in 1990 and having witnessed those riots at first hand, I was immediately struck by the similarity--as have been certain newspaper reporters--between those riots and the events that took place on Friday. As the Minister said, it was clear that the riots were premeditated and that one of their characteristics was the strength of the organisation behind them. In view of that fact, will the Minister assure the House that the connections between the organisation of these particular riots and similar outbreaks of violence are looked into thoroughly? If there is a connection on the organisational side between the riots on Friday and those on previous occasions, we may not have seen the end of this kind of outbreak and there may well be a repetition at some future date.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as a purely personal response, I am bound to say that the same memory returned to my mind when I was travelling along Fleet Street, trying to get back to the Home Office. At the moment I do not know. It seems to me that any investigation by the relevant police authorities and any determination as to finalised charges by the Crown Prosecution Service would be obliged to take into account the observations made by the noble Lord,
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether there will be sufficient resources in terms of surveillance cameras and people able to study them? Then they would be able to make the best possible use of that way of identifying the ringleaders. Is there a problem of resources?
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