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We have to find a way for people to call a number and get through to a human being in the area they were talking about. Sometimes you will get an operator in Belfast who will tell you they do not know when the delivery can come out because they are nowhere near the place where your parcel or recorded delivery is. There is some merit in trying to find access points in and around a postcode district, so I would not dismiss the idea, although it needs some work. I am sure that the new regime under my noble friend and others along with Ofcom will look favourably on it, so long as they have in mind what the Minister has repeated—that is,

although the Government would not accept that in the previous amendment, which is why we will have to come back to it.

I think I have answered the point made by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, about the sort of access point that we are talking about. There is a way that it could be done, but it would require some understanding of what we want at that point—do we want to post mail, collect it or use other services provided by the Post Office or Royal Mail?

It is tempting to talk for longer about the regulation by Ofcom, but it is very late. I wish Ofcom every joy in what it wants to do. As my noble friend Lord Whitty will be putting consumers’ interests into the melting pot, I hope we will get back to the idea that we are providing a public service. It is costly and difficult, but we should have it in our minds that we are here to serve, not to try to cut things. I am pleased that we have had a reassurance again about no closures of post offices.

I was delighted to hear the comment about the people’s bank. There is no need to spend too much time or money; all it requires is someone to go down to the archive and dig out the files on an organisation that started its life as National Girobank. It was a successful and simple banking operation that served so many people who had never even seen a chequebook in their lives, let alone owned one. To my sadness, there is still only one paper in this country that has printed the truth about that: the Scotsman. The bank was almost given away, even though some of us tried to form a consortium to buy it. I will not go too far, but I have said on previous occasions that it was a giveaway to the Alliance & Leicester, and we have had to pay the price. Do not spend too much time looking at the people’s bank that might be; go and get the Girobank files out, and then build on it so that it provides the financial services that a good people’s bank should.

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As I say, it is late, so I shall cut most of the end of my speech. I assume we are going to have a break soon—I hope so—and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 81 withdrawn.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.44 pm.

Racial Hatred: “Undercover Mosque”

Question for Short Debate

7.44 pm

Tabled By Lord Thomas of Gresford

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, on 15 January 2007, Channel 4 broadcast an episode of its current affairs series “Dispatches”, entitled “Undercover Mosque”. The programme, made by Hard Cash Productions, was the result of nine months’ undercover investigation of a number of mosques in London, Birmingham and Derby, where recordings were made of various preachers in action. Copies of DVDs and handouts of their speeches and sermons, which were freely available at these venues, were also considered.

I shall give a flavour of the nature of this material. The programme included the following. At the Sparkbrook mosque, a visiting preacher was captured on film praising the Taliban. In response to the news that a British Muslim soldier had been killed fighting the Taliban and had been hailed in the press as a hero, the speaker declared:

“The hero of Islam is the one who separated his head from his shoulders”.

In a Green Lane mosque internet broadcast, another said of women:

“Allah has created the woman—even if she gets a PhD—deficient. Her intellect is incomplete, deficient”.

On gay rights, another recommended the Islamic punishment for homosexuality:

“Take the homosexual and throw him off the mountain”.

Democratic government was not in favour either. A speaker at the Sparkbrook mosque told his flock that Muslims cannot accept the rule of non-Muslims:

“You cannot accept the rule of the kaffir”—

that is, the non-Muslim.

The programme’s message was that extreme, anti-democratic and unpalatable views were being preached in a number of mainstream mosques and Islamic organisations that claim to be committed to interfaith dialogue.

The West Midlands Police launched an investigation immediately after the programme was transmitted into whether criminal offences had been committed,

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particularly by three of those who had been teaching or preaching at the mosques and other establishments. On 26 March 2007, the police sought and obtained at the High Court a production order for all the secretly recorded footage that had not been broadcast by Channel 4. When the order was obtained, Channel 4 made it clear to the police that the legal advice that it had received over a period before broadcasting was that, while the film contained many clearly expressed abhorrent views, those professing those views were not breaking any law. After investigation, the police presented their file to the Crown Prosecution Service, which decided, as Channel 4 lawyers had advised, that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against any person featured in the programme.

Then everything was turned topsy-turvy. The West Midlands Police were not going to let their investigation go to waste and on 8 August 2007 they and the CPS issued a joint press release. It was revealed that they had jointly gone on to consider potential offences that might have been committed by those involved in the production and broadcast of the programme—specifically, whether they had been stirring up racial hatred and committing offences against the Public Order Act. The CPS reviewing lawyer, Ms Bethan David, who had reviewed all 56 hours of the media footage, announced:

“The splicing together of extracts from longer speeches appears to have completely distorted what the speakers were saying”.

She said:

“We have been dealing with a heavily edited television programme, apparently taking out of context”—

The Attorney-General (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I hesitate to stop the noble Lord in full flow, but he will remember that an order was made pursuant to hearing in relation to that press release. That order prohibited the repetition of the complaints that were made, which the noble Lord is about to deal with. I wanted to remind him of that, because I am sure that he will be anxious to comply.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I most certainly am, my Lords. Because of that, I took specific instructions from those at Channel 4 who were involved in the consent order that was subsequently obtained. I am informed by them that the order was subject to no restriction save that the libels should not be repeated. My speech is directed not to that but, as the noble and learned Baroness knows, to a wider context.

As I was saying, the CPS lawyer said in the press release:

“We have been dealing with a heavily edited television programme, apparently taking out of context aspects of speeches which in their totality could never provide a realistic prospect of any convictions”.

True it was that the CPS advised that a realistic prospect of a conviction of the production company was unlikely, but that was because it was not possible to identify a key individual in the production company who might have had the necessary intent to stir up racial hatred.

The joint statement went on to reveal that the West Midlands Police had referred the matter to Ofcom, complaining of distortion. Assistant Chief Constable

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Anil Patani, who was in charge of security and cohesion, wrote that the programme had been,

He complained that community cohesion was undermined and that an unfair, unjust and inaccurate perception of both the speakers and sections of the Muslim community had been created.

No attempt was made to discuss their concerns with Channel 4 in advance of going public. The authors of the joint statement knew that an allegation of fakery would generate significant media interest, as indeed it did. This was the very first time that any police force in the United Kingdom had seen it within its remit to make a complaint to Ofcom about the subject matter of an investigation in lieu of prosecution. Its complaint was rejected by Ofcom on 19 November 2007, when it was said that “Undercover Mosque”,

Ofcom found no evidence that the broadcaster had misled the audience or that the programme was likely to encourage or incite criminal activity.

On 15 May 2008, a consent order was made, to which the noble and learned Baroness has referred, in which the West Midlands Police and the CPS apologised in the High Court to Channel 4, the makers of the documentary, accepting that there was no evidence to found the complaint that they had made. They jointly paid £100,000 in damages and costs. To the Home Affairs Committee on 4 November last, Deputy Chief Constable Gormley said:

“We got it wrong; it is as simple as that”.

The CPS has stated, as the noble and learned Baroness has just said, that it cannot talk about the circumstances because of the court order. I have already indicated to your Lordships what my inquiries have revealed as to the nature of that court order.

My first question to the Attorney-General is: what influences were at work on the CPS reviewing lawyer who, while rejecting the inflammatory material as unlikely to stir up racial prejudice, nevertheless appears to have encouraged the police to complain of distortion to Ofcom? Was she on a frolic of her own? Was she of equivalent status in the CPS to the Assistant Chief Constable, Mr Anil Patani, with whom she shared that statement? To what extent did she see the independence of the CPS in being a party to it? Was her collaboration with him known to her line managers, and was the joint press statement vetted by a higher authority in the CPS in such a highly sensitive area? Indeed, was the Director of Public Prosecutions himself consulted?

In his response to queries raised by my colleague, Paul Holmes MP, Mr Vernon Coaker, Minister of State, wrote saying that the complaint to Ofcom was made independently of the CPS and not with its approval. Does that mean that the CPS as a body disapproved and that the complaint was contrary to its advice? It is an attempt to distance the CPS from the West Midlands Police and is quite inconsistent with the apology that the CPS made in the High Court. Eleven months have passed since that apology. Has there been an investigation into the circumstances

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or any disciplinary proceedings? What management lessons have been learnt and put into practice? What management controls are in existence?

The second area of questioning that I have for the noble and learned Baroness is the guidance given to prosecutors on the right to free speech, enshrined in the common law of this country, not to mention the European Convention on Human Rights. It would seem that the CPS recognised the rights of the imams to free speech by refusing to prosecute them. Mr Coaker, in the letter to which I have referred, refers to the ECHR principles in Section 2.6 of the code for prosecutors. There is no specific reference to freedom of speech in that paragraph, nor, more importantly, does freedom of speech appear as a public interest factor in the decision to prosecute in Section 5.10 of the code. What steps has the Attorney-General taken to advise the DPP to direct prosecutors to take the right of freedom of speech into account when deciding when to prosecute, in particular to prosecute the hate crimes of incitement to religious hatred and the like? Will she support its inclusion as a public interest factor in a revision of the code?

Episodes such as this have a corrosive effect on freedom of expression in general and on self-censorship by the press and the media in particular. It is crucial that the media feel that they have as much freedom to expose and criticise unpalatable views and beliefs as those who are free to expound them. It is also important that, where public authorities have admittedly made mistakes, a full explanation should be made for the public and for those who have been affected. There should be no hiding behind court orders. I look forward to the noble and learned Baroness’s explanation, transparency and reassurance.

7.57 pm

Lord Bew: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for initiating this debate. It is on a most important matter—a neuralgic issue in our public debate. It is of crucial significance, as it bears not only on contact with the police but also on the way in which free speech operates in our society. In his broad account of the history of this controversy, I have little to quarrel with. However, I wish to add one further point.

At this moment, investigations are going on into two recent controversial cases involving the police—the policing of the G20 demonstration and the arrest of a Member in another place, Damian Green. There is good reason to believe that we are going to get to the bottom of both cases; there is no good reason that I am aware of for not believing that at this stage. In both cases, we know many interesting things. We know what the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office said to the Home Secretary, or something of what their discussions were in the context of the Damian Green case, and so on. But in the case of the “Undercover Mosque” programme and the investigation, we have had nothing but silence for a year. We do not have a proper explanation for this rather astonishing turn of events. Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has provided a tremendously important service in bringing this debate before the House tonight. It seems

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to sit on its own in a very particular and rather worrying way. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for the action that he has taken.

The “Undercover Mosque” controversy ran from the time that the programme was shown in January 2007. The noble Lord’s account of the contents of the programme is pretty accurate. I would add only one passage to which he did not refer. The programme demonstrated that the London Central Mosque was selling a video in which Sheikh Feiz, a Saudi-trained cleric, told his congregation that Jews are pigs and will have to be killed. He is quoted as saying that they will be snorting, all of them, every single one of them. It was in the context of that remark and other such remarks that Roger Godsiff, the MP for Sparkbrook, originally complained, leading to the original police investigation. I quite understand the position of the police. Proving hate crimes under our current law is very difficult. It is the sudden change of tack thereafter, and the focus on the programme, that is so striking. This concluded, eventually, in the retreat, essentially, of the Crown Prosecution Service and the police and the payment of £100,000 to Channel 4.

We have heard nothing yet in explanation of what happened. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has already referred to the evidence given to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee inquiry on police and the media by the deputy chief constable involved in this case, Phil Gormley. He said that the police had made a mistake. He remarked that,

There is no explanation of how the mistake occurred. Is it simply that the police are not good at O-level or A-level media studies? It is almost at that level; perhaps that is the answer.

We have talked already in this debate about selective quotation. There is a point to that. In what context could the sort of remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and I quoted be exculpated, or their force reduced? It is quite true that the speakers may well have spoken on other subjects. I am an academic historian. For the first time in my life as a professional historian I have recently been working on the speeches of Adolf Hitler. I can assure noble Lords that to discover that Adolf Hitler meant ill to the Jews you have to quote selectively. You can find speeches by Adolf Hitler in June 1940 saying that he means no ill to the British Empire and that, if it was not for that difficult man Churchill, everything would be all right. He says that he means peace and no harm to the British Empire.

I am sorry, but it is a simple matter of fact that the only way in which to discover what an ideology is is to look closely at it in all its ramifications. The charge that somehow the programme was based on selective or distorted splicing together of evidence does not seem to be a serious charge and is certainly not one that Ofcom accepted. There is the amazing problem that, despite everything that has happened and despite the evidence bravely given to the Home Affairs Committee in the Commons, there is no explanation. We have

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heard, “Sorry, we made a mistake, but we cannot tell you why or how, or the context of the mistake”.

It would be wrong to overemphasise the role of the police. For one thing, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has made clear, we are also talking about the Crown Prosecution Service. The issue that has to be raised is that of the advice that may or may not have been taken. In particular, there is the role of Birmingham City Council, of its elected and unelected officials, and the role of the regional “Prevent” team. It is perfectly legitimate to ask these questions, which are asked in all other cases of this sort, as in the cases that we are currently witnessing and where we look into possible misconduct by the police. It is very strange that, somehow, the lines of public inquiry and discussion have, in this instance, silted up. There are issues about the sort of e-mails that might or might not have been sent and whether there was a calculation about the public mood in Birmingham and the sort of issues that affected it. Did these play a role? These are the sort of questions that we legitimately need answers to.

I turn finally to the Government’s new document, Pursue Prevent Protect Prepare: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism. This document is of considerable importance and value. I draw attention to one passage on page 87, which struck me as being of particular relevance in the context of this evening’s debate. The Government outline their policy in this respect:

“As a Government, we will also continue to challenge views which fall short of supporting violence and are within the law, but which reject and undermine our shared values and jeopardise community cohesion—the strong and positive relations between people of different ethnic, faith and cultural backgrounds in this country. Some of these views can create a climate in which people may be drawn into violent activity”.

I regard this as a very important statement of policy. It arises from a public debate that has gone on and in which Policy Exchange, the think tank with which I am associated by sitting on its academic advisory panel, has played a role. I declare that interest. I regard this as a positive statement of government policy. I hope that the Minister might be able to say tonight, in the light of that statement of government policy, that it is the Government’s view that we can never again have a repetition of the fiasco of the “Undercover Mosque” affair. This is a clear statement of hostility to the expression of opinion and sentiment that undermines civility in our country. The Government clearly must take this seriously and take us away from a dangerous point where we may appear to say that intolerant opinion is fine as long as it does not advocate violence. The good news from this latest statement of government policy is that the Government now—if they ever held a different position, which I hope that they did not—acknowledge that intolerant opinion is, of itself, an evil.

As somebody born and raised in Northern Ireland, I am absolutely certain that the expression of hate on a sectarian basis leads to violence, even when the clerics and others who express such hate make it clear that they, of course, stop short of advocating violence. At a time when the world is full of often rather inappropriate Northern Ireland analogies and models

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for peace processes elsewhere, the most obvious lesson—and the hardest to defy and argue with—is being ignored. The expression of hatred from pulpits, even by men who go on to say, in the Irish expression, “Don’t nail his ears to the pump”—do not resort to violence—played a considerable role in the generation of the Troubles.

I hope that the Minister will be able to say that the new statement of the Government’s policy constitutes a firm understanding of the fact that the expression not only of violent opinions but also of intolerant and sectarian opinions are part of the problem and that the Government see the need to challenge such expressions. I hope, too, that the Minister can say that, while the whole affair of “Undercover Mosque” and what happened to the broadcasters raises doubts in the minds of at least some people, that was the policy a year or so ago.

8.08 pm

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford for securing this debate. I am also delighted that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, the Attorney-General, will respond from the ministerial Benches.

There can be no doubt that the screening of the “Undercover Mosque” programme by Channel 4 raised a number of broad policy issues that require explanation. Were the actions of West Midlands Police justified? Was the Crown Prosecution Service adequately briefed by the police? What are the future implications for the policy on the prosecution of offences of incitement of racial hatred? What are the implications of such decisions on civil liberty issues?

The Minister, Vernon Coaker, in a reply to the letter from Paul Holmes MP agrees that,

I wish I could agree. I am afraid that this has not been the case in the way the West Midlands Police and the CPS handled the matter.

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