Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


17. Letter dated 8 March 2005, from Hazel Blears MP, Home Office

TERRORISM AND COMMUNITY RELATIONS

  When I gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on 1 March Bob Russell asked (Q494) if the work we had done with the Media Practitioners Group involved the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

  The Media Practitioners Group included a number of working journalists, but no-one explicitly representing the NUJ. This group has now concluded its work and the Society of Editors are taking forward one of its key recommendations, as I mentioned, in producing guidance for editors and journalists.

  I will make sure that Bob Russell's helpful suggestion about the NUJ code of conduct is brought to the attention of the Society of Editors.

  I have also asked Judith Lempriere to follow up with the Clerk to the Home Affairs Committee the background to the complaints of anti-semitism from the Union of Jewish Students mentioned by David Winnick (Q504).

  Given the press interest following my evidence session I thought it would be helpful to enclose a copy of a letter I sent to lqbal Sacranie, Muslim Council of Britain.

  Dear Iqbal Sacranie

  Thank you for your letter, further to our telephone conversation on Wednesday about some of the reporting of the evidence that I gave to the Home Affairs Committee (HAC) on Tuesday 1 March. Thank you for drawing to my attention the newspaper articles you refer to in your letter, I hope that you will have also seen the leader article in The Guardian yesterday, which I think better sets my comments in context.

  I was very concerned when I read the reporting in the press on Wednesday about the evidence I gave to the Committee, particularly on the use of stop and search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. As you know, I and other Home Office Ministers have met you and other Muslim leaders several times to discuss stop and search and I know that it is an area of great concern to you. That was why I called you on Wednesday to clarify what I said.

  I know that of particular concern to you was my reported statement that the threat we face comes from people "associated with an extreme form of Islam" or who are "falsely hiding behind Islam". I am sorry if you or anyone else felt that I was suggesting that terrorism is in any way justified by Islam, nothing could have been further from my intention. I made the point that the Home Office are very careful about the language used. I have always made clear that we acknowledge that the tiny number of people who advocate and practice violence have nothing to do with the peaceful principles of Islam well set out in your letter. Indeed, the Muslim community has a proud record of making it crystal clear that they reject criminality, reject terrorism and are just as keen to support the Police's efforts to tackle terrorism and to support our community as a whole and I specifically made these points in my evidence to the committee. I would not wish to give the impression that the Government holds any other view. The Muslim community is not just law abiding, but actually makes a huge and tremendous positive contribution to society in many strands of life.

  I have always been very clear that the powers in our counter-terrorism legislation are aimed at terrorists, whatever their background. They are not aimed at any community, religion or ethnic group. I made this very point to the committee during my evidence session. What I was also seeking to convey on Stop and Search was that we are concerned about issues of disproportionality. We have published guidance on the authorisation of the powers, which emphasises the need to consider a wide range of factors when using them. We have also set up the Stop and Search Action Team to ensure that stop and search is used fairly and effectively. The Team has an independent community panel to ensure that the concerns of communities are taken into consideration. Guidance has also been issued by the Team on issues which apply to all stop and search powers.

  I would also like to take this opportunity to clear up some of the reporting I have read about the statistics that we have published on the use of stop and search. I quoted the figures directiy to the committee because I hope that the Muslim community will find them to be reassuring. Although we have no figures on people's faith backgrounds, the latest statistics show that of the 29,407 searches made for counter terrorist purposes under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in 2003-04, 3,668 of these were of Asian people [20,637 were of white people and 2,704 of black people). The proportion of Asian people stopped and searched actually fell during this period. The context here is important. Three-quarters of all section 44 stops and searches take place in London, where the populations of ethnic minority groups is higher.

  As you know I am very keen to continue to build up a positive relationship with the Muslim community on the issue of counter-terrorism. I fully understand the feelings of many in the Muslim community on these issues and I am sorry if anyone was offended by what I said. Yet I hope that you will judge my comments at the Home Affairs Committee in the context of the whole of my evidence, which I understand will be available from the Parliamentary website shortly.

Hazel Blears MP

4 March 2005





 
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