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Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, one specific question I asked was whether or not a report could be obtained from the Crown Prosecution Service as to how the courts dispose of offenders who appear in relation to yesterday's events and also in relation to those who appeared in the previous riots in the City of London.
Lord Mishcon: My Lords, this matter has not only brought shame upon the perpetrators of this horrible behaviour, but also the fact that we have in our midst, calling themselves subjects of this country, people who can behave in this dreadful way, is a slur upon the nation.
Perhaps we can look a little more closely at the question raised in regard to the courts and the way in which they deal with these matters. Obviously, we cannot dictate what the courts should award those who are found guilty by way of punishment, but what the public may recognise as being a slight improvement is this. Knowing that violence was to be perpetrated, and knowing that for some considerable time, should not courts be pre-convened to deal with those matters, so far as they can, consistent with our systems of justice? In other words, why do we not set up courts whereby, instead of after a long delay when all these matters have been investigated and then for the very first time the perpetrators of the violence come before the courts, at the outset the people whom the police had seen behave in this violent way could be
What is troubling in this matter is that we will go away after this discussion; Parliament will have dealt with it in both Houses and we will hear about cases brought before the courts in three, four or six weeks' time. Is that good enough?
Lord Bach: My Lords, the House knows that my noble friend speaks with tremendous experience and wisdom on these matters. I want to be careful what I say in response and he will understand why. As I understand it, the 97 who were arrested yesterday will have been brought before the court at some stage today. Whether or not the court has dealt with any who admitted guilt, I do not know. But, if they protest their innocence, they must be entitled, as my noble friend knows better than anybody, to prepare their defence. But I agree that it is important, from everyone's point of view, whether these cases are heard eventually in the magistrates' or the Crown Courts--much will depend on the charges laid by the Crown Prosecution Service--that they are dealt with as quickly as possible.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, first, when the Home Office is in a position to tell us, will the Minister undertake to advise us as to how much those vandals cost the taxpayer during the past 48 hours and in the run-up to the demonstration yesterday? Secondly--this is a matter for information--is he able to inform the House as to whether or not Mr Ken Livingstone expressed an opinion about the events of yesterday? If so, was that opinion supportive of the vandals or of the forces of right?
Lord Bach: My Lords, the first question is easier to answer than the second. Of course, once the cost is known--that may take a little time--I shall write to the noble Viscount and place a copy in the Library. There may be other ways of circulating that information to other noble Lords.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I have tremendous regard for my noble friend Lord Mishcon because he was my tutor. But is not the Minister concerned at his suggestion that there should be a separate entitlement to trial for those people? Should not the persons concerned be treated as equal before the law? That being so, is it not better for existing magistrates to determine whether or not they should be tried? They are entitled to put their cases before the bench, where there is sufficient reason so to do. That being so, does
Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend and nothing anyone has so far said is against his premise. It is, of course, right that the more the public are affronted by an offence, the more essential it is that the law should take its proper course. That must happen in this as in every other case. I am sure that the courts of this country, whether magistrates' courts, Crown Courts or wherever the perpetrators end up, will ensure that those charged with offences receive a fair trial. It would be a disgrace if they did not.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, will the Minister give the House an assurance that in future the Cenotaph will be protected against any acts of violence or desecration by such people? The Cenotaph is important to practically every family in the land. Whether or not it offends certain groups of protestors, it should be protected from damage.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Of all the violent offences committed yesterday, speaking personally, I felt that the attack on the Cenotaph was the worst. I shall be careful in choosing my words here, but discussions were held beforehand on what should be done between those responsible for the Cenotaph and the police. My understanding is that advice was given by the police that the Cenotaph should have been fenced or boxed in. I am quite sure that if such a situation is ever again reached, the Cenotaph will be protected.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, what is the situation as regards my noble friend Lord Carnarvon's proposal that it should be an offence to wear a mask with the objective of wrongfully evading identity in public?
Lord Bach: My Lords, as always the noble and learned Lord has asked a pertinent question. Under the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, as amended this year by the Government, that Act has now been strengthened by the inclusion of new powers to enable the police to remove face coverings when a Section 60 order made under the Act is in force. Perhaps I may remind the noble and learned Lord that a Section 60 order empowers the police to stop and search for weapons and dangerous implements without the need to suspect particular individuals once the order has been invoked. I realise that that does not answer the noble and learned Lord's question about the suggestion that the wearing of masks should be an offence in itself, but greater powers are now in place. I understand that
Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, the Minister has referred twice to the bilateral discussions which took place between the police authorities and the Home Secretary. Can the Minister assure the House that no direction or request of any kind was made by the Home Secretary or anyone acting on his behalf which in any way persuaded the police authorities to desist from taking action or putting in place remedial measures that might otherwise have been implemented?
While I am sure that all noble Lords share the words of praise that have already been expressed by several speakers for the police on their skill and careful tactical planning, everyone--not only in this House but throughout the country--feels a sense of absolute disgust and shame at the desecration of the Cenotaph, the attack on the statue of Sir Winston Churchill and the destructive digging in Parliament Square. Those acts were deliberately designed to provoke and attack the established attitudes and adopted views of the people of this country.
In the light of what has taken place, will the forthcoming review endeavour to answer one most important question: where does the protection of public property end and the appeasement of anarchy begin?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I believe that I can give the noble Lord the assurance that he sought at the beginning of his contribution. We all share in the noble Lord's feelings about the offences that have taken place. However, I feel that it is important to stress that in not the slightest way has there been any move to give in to the forces of anarchy expressed yesterday. The police did a very professional job and the position could have been infinitely worse if they had not taken all the right decisions. I believe that the House is generally of the view--it has certainly been expressed today--that the police behaved admirably. Nothing was given to the anarchists and nothing will be given.
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