Examination of Witnesses (Questions 105-119)|
THURSDAY 27 JUNE 2002
105. I welcome all three of you on behalf of
the Select Committee. We are very grateful to you indeed for coming.
I would be very grateful if, in introducing yourselves, you would
give us a thumbnail sketch of the background you bring to our
deliberations. We have your CVs but they will not get on to the
transcript, and your practical experience will be very valuable
indeed, and I would like to make sure the public realises what
(Mr Fahy) I am Peter Fahy, at present
Deputy Chief Constable, Surrey Police. I hold responsibility within
the Association of Chief Police Officers for relations with the
religious groups. I have 21 years of police service. I spent 8
years in the West Midlands Police, working in the areas of Smethwick
and Coventry, where I had a lot of experience of dealing with
minority groups and some difficult situations. In my current portfolio,
my main involvement has been since September 11, working very
closely with representatives of the Muslim Hindu community, in
building up trust and making sure there was a national approach
to trying to reduce the amount of tension amongst communities.
I have been involved in an amount of work on issues of Islamaphobia,
and also, very importantly, putting together a national policy
for police officers, indeed all members of police staff who wish
to follow their faith.
(Mr Tucker) I am David Tucker, Detective Chief Inspector
with the Metropolitan Police. I have worked within the Diversity
Directorate. The aim of that was to take forward the recommendations
from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report, and we have expanded
the remit to try to involve all communities in policing within
London. I have also worked with Mr Fahy on the national picture
in relation to Islamic issues. I also have connections with the
Jewish community and the Sikh community and, through other officers
in my work, with a number of other faith groups, most notably
the Christian Police Association, and the black majority churches.
(Mr Baines) I am Martin Baines, Police Inspector,
with West Yorkshire Police. I am currently Bradford Community
and Race Relations Officer in the city. I work for the police
commanders and Chief Constable of West Yorkshire strategically
on race relations across the district. Over the last 28 years
or so, I have worked mainly in the city with the minority communities
from across all the communities that reside within Bradford. Specifically
within the last seven years, I have been the Race Relations Officer
for the city. My background is very much at an operational and
strategic level on race relations.
106. Thank you very much. That does, I think,
qualify all three of you to talk about matters that we are concerned
with. You had a list of questions. The easiest thing is probably
to go straight on with those. Will you please decide amongst yourselves
who wants to answer the question? That does not mean to say that
others cannot come in as well. The first question was to ask you
whether the existing powers under criminal powers were adequate,
or whether you think there are any gaps.
(Mr Fahy) My feeling is that there are still gaps
that remain. We feel that changes that were made in the recent
legislation to allow religiously aggravated offences, to some
extent have been overlooked by a lot of commentators, and indeed
some police forces and prosecution authorities. To some extent,
we are still catching up, in terms of putting out guidance to
police forces and individual police officers and having systems
for recording those offences. There are still some anomalies within
the law, in that religious offences can be racially aggravated.
We still see a basic gap in the fact that incitement to racial
hatred is covered by the law, but incitement to religious hatred
is not. It is worth saying for the record that the police service
nationally puts enormous importance on community race relations.
It is not an academic exercise for us. Good relations within communities
and between communities are absolutely vital for us. Essentially,
if it goes wrong it is the most basic, what may seem trivial,
disputes between neighbours, with conflicts in local areas; and
at its most extreme example, clearly it can create huge disturbances
within cities, as Bradford and other cities have experienced.
It is work that we engage in tirelessly and put great importance
on, which is often unrecognised and certainly unmeasured in the
world of performance indicators and league tables. It is often
not recognised and not prized. When we have tried to get recognition
for it, we have tended to be labelled as being "typical pink
liberal police chiefs". For us, it is not an academic exercise;
it is not because we want to be popular or nice; it is because
it is absolutely vital to one of our core roles, which is to maintain
the Queen's peace. This issue is of great importance to us, and
we have certainly been very struck that, since September 11 in
particular, previous distinctions along racial lines essentially
are no longer adequate. A lot of groups within society identify
themselves along religious lines, and that is the core of their
identity. Therefore, racial and national distinctions are less
important. As I say, that has come over very, very strongly, in
our dealings with Muslim, Hindu and Sikh groups, since 11 September.
We recognise that and we recognise how important religious identity
is to those groups; and it is fundamental to them; we realise
how gravely they view any insult to that identity. Therefore,
we recognise that the law should reflect that importance and the
change in society essentially since September 11. We feel that
there are gaps remaining. There remains a gap in the law, in relation
to certain extremists and people who for various reasons wish
to ferment hostility between communities, which does not cover
incitement to hatred. There are clearly a lot of arguments around
free speech, and comment, but we feel that the issue of hatred
and people who may intend to create hostility and ill-feeling
between communities, because of the consequences that can have
in terms of keeping the Queen's peace, should be recognised within
the law. It is not just a matter of harming people's sensibilities;
it is a matter of actions that can have a grave effect on peace
and tranquillity between communities.
107. When we have been through these questions,
I would like to come back to the practical gap, the situations
that you have been confronted with, where there was not a criminal
offence, where you would like to have been able to charge somebody
if you had only been able to do so, and been provided with the
legal framework to do it. We will come back to that later.
(Mr Tucker) I was asked by the Association of Muslim
Police to address the issues of blasphemy. The officers feel that
that should be widened to include other faiths than Christianity.
108. Has anybody given you any advice about
how you define the objects of blasphemy, the objectives against
which the blaspheming remarks are to be categorised?
(Mr Tucker) No, in a word, they have not. I think
the police service would probably concur with this, that there
needs to be consistency around all faiths, preferably across all
of the areas of prejudice where Parliament has legislated, so
that the rules that apply to disability apply to gender, or to
race-centred religion, where that is possible.
109. Or, alternatively, if you repealed it so
that it applied to nobody, there might be an alternative remedy
of the sort that Mr Fahy indicated just now.
(Mr Tucker) There are different issues around blasphemy
and incitement, if that is the point you are making.
(Mr Baines) My Lord Chairman, I would like to support
the comments of my colleagues, particularly of Mr Fahy, about
the issue of identity and how people identify themselves. People
do identify themselves by their religious background, not simply
their nationality or race. These are very significant issues for
communities, and we need to be mindful of those and look at how
we address some of the problems that occur.
110. You say that people certainly since September
11 are identifying with their religious identity. Are you including
Christian people in that, or are you defining the other groups,
Muslim groups, et cetera?
(Mr Baines) I think it is across the board. I do not
think it is just an issue since September 11; I think it has always
been the case. Over the last 12 months, certainly in the public
arena, this issue has been highlighted. We have seen an increase
in Islamaphobia in the UK. Some of these issues have always been
111. That is against a religion, not for your
own. I am thinking of the slightly apathetic way that most "Christians"
in Britain, write "C of E" on their passport, and that
is as far as it goes really. For you to tell me that the Christian
people generally in Britain are identifying themselves with their
religion, as opposed to identifying with their culture, I find
a little difficult.
(Mr Baines) I apologise. I realise we live in a very
secular society at times, and I would not dream of suggesting
that everybody living in our society particularly powerfully identifies
with their religious identity. It is fair to say that it is very
predominant amongst certain communities, particularly the Muslim
community. It is an issue, and I am simply trying to say that.
112. Yes, of course; it is just globally people
in this country. I did not think it meant everybody.
Baroness Richardson of Calow
113. All of you seem to have been majoring on
the aspect of what we are dealing with, in terms of its prevention
of bad feeling and support for community integration and peace.
Is that primarily how you see the law? Is the law there as a deterrent
rather than looking for ways of prosecuting?
(Mr Fahy) We would see it as a deterrent and something
that is symbolic. Clearly, good community relations often rely
on people feeling that they are treated equally within society
and under the law. At the moment, this would appear to be an anomaly,
so it is an issue of prevention. Overall, we have seen the criminal
law in this area as a blunt instrument, and if at all possible
to be avoided. That is why we do huge amounts of work in trying
to get communities together and deal with rumours, and to act
as honest brokers. What is not always seen as a police role is
very important because we would bear the consequence of those
various communities and groups falling out with one another.
114. Difficulties in enforcing it may not be
the highest priority for you.
(Mr Fahy) that is right.
115. Mr Fahy, you said there were gaps remaining
in the law pertaining to religious hatred. From your previous
experience, there is substantial unease in the Muslim communities.
(Mr Fahy) Indeed.
116. Do you find similar unease in other religious
groups in relation to the same situation?
(Mr Fahy) Clearly, the situations with the Jewish
community and the Sikh community are largely covered by the Race
Relations Act, so, clearly, most powerfully, yes, it is a matter
for the Muslim community in our experience. It is with that particular
community that we have had particular involvement since the events
of September 11. I would not want to make it just a September
11 issue. What has also struck us is that whereas perhaps previously
the issue of community relations often depended on events in this
country, now it is very much affected by events abroad. It is
not just September 11; it is different situations in the Middle
East and the situation between India and Pakistan, which has been
exercising us over recent months and which we are still concerned
about. We can see its potential to promote ill feeling and conflict
within this country.
117. Do you think that some of the complaints
that are coming to you from the Muslim community come with the
feeling that they are not being treated equally with other faiths?
(Mr Fahy) I think that is a very strong feeling, which
has been expressed to us many, many times.
118. If the Muslim community feels it is not
being treated fairly or equally under the law, have the police
made a representation to the Home Office or to your supervising
department to point out the specific anomaly?
(Mr Fahy) Yes, we have been involved in discussions
with the Home Office and with some of the research that was carried
out by the University of Derby. We have been involved in various
meetings and discussions and pointed this out. We did support
the changes that were there in the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which
was eventually passed in the House of Lords. We are aware of this
as an issue.
119. It is an issue on the table to be dealt
(Mr Fahy) Yes, indeed.