Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): After recent local elections, one of my constituents, Mr. Alex McFadden, was subject to a sudden violent attack at his home in front of his two young daughters. A stranger called at the house, and tried to barge his way in when the front door was opened. My constituent fought to keep him out while he was punched and hit on the face. His oldest daughter had the great presence of mind to call the police as the struggle continued at the front door. Thankfully, the police arrived at the scene within two minutes, but the man fled, leaving my constituent covered in blood. He had not been punched at all, but knifed about the head, arms and face. He had to attend the accident and emergency department at Arrowe Park hospital to receive treatment for his wounds. Goodness knows what would have happened if his assailant had got into the house.
Mr. McFadden is a well-known trade union activist who has just co-ordinated the campaign against the British National party in the north-west. His activism in the anti-fascist movement ensured that his name, home and workplace addresses and photograph feature on a nasty, extreme right website called Redwatch.
Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): May I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising a matter that both affects a particular individual and constitutes a broad policy concern? Her constituent was targeted by that website, but the people of the Wirral generally are outraged by it.
Angela Eagle: My hon. Friend is right that there is widespread outrage on the Wirral as a result of the attack on Mr. McFadden.
That nasty, extreme right website is called Redwatch, and it carries hundreds of entries on anyone the authors believe should be intimidated or attacked. Indeed, there can be no other reason for providing that information, given the context in which it appears on the site.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): A quick perusal of the site shows that some of that material is offensive and some is bonkers, as it speaks of
“the struggle against the spread of Marxist lies in the UK”.
Although the site shows every indication of being created by people with a tenuous grip on reality, does my hon. Friend agree that they cannot escape its implications by including the disclaimer:
“I understand this web site contains no threats nor is it intended that the material should be used for any unlawful activity”?
They cannot do so, as the site targets individuals, incites hatred and encourages violence.
Angela Eagle: I agree with my hon. Friend and I thank him for his intervention. The police ought to be looking into that.
The people targeted are routinely referred to on the website as “scum” and “retards”, and other epithets that I shall not sully the House by repeating. There appears to be a pattern of violence aimed at the individuals targeted by this website that cannot be simply a coincidence. The site appears to be registered to the Nazi group, Combat 18, and features advertisements for Aryan Nations and other extreme Nazi organisations. Much of the information on it appears to be sent in by BNP activists.
The anti-fascist organisation, Searchlight, investigated the site in 2003 and found a sinister discussion group attached to it called the “mole intelligence bureau”, which includes the following call to arms:
“Redwatch has accumulated many names and addresses along with pictures of the targets, many of whom have had nothing done to them. Now is the time to start a proper campaign of violence and intimidation”.
That is a classic fascist intimidation tactic.
Rigorous action should be taken in respect of such incitement. The police have the power to monitor extremist chatrooms for the purposes of ensuring that criminality is not being organised. I certainly hope that that “mole intelligence bureau” and any of its successor chatrooms feature on the radar of the police in the monitoring role that they must perform to defend law-abiding citizens exercising their democratic rights.
Information from Searchlight details campaigns of intimidation, such as the firebombing of anti-fascist activists’ cars and frequent death threats. A TUC dossier contains other examples of victims who have suffered from having their details posted on this hate site. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) has suffered death threats and had his constituency office vandalised as a result of his opposition to the BNP and other far-right organisations, which is well known. Other MPs and elected councillors from all political parties have had similar experiences, as have journalists, teachers and trade unionists.
In 2004, following violent attacks on some of their members, who also featured on that website, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Unison and the National Union of Teachers took a resolution to the TUC asking that the Government close down such sites. Since then, there has been a series of meetings at the Home Office and some parliamentary activity asking that action be taken to close the loophole that allows such internet-based incitement to continue seemingly unchecked.
Although the Government have appeared sympathetic, it does not seem that much of practical use has been achieved in the intervening two years. Sympathy and words of concern are of course welcome, but I believe that preventive action is now in the public interest and is long overdue. What is certain is that both the incitement to violence and the attacks are continuing, despite the fact that the existence of this website was exposed and caused widespread concern several years ago.
As a part
of its response to the 2004 resolution, the TUC had a meeting with the then
Home Secretary in
March 2005, and he promised to consider what might be done to provide more protection from violent extremist websites. Although I understand that the general election then intervened, the TUC has still received no response. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister took this opportunity to update the House on the issue of hate websites, which appear to be operating with impunity.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): In studying Redwatch, my hon. Friend will have noticed that there is a link to a site operated by the same people called Noncewatch—“monitoring the perverted scum who prey on our kids!” It goes on to say:
“Nonces deserve nothing more than a decent British noose around their necks and a long drop. It’s time to fight back and scare...these evil bastards that are a serious threat to our communities.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we go down the road of adopting the ill-thought out Sarah’s law by putting the names and addresses into the public domain of everybody on the sex offenders register, the people behind Redwatch will use that as an opportunity to trigger violent vigilante action? Does she further agree that the Home Office needs very carefully to bear that in mind?
Angela Eagle: I certainly agree with the important point that my hon. Friend makes. In dealing with such important and emotive issues, which often elicit understandable anger and disgust, we must be careful to protect innocent victims as well as children.
When people are attacked for exercising their democratic right, it is important that the police realise that we are dealing with a threat to our democracy in which violent political intimidation plays a part, and that that is more serious than has been recognised. Will my hon. Friend the Minister agree to meet a delegation from the TUC and others to discuss how the threat can be dealt with adequately? Will he consider taking action to close down hate sites, such as the one I have described?
In early 2004 Baroness Scotland replied to a question in the Lords from Lord Greaves. He was immediately featured on Redwatch for his trouble in raising the matter. Among other things, the noble Baroness emphasised the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and mentioned the Internet Watch Foundation. Government responses to previous parliamentary questions about Redwatch have also referred to protection from racial and religious harassment. That is right, but the protection offered in the harassment statute does not appear to fit well with incitement to what I call political hatred which leads to violent criminal acts. That is what this hate website appears to be co-ordinating.
Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab):
Does my hon. Friend agree that if one of the explanations for the difficulty
in taking legal action is that many such sites are based abroad, it is appropriate
to see what can be done by working with international partners and other
Governments to ensure that such activities are stopped, and that our own
legislation should be reviewed? Internet crime of all sorts is becoming a
greater threat to us all, and it is clear that
racists and fascists are taking advantage of loopholes to operate their websites with impunity.
Angela Eagle: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, which is very much to the point. She is right that any loopholes that exist because of the international nature of the internet and its rapid expansion need to be investigated carefully by the Government. I hope my hon. Friend the Minister agrees.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Internet Watch Foundation deals with child abuse, obscenity and racial hatred, but it does not seem to deal with other kinds of hatred, including inciting hatred for reasons of political beliefs, gender or sexuality? That is a loophole in protection in our domestic law, which the Government should move to close.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Public Order Act 1986 applies to online material in the same way as it would to written material, notwithstanding any disclaimer on the website? Does he agree that the public order statute should offer protection from deliberately compiled lists of so-called targets, against whom incitement to violence is discussed in extremist chatrooms? If so, why has no action been taken to date to deal with Redwatch? If the Public Order Act is not appropriate to catch this sinister activity, will my hon. Friend undertake to review the protections that currently exist in domestic law to see how the gaps can be closed?
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the fact that the hate website is hosted abroad does not shield it from prosecution if it incites violence, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) just pointed out to the House? Will he explain what action has been taken by the police and prosecuting authorities to deal with the threat that such hate content presents to law-abiding UK citizens? I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has been at the forefront of the fight against images of child abuse appearing on websites and that he has been effective in working with internet service providers to close down UK-hosted sites and to filter criminal paedophile content from abroad. Will he now consider extending that sensible and effective approach to other extremist hate sites such as Redwatch? I note in the news today that an internet site that distributed links to illegal free music-swapping sites has been closed down by the Dutch authorities, because it encourages and facilitates lawbreaking. The time is right to end the scourge of hate sites in this country, which do the same thing for violent political ends.
be those who argue that the existence of hate sites such as Redwatch is an expression of our freedom of speech
that should be tolerated even if we disagree with it, but that argument is
profoundly mistaken. When this House passed the Public Order Act 1936, Oswald
Mosley’s blackshirts were terrorising the east end of London and Hitler’s
brownshirts had brought him to power in Germany, and tolerance did not feature
noticeably on their agenda. In that time of great peril, this House realised
that there are limits to freedom of expression and that those limits lie
in ensuring that ideologies of hate and violence are not given free reign.
Such ideologies must be curbed in the interests of all and for the public
good. That remains as
true today as it was in the dark days that led to the second world war and the death of millions of innocent victims. Hate websites do not deserve the protection of the principle of freedom of speech when they seek to prevent others from exercising their democratic rights.
My constituent was subjected to a vile attack in his own home for daring to be active in the battle against the far-right fascist threat in the north-west. His details continue to be posted on the Redwatch website alongside those of many other ordinary people who care enough to defend our democratic values. It is not tolerable that a practical instrument for criminal activity, violent assault and political intimidation should be allowed to remain undisturbed and easily available. I look forward to my hon. Friend the Minister’s reply, which I hope will outline what he intends to do to deal with that sinister threat.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) on securing the debate and on her excellent speech. The importance of the debate is apparent, because many of my hon. Friends have chosen to attend. Informed and constructive discussion is key to tackling the menace of extremism, and today’s debate presents an excellent opportunity to examine the issues around extremist websites that incite hatred. I will try to answer my hon. Friend’s points as I make my speech.
The Government deplore extremism of that kind, and strongly condemn websites such as Redwatch. I am sure that we all agree that although freedom of expression and open debate are cornerstones of British democracy, there is no place within the wide spectrum of British politics for organisations that encourage violence or intimidation against those whose views they disagree with. I was particularly sorry to hear about the cowardly attack last month on my hon. Friend’s constituent, Alec McFadden. My sympathies are with him and his family, and I wish him a speedy recovery from his injuries.
It may be helpful if I set this issue in the wider context of the Government’s work on hate crime. Hatred, violence and incitement to violence are deplorable in any circumstances, but when that hatred is founded on some belief, difference or characteristic of the victim, as is the case with the Redwatch website and as it is with racists and homophobes, it is particularly deplorable.
A Home Office working group is currently considering how to deliver a number of objectives in connection with the issue. The first objective is increasing the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system and improving the way in which the criminal justice system responds to hate crime. The second objective is increasing the reporting of hate crime. The third objective is improving the proportion of hate crimes that are brought to justice. The fourth objective is improving the local response to hate crime, particularly in areas with high rates of hate crime. The fifth objective is increasing our knowledge base on hate crime.
is currently focusing on crime motivated by race, faith and homophobic hatred,
but the parallels with the topic that we are debating today are clear. A
successful outcome, as measured against those objectives, will be a blow to the far right. Indeed, it could in some ways be regarded as indicative of positive changes in society that Redwatch feels so threatened by the anti-racism activists whom it targets that it feels the need to take such drastic action against them.
Redwatch is a far right website with roots in the Combat 18 organisation. It publishes personal details such as names, addresses and pictures of people whom it believes to be anti-racist activists or demonstrators.
Martin Salter: Does my hon. Friend recognise that there is a very real possibility that within the next 48 hours every Member who has taken part in this debate will find their photographs and details posted on the Redwatch site, as that is how these people operate?
Mr. Coaker: I do realise that, but as my hon. Friend has demonstrated in his constituency and in his political work, we will not be cowed as regards the views that we hold. Indeed, the freedom of expression that we have here is one of the hallmarks of our democracy.
Many of the pictures that appear on the Redwatch website are taken at anti-racist rallies. Although there is no direct incitement to commit any criminal offence against the people publicised on the website, the language used to describe them is highly offensive and insulting, and the possible consequences very grave. The degree of intimidation that the website’s targets feel as a result of being pictured or having their personal information published must be considerable. There must be a genuine fear of attack from supporters of the far right, spurred on by comments on the website.
I can confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey that an arrest has been made for suspected public order offences relating to the Redwatch website, and a man is currently on bail pending further enquiries. Obviously, that is an operational matter for the police, and Members will understand that I am unable to comment further on that particular case.
There is a framework of laws that may be used to tackle websites that incite hatred or publish threatening or abusive material. It is an offence to incite others to commit an offence such as assault or criminal damage. Under the Public Order Act 1986, it is also an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or to distribute threatening or abusive material with the intention of causing another person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against them. Under the Protection From Harassment Act 1997, it is an offence for any person to behave in a way that they know, or ought to know, amounts to harassment or causes someone to fear violence. Under the same Act, victims of harassment may apply to the High Court for a civil restraining order. Such an order has in the past successfully been obtained by victims of animal rights extremists. It can include a requirement for the removal of information about individuals from websites.
Angela Eagle: I have a report of the arrest of somebody involved in the Redwatch website, which happened on 1 May last year. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the arrest that he mentioned is not that one, and that this man has not been on bail for a year?
Mr. Coaker: I cannot confirm whether that is the case, but I will clarify that and write to my hon. Friend with the information.
It can also be an offence under the Data Protection Act 1998 for a website to publish a person’s name and address if that information is not in the public domain. I want to respond to an important point that my hon. Friend raised. Anything that is illegal off line is also illegal online. Therefore, if a UK-based website publishes material that is not only offensive but illegal under the above framework, action can be taken against the person who owns the website, exactly as with somebody who might have published a leaflet or a poster. However, operators of some websites have been careful to try to avoid overstepping the conduct that the legislation has defined as criminal.
The difficulty occurs when the website is hosted outside UK jurisdiction, as in the case of Redwatch, which is hosted in the United States. In those circumstances, we do not have the power to close down that website, or, in some cases, to prosecute the people responsible for it if illegal material was not distributed in or uploaded from the UK. However, the offence of inciting others to commit crimes would not be exempt from prosecution in those circumstances, regardless of whether the perpetrator had used a website hosted in a foreign jurisdiction. That is a genuine challenge, which calls for greater international co-operation and collaboration. We seek to do that whenever we have the opportunity, and we have initiated inquiries with the US Department of Justice to establish whether hosting such a website constitutes a breach of US law, regulations or industry good practice.
For UK-based websites, there is positive co-operation between internet service providers in this country and law enforcement agencies. Examples of that are the “acceptable use” policies, which most service providers put in place. They vary between companies, but will generally enable service providers to remove material from their site not only if it is illegal but in other circumstances. They may include complaints from people whose details have been published without their consent.
I can inform my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who are present that I shall raise all those issues with the internet service providers the next time I meet them.
Angela Eagle: I thank my hon. Friend for his positive response. Will he ask whether the internet service providers can extend the protections that they apply to the use of abusive photographs of children to the sort of content that we are considering? If so, they could filter out and close down the websites that can be accessed from the UK if they contain such criminal content. That would be a great step forward. Will he meet a delegation from the TUC and others to discuss the prospect of making progress on this matter?
Mr. Coaker: As I said, I will raise all the issues that have been mentioned in the debate with the internet service providers the next time I meet them. I shall be happy to meet my hon. Friend, and a delegation, as soon as we can match diaries.
I can also answer my hon. Friend’s question about the Internet Watch Foundation. It has a remit to minimise the availability of potentially illegal internet content pertaining to images of child abuse hosted anywhere in the world, criminally obscene content hosted in the UK, and incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK.
It is for the police to investigate complaints and decide whether there is evidence that website operators have committed offences—for example, because of the content of their websites or links between such sites and other harassment or attacks against individuals. It is the approach of the police that if any person becomes aware of any threatening, racist or other hate material on a website, they should report it to their local police force. It is vital to report such material; otherwise the police cannot investigate it. I would encourage the police to continue their vital work of enforcing the law in this respect.
Looking to the future, the Association of Chief Police Officers is working with the Home Office and the police national high-tech crime unit and will review its position on that sort of crime.
Martin Salter: I am delighted
that my hon. Friend has stated publicly that he would encourage the police
to take action. Will he especially encourage West Yorkshire police to take
action, given that Redwatch is based in Leeds
and run by three individuals who are
known to West Yorkshire police through a history of extreme political violence stretching back many years?
Mr. Coaker: I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we will be pleased to raise these issues with the police to see what their advice is on taking all these matters forward.
The Home Office and police are also undertaking separate but related work on animal rights extremists’ use of the internet. A consultative seminar with practitioner stakeholders is being planned, which will look at the current guidance to police forces and seek to agree procedures and identify any gaps. Issues raised by hon. Members in the course of this debate will also be taken on board at the seminar.
I am aware that the TUC did indeed write to the then Home Secretary in June 2005, following a meeting in March that year. May I apologise for the fact that the TUC did not receive a response to that letter? That was an unfortunate administrative oversight. I assure my hon. Friend that the TUC will now be updated on the matter as soon as possible.
I hope that I have been able to provide some assurance to hon. Members that the Government are committed to tackling hate crime and incitement to violence wherever it is found. In conjunction with our broader work on hate crime, we are planning to review and strengthen the police response to this type of activity, and to take the appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the public.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes to Eight o’clock.
"There's a lot of rubbish written about refugees
and asylum seekers, and much of it is pretty vicious.
The same can be said of the treatment handed out by the Government which is a mixture of imprisonment,
destitution and deportation. This is a song I wrote to be sung at an anti-deportation benefit that I'll be doing soon."
His gig's on Thursday 20th July 2006 at The Magnet, Hardman Street, Liverpool just in case anyone feels like going. It opens at 8.00pm.
17 June: so how left-wing
was Tony Blair?
Andrew Murray in the Guardian and Histomat in his blog have both picked up on the news that Tony Blair recently confessed to having read Isaac Deutscher's biography of Trotsky, while a student at Oxford.
I can add some detail to the story. Back in 1994, I was a student at Blair's old Oxford College, St. John's. Seeing that he was likely to be elected leader of the Labour Party, I went to the trouble of consulting the St. John's archives (which I understand are now closed).
There were two political motions that Blair put to the St. John's student union (in Oxford parlance, the 'junior common room'), during his 'red' period: one was a motion calling for the JCR to subscribe to Chile Monitor, the other to An Phoblacht (The IRA's Republican News).
From memory, Blair was teased mercilessly for the second motion: he had also just changed his name from Anthony to Tony.
This was at the same time that students in the university were going into occupation to call for a proper students' union building; when a number of them were victimised and a petition was circulated on their behalf, Blair scrupulously refused to sign.
He was also unsuccessful on the two times he stood for the JCR committee.I've also written before, about Blair's residual leftism in the early 1980s.
Marxist idiots are planning to hold pro-Asylum Seeker demo's across Englandon Thursday, 22nd June 2006.
of these demonstrations can be contacted at:
Contact: Annie 0795 5517681 or Rita 0772 2469585
Contact: Nicki 0796 0758856
Contact: Charles 0777 9189794
Contact: Natasha on 0791 3518699
Footprint Workers Co-op
To: Mark Barnsley
Sent: Thursday, January 12, 2006 11:08 AM
Subject: 635 group printing debts
I have just 'written off' £65 worth of printing debts for the 635 group.
There was a job (some sort of intro flier) from ages ago and the 3 short runs the other day.
As I'm sure you are aware we pay ourselves an extra 50p per hour to cover printing for groups such as the 635 (and to pay into bust funds etc). Please dont assume that it will always be free as it all depends on how much we have in the pot and what other competing things there are for the cash we have at the time.
16 Back Sholebroke Avenue, Leeds LS7 3HB
Telephone 0113 262 4408
RED ACTIVIST, LEEDS
Peter Lazenby <Peter.Lazenby@ypn.co.uk>
The BNP leafleted parts of Headingley this weekend. There were five of them, four men and a woman, with one car.
Among the streets they covered were Headingley Mount and Ash Crescent. They were delivering the Headingley Patriot.
Their presence was a concer to a number of Asian people who live there, who now feel frightened and intimidated. I've spoken to one resident who contacted me about this, Sue Buckle. She's approaching a student house which has an Antifa poster in the window, to organise a team to do a counter leaflet, maybe to re-assure local Asian residents. Would Antifa want to be involved and put some material out?
Sue is on Leeds 0113-2782296.
Yorkshire Evening Post
Sue Buckle is chair of the South Headingley Community Association which meets every month in the Cardigan Centre.