Asked By Lord Taverne
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their justification for denying Mr Geert Wilders entry into the United Kingdom.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question of which I have given private notice.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, under European law, a member state of the European economic area may refuse entry to a national of another EEA state if they constitute a threat to public policy, public security or public health.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, I am aware that Mr Wilders holds views highly offensive to the Muslim community, but freedom of speech issues often raise awkward questions. Indeed, this ban has united in opposition the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, the Dutch Government—unusual allies—and also a section of the Muslim community which cares about freedom of expression. Does the Home Office agree that causing offence, even deep offence, to particular religious groups is no reason for compromising on the principle of freedom of expression? Why else did we repeal the laws on blasphemy? Since this is a ban on an EU citizen and Member of Parliament who has been convicted of no offence, and who has been invited to a private showing of a film in this House—not a rally in Trafalgar Square—does it not set a deeply disturbing precedent for the vital question of freedom of expression?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the Government and I are great believers in freedom of expression. Indeed, I am constantly getting into trouble because I am too free with my expressions at times. But the decision was not based purely on the film “Fitna”, but also on a range of factors, including prosecution in the Netherlands for incitement and discrimination, and other statements. The Home Secretary has to make a decision, as was said, on anyone coming in if they are a threat to public policy or public security in particular. We are constantly looking at this and are very robust about it with all sorts of extremists, from whichever corner they come. I regularly, across my desk, have to give advice to the Home Secretary about stopping people coming into this country, because I do not think it is appropriate that they should be here. I think it is good that we are being robust about this, and absolutely appropriate that the Home Secretary should have made this decision.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, there seems to be a bit of a lottery as to who is admitted and who is not. Are there any criteria by which the Home Secretary works, even if advised by the noble Lord, to justify who is refused admittance and who is not?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, there is effectively a list of things the Home Secretary will check through when she is making a decision about whether someone should be allowed into this country. Of course, as the House will well know, quite often we will say that someone should not come into this country, but they then appeal and, through our judicial system, it is decided that they should be allowed to do so. One of the great strengths and joys of this country is that there is a very robust approach to these things. Sometimes, it surprises many of us that that person is allowed to come in and continue to say things—that seems very strange, whatever persuasion they come from. There is a list, and it is checked through. As I said, the Home Secretary thought long and hard about this. The decision was based on a whole raft of things, not just on this film. I believe that it was the correct decision.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, for asking this Question. I suggest to the Minister—perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong—that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty. I only have one question, because I know that we do not want to spend long on this. Does the noble Lord think that this situation would have occurred if Mr Wilders had said, “Ban the Bible”? If it would not have occurred, why not? Surely, the violence and the disturbance that may arise from showing this film in this country is not caused by the film, which merely attempts to show how the violent Islamist uses the Koran to perpetrate his terrible acts, but by the jihadist, the violent Islamist. In doing what the Government have done, surely they are therefore guilty of appeasement.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I certainly do not think that we are guilty of appeasement in any way whatever. I do not want to go down the route of discussing a hypothetical case about what if he had talked about this or that. I am afraid that I am rather constrained about exactly what I can say about him. He is under prosecution in the Netherlands for incitement and discrimination. Clearly, anything that I say in this House could become involved in that, and I would not wish that to happen. It would be wrong if that was the case. Also, he can appeal against the Home Secretary’s decision, and anything that I say could be used there.
As I said, we are very robust across the board. We take no sides on this. We treat people whom we believe are a threat to the security and safety of this nation in exactly the same way, from whatever cloth they come; that is extremely important. I believe that this was the right decision.
Lord Trimble: My Lords, the Minister has talked about incitement, and reference has been made to the possibility of counterprotests. These are public order matters. The criterion that the Minister should be operating under is public security, which is a different thing.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, again, I really cannot go too far down this route. These things will be looked at in the Court of Appeal and in the court of another nation. I do not wish to go down this route; I think that it would be wrong for me to do so.
Lord Peston: My Lords, will the Minister comment on one matter, which might enable us to make up our minds? Who brought this matter to the attention of the Home Secretary? Since this man is an EU citizen, he does not have to apply specially to come to our country. How did this become a matter of public policy?
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give my noble friend an answer to that question, because I am not quite sure how it came to the attention of the Home Secretary. I was first aware of this about a week ago. I do not know the answer. Perhaps I can write to my noble friend when I can discover the answer.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords—
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords—