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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 July, 2005, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Jeremy Vine interviews
Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

Hazel Blears MP
Hazel Blears MP, Home Office Minister with responsibility for counter terrorism

Interview with Hazel Blears MP

Jeremy Vine: And I'm joined now by Hazel Blears, Home Office Minister with responsibility for counter-terrorism and MP for Salford as well. Thank you for joining us. And a panel is here too, who we'll speak to in just a moment. But looking at that film, do you think the thrust of that is correct, that politicians have been talking to the wrong Muslims.

Hazel Blears: I think there's certainly some truth in the fact that we've been talking to perhaps a too limited range of people, certainly the people we've been talking to do have a really important role to play but I think it's absolutely right that we need to reach out to more young people.

I talked to a young man this week who runs a help line for young Muslims and he was saying to me that there's very little space to discuss some of the controversial issues, even within the Muslim community. I also spoke to a relatively young Muslim leader of Kirklees Council, who again said to me that we do need to reach out beyond. So, I think the people we've been talking to are really important. But I think now there is a fresh impetus for us to reach out beyond and really try and engage with people in a wider way.

Jeremy Vine: You say they're very important but one of the contributors in the film was suggesting that they seem to enjoy having tea with the Queen and in getting in to that level of activity, they've lost touch completely.

Hazel Blears: Well I think that's unfair, certainly the people that I've spoken to from the community including ... (satellite glitch) others are actually hugely concerned about these issues and very very keen to be that moderate voice of Islam and have played a fundamental role in bringing these issues to the attention of government. What I'm saying now is that we need to reach out beyond that and actually we have been doing that.

This last year we've been organising meetings across the country, some of them here in Manchester, to try and get to particularly some of the young people and explore why it is that this kind of what Tony Blair's described as a perverted ideology, is actually attractive.

Jeremy Vine: You mention moderates in the Muslim Council of Britain and Iqbal Sacranie, his colleague Daud Abdullah, who we heard there seeming to justify suicide bombings, says he can't represent gay Muslims because he says, we view homosexuality as a major sin. How is that moderate.

Hazel Blears: Well I think what we've got to try and do is open up this whole debate. I mean that was one of the issues that this young man spoke to me about this week because there isn't a space to discuss some of these controversial issues. Then sometimes we get a completely false view of what's going on and I think it's important for politicians, Muslims and non Muslims, actually to engage with people. We've got some of these problems in our wider community as well.

The disaffection of people from politics more generally and this clearly is a specific issue, but I think there are some wider lessons for us about how we make politics matter, how we have an open and honest discussion about some of the values that unite us, as well as some of the differences that we have. And one of the things I was struck by in that film was the courage of some of those contributors saying we need a more open, honest, transparent debate and it won't be easy because these are fundamental things that we believe in.

Jeremy Vine: But at the same time you're talking about a law to crack down on incitement, which will enable people to say less of what they think.

Hazel Blears: Yes, what we're proposing is an offence of indirect incitement. Virtually the glorification of terror, cos at the moment our laws don't cover that. We have a law that's about direct incitement for people to go out and do terrorist acts but where somebody glorifies terrorism and glorifies suicide bombing, then we think that's wrong and that there ought to be a provision in the criminal law that makes that an offence. But what we don't want to do is to stifle genuine debate about what the values are that should be uniting us.

Jeremy Vine: This is going to be very tricky for you isn't it because you've got a, you're going to have a test soon where an extremist cleric called Yusuf al Qaradawi wants to come back in to the country. He's suggested people, we saw him the film, suggested gay people should be executed and he's spoken in support of suicide bombers, and we gather from the Home Office there's no plans to stop him coming in.

Hazel Blears: Well the Home Secretary has already got powers that if he considers that it's not in the interests of the country, then he can exclude people. But this is a difficult area and what we want to do is make sure that the criminal law can get the people who glorify terrorism, but at the same time try and have a debate. And that is a (interjection) ...

Jeremy Vine: Well let's talk about him. Let's talk about him.

Hazel Blears: ... that is a challenge to politicians I think, to try and get that balance right.

Jeremy Vine: Well you tell me how you respond to this. He's talking about female suicide bombers. He says women's participation in martyrdom operations is one of the most praised acts of worship, and we hear from the Home Office that there are no plans to stop him coming in to the country.

Hazel Blears: Well I think if people are glorifying terrorism that's why we want to bring in our law to make sure that ... (interjection)

Jeremy Vine: Well what's that doing.

Hazel Blears: ... that's a criminal offence. And if indeed this man is glorifying terrorism then clearly that's a matter for the Home Secretary to consider. These things are complex, they're difficult, we want to make sure there's debate, but we absolutely want to make sure that people are not fermenting the kind of hatred that we've seen ... (interjection) ... these atrocities.

Jeremy Vine: But I've given you chapter and verse on what this man has said, and you're not telling me whether that glorifies terrorism.

Hazel Blears: Well, as I said to you, we constantly consider people, whether or not they should be allowed to come in.

Jeremy Vine: What about him.

Hazel Blears: If they are glorifying terrorism, then that is something that's unacceptable for us to happen and clearly his case will be looked at in that context.

Jeremy Vine: But you don't, listening to what he's said, praising suicide bombers. You want to reserve your view on whether or not he is glorifying terrorism.

Hazel Blears: Well I think it's absolutely wrong to glorify terrorism and to glorify suicide bombing. That's why they're proposing the laws that we've got but his case will be looked at by the Home Secretary under the powers that he's got, and I'm not aware that a decision has yet been made.

Jeremy Vine: Would it be illegal under these new laws to say 9/11 was a glorious day.

Hazel Blears: Well if somebody was doing that with the intention that their comments could ferment the kind of hatred that we've seen and the action that was undertaken by these bombers, then yes, it would fall, full square within the kind of activity that we want to make a criminal offence. But absolutely just as important from that film is for us to have that robust debate and you've got to find space for the debate at the same time as drawing a line, and that is a challenge in a democracy, but it's one we're determined to lead.

Jeremy Vine: Let's hear from our panel now.


Jeremy Vine: Hazel Blears, how do you help them do that.

Hazel Blears: Well I think Sadia actually is right. We need to give people the capacity be able to channel their views through our democratic process. And in the Home Office now, we are actually running several programmes about increasing the capacity, particularly of women, to be able to make sure that they can play a role in civic life. And I think that we've got to do more of that. We've got to strengthen that. If people have got very strongly held views, then in a democracy, it's absolutely right that they express them, but we've got to make sure those channels are open and people feel they can have access, particularly young people.

Jeremy Vine: But surely, you're closing them, that's the point isn't it. Because when Sadia says something like, her comment about justified anger, in a few months time, when you bring your new law in somebody might say, well hang on a minute, that's illegal, you can't say that. It sounds like a justification for terrorism.

Hazel Blears: And that's exactly why we have got to be careful where we draw the line between people having a good debate about a political issue, something where people hold very strong views.

In a democracy people have to make compromises, we all do that all the time, but at the same time, saying as Haras does, where somebody incites violence, actually, you've gone over that line and quite properly, that that should be an offence.

And I think this debate will be good for us actually as a country and as a society, to make sure that where we draw the line it's the right place, so we don't stifle debate, but when it's unacceptable, then we say very clearly and very firmly that they've crossed the line.

Jeremy Vine: Let me put that back to Hazel, one generation's terrorist, the next generation's freedom fighters, how do you deal with that.

Hazel Blears: Well let me just say two things. One is that our proposals are not a knee jerk reaction. We've had these in consideration for some months now, and they're about doing the same thing as many other European countries are doing. Secondly the people who carried out these atrocities in London were terrorists, they committed the biggest mass murder that we've ever seen in Britain, and I certainly don't want to talk about freedom fighters in that context.

We need to have laws, they need to be well considered, they're not a knee jerk reaction to the events. And I'm absolutely determined that the police and security services will have the powers they need to try and make sure we bring people to justice.

Jeremy Vine: If people are going off to Pakistan for example, or Afghanistan to these schools there and being radicalised. How can you deal with that.

Hazel Blears: Well one of our proposals is to bring in an offence not only of giving terrorist training, but actually receiving terrorist training as well, so that again is about infringement and it's only part of the picture.

What we've got to do is have the kind of dialogue that we've all been talking about today, so that we can try and prevent people being drawn in to this dreadful activity. You've got to get it right. You've got to do the prevention, but also make sure the law is robust enough to prosecute where necessary.

Jeremy Vine: Like the film was saying Hazel Blears, right where we started, you seem not to have been talking to the right people.

Hazel Blears: Well I think we have increasingly been talking to the right people. I think we've got to re-double our efforts to do that. We've also got to find some local ways in which people can have their voices heard, through local councils, through the democratic process, through their community groups.

This isn't a matter of simply talking to their leaders. I think we've got to get way beyond that and get in to the grass roots of organisation, so that we can have this really vigorous debate and for people, fair enough, to feel that when they have a voice, that people do listen to them and take some action. That's the strength of a democracy.

Jeremy Vine: Thank you very much indeed Hazel Blears, Home Office Minister and to our panel as well. Thank you.



Jeremy Vine: Hazel Blears, MP for Salford is still with us. That club needs a bit more money doesn't it.

Hazel Blears: Well it's a brilliant place and it's done fantastic work for fifty odd years. It does get a lot of support but we want to do more and more if we can to help the young people.

Jeremy Vine: What do you do in a situation where as we saw, physical regeneration has happened in a lot of these streets, but the kids are still engaged in this anti social behaviour.

Hazel Blears: I think two things. You have to give young people and their families a sense of hope, that's why we're improving the education system. We've got more youngsters now staying on at sixteen than we've ever had before. We're getting them early through Sure Start, we've got Sure Start projects right across the city. So intervening early with those youngsters, giving them something else positive to do.

But where they are involved in some of the serious crime, and you heard from the Superintendent about that, making sure that the message is very clear, that there's enforcement as well. And there's consequences of the behaviour that they're involved in.

Buy we've got to get the parents to take some more responsibility for some of the youngsters. I believe that many of them can be diverted from crime and disorder but we've really got to intervene early with them.

Jeremy Vine: How do you do that with the parents because we've heard politicians saying that for the last ten, twenty years. Get to the parents.

Hazel Blears: Yeah, I think there's two ways you get to the parents. Through Sure Start again, you can bring some of the mums and the dads in to that. Make them feel that they can exercise some control. Some of these parents themselves have had children very early on, don't have those skills.

But also again, enforcement and if the kids are involved in this kind of really bad activity, parenting orders, bringing the parents in.

Jeremy Vine: Thank you very much indeed Hazel Blears. And that is all from Salford. Thank you very much for being with us.

End of interview

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

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