Parliament: Home Affairs: Race hatred laws will be tightened, hints Blair

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS ARE drawing up measures to tighten the law on incitement to racial hatred in response to the London nail bombings, Tony Blair indicated yesterday. And the Prime Minister used question time to offer his "heartfelt sympathy" to the families of last Friday's blast in Soho, which he condemned as a "callous and brutal act.

"We will do everything we can to make it clear that, though we live in a tolerant democracy, the one thing we shall be intolerant of is racial prejudice and racial bigotry and, wherever these people rear their ugly heads, the forces of democracy will be there ready to deal with them," he said.

The issue was raised by Oona King, the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, whose constituency was hit by an earlier blast. She said: "One of the most precious things we have in this country is the right to free speech. Isn't it the case that the only thing more precious is the right to life?

"Given this and, in the light of the recent atrocities in my constituency and elsewhere in London, will you look at tightening the current laws governing incitement to racial hatred so that individuals or groups guilty of this face the penalties and so that in this country the only thing we nail is intolerance?"

Replying, Mr Blair said it was for that reason that the Government was considering how to "extend the law in order to make sure that incitement to racial hatred is a crime". Earlier, MPs from all sides praised the determination of Soho's bar, restaurant and shop owners to carry on "business as usual" after the bombing.

Andrew Lansley, Conservative MP for Cambridgeshire South, said: "In London, our thoughts go out to those who run restaurants, bars and shops in the Soho area, who were providing hospitality and leisure last Friday evening when they suffered a bombing.

"I think it's absolutely of the essence of the hospitality and leisure - a service industry with high standards - that they have set about the process of `business as usual'. I think our thoughts and congratulations should go out to them for the way in which they have responded to those very challenging circumstances."