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Mr. Kaufman: My right hon. Friend has made it clear that objections to the legislation are incompatible. On the one hand, they say that it is inoperable, while on the other they say that it is oppressive. Is not it a fact that the race legislation introduced by Labour Governments has now made it impossible for a politician to make the "rivers of blood" speech made by Enoch Powell? Has not legislation on sexual preference introduced by Labour Governments now made it impossible for the sort of homophobic elements that were so prevalent years ago to exist? Apart from practical application, will not the Bill have an important effect in creating a certain climate?
Mr. Blunkett: I agree with my right hon. Friend, who may not know what my hon. Friends on the Front Bench know: the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) has tucked into the Bench in front of him, behind the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), a document whose title is "What Enoch was really saying". It is ironic, therefore, that my right hon. Friend mentioned the "rivers of blood" speech.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: I am delighted that Simon Heffer's excellent article in The Spectator has been noted by those on the Government Front Bench. In view of what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has suggested, would he have supported action by the Attorney-General against Enoch Powell if he had today made the speech he made on 20 April 1968?
Mr. Blunkett: Even in Committee, I am not in a position to act as a sort of transmission belt between the
Simon Hughes: The Home Secretary was right to say that one of the things that we must seek to do is reassure our communities. That must be done at home and abroad. Does he accept that, on the basis of what he has heard, those communities would be most reassured by the following: first, an offence that ensures protection in legislation against all sorts of hate crime; and secondly, the guarantee that discrimination against any faith will be outlawed? In the meantime, we have incitement laws that enable prosecution in relation to many of the offences that he and I would want to pursue, and we could quickly introduce legislation on the wider range of matters, to give greater reassurance, if the Government agreed with the Opposition parties that there should be time for that to happen.
Mr. Blunkett: I should like to make three points. First, I agree that we have laws that can be applied in the generality. Secondly, I do not agree that we could act swiftly on the range of measures that the hon. Gentleman enunciates. They would be deeply complicated and difficult to introduce, which is why they cannot be brought before us quickly. Thirdly, I entirely accept his offer, which was also made by the shadow Home Secretary, to co-operate on a much broader swathe of measures in relation to discrimination, which is extremely helpful.
David Winnick: So that history is not rewritten, does my right hon. Friend realise that, to the lasting credit of Quintin Hogg who was shadow Home Secretary in 1968, he criticised Enoch Powell's disgraceful, deplorable, racist speech from the Opposition Front Bench? The then Leader of the Opposition, Edward Heath, sacked Enoch Powell almost immediately. His refusal to tolerate racist, poisonous nonsense did him credit.
Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend is right.
I want to consider new clause 1, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) tabled. As usual, he put the case well. Let me make the Government's position clear. There is a good case for revising and, indeed, removing existing blasphemy law. However, the Church of England is worried about the way that would fit in with wider changes. I am sure that the Church of England wants to hold a debate through the Board for Social Responsibility and elsewhere about assisting us to achieve a measure that is less anachronistic and more appropriate to the 21st century.
I want to make it clear that there is no question of extending the blasphemy law to all other denominations and faiths. We do not want to do that; we want to find an accommodation and a sensitive way forward when few people believe that the current position can continue. However, many people would worry if change were effected hurriedly. As I have already said, I can justify
Mr. Dobson: I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has said that there is no question of extending the blasphemy law to cover other Christian denominations or other religions. We want to get rid of it. I am at a loss to understand what other measures the Church of England proposes between abolition of its special protection and its extension to every other religion. The simplest solution is to get rid of it.
Mr. Blunkett: My right hon. Friend has done much work on that, and he knows about the previous working group and the result of the debate in the House of Lords, which took place in, I believe, 1995. We are trying to find consensus and provide reassurance for the Church of England. However, my right hon. Friend has done us a service by putting the subject firmly on the agenda and ensuring that it will not simply go away. I assure him that it will not, although I appreciate that he needs no such assurance because he will ensure that it does not. We will find a way forward with the Church authorities that does not cause the Church too much aggravation.
Sir Brian Mawhinney: The Home Secretary has reached the hurdle of responding to amendment No. 106 twice in his speech and been distracted. Perhaps he will make an attempt to jump over it before concluding.
Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful for that intervention. If I was trying to deceive the House, I would say that I had been about to deal with the right hon. Gentleman's point. However, that would be untruthful as the matter had simply slipped my mind.
I went through the amendment earlier today in the Home Office. I am mindful of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raises. However, we are worried that the amendment would lead people to find ways around his intention, for example by claiming to be religious or by distributing material that purported to be of a religious nature. I am happy to invite my officials to meet him and if we can find a way of expressing what he seeks to achieve, I shall ask Lord Rooker to consider the matter in the House of Lords. The objective is well intentioned and our response is made in the spirit of ensuring that we do not allow loopholes. I am prepared to move forward on that basis.
Sir Brian Mawhinney: I am grateful to the Home Secretary. I tabled the amendment in the spirit in which he replied. I accept the genuineness of his offer, and the opportunity to meet his officials.
Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's response.
Mr. Letwin: I want to put it on record that, notwithstanding our arguments against the clause, the Home Secretary's offer is welcome.
Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) was pleased that my hon.
There are genuine differences about whether we are taking the correct step. I believe that we are, and that the simple inclusion of religion in a measure advocated so many years ago, debated through the years, and agonised over by so many Home Secretaries is a fair and reasonable step. It will discourage those whom we are trying to discourage. It is fair to monitor the provision's operation and to put it on record that the Government are big enough to try to find out whether the clause works. In that spirit, I ask hon. Members to support the inclusion of religion and to ensure that we make the clause work in the best interests of those whom we serve, and that it is not abused by those who always try to undermine the good intentions of legislation. I ask hon. Members to give the clause a fair wind and their vote.
Mr. Wilshire: I agree with the Home Secretary that we need to do all that we can to eliminate hatredand the sooner, the better. However, I regret that I do not believe that the clause is the right method of achieving that. It will help religious groups which do a great deal of harm rather than protecting those which do not and which therefore need our help.
When I worked for Members of the European Parliament some 20 years ago, I spent two years researching controversial religious groups. It was challenging and deeply disturbing work. The conclusions that I reached then have not subsequently been undermined. Some are relevant to today's debate.
First, however hard we try, I feel that we must acknowledge that legislation dealing with personal religious beliefs cannot avoid being an attack on somebody's freedom of thought, belief and expression.
The second conclusion that I reached all those years ago, which continues to hold true, is that it is impossible to devise a distinction between what some would call a mainstream and acceptable religion and what others would describe as a weird and dangerous cult. It is interesting that the explanatory notes duck the issue by not even attempting a definition.
Thirdly, most of the public anxiety that we hear about religious groups relates to the impact on others of members acting out their beliefs, rather than of the beliefs themselves. Amendment No. 20, which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) tabled, tries to deal with that matter.
Fourthly, the only realistic way in which to move forward when dealing with religious issues is to target unacceptable action and ignore religious justifications. That is the exact opposite of the aim of clause 38. It therefore follows that the wrong that the Bill seeks to set right should not be tackled by religious legislation. We should rely on existing legislation, tightened up if necessary, because it provides ample opportunities to act.
I oppose clause 38 for two reasons. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said, it has almost nothing to do with the main purpose of the Bill, which is to protect us from terrorism. I accept that the Home Secretary is seeking to address a genuine social
Secondly, the clause plays straight into the hands of the perverted and the downright dangerous who justify their actions as part of their religious belief in and worship of a supreme being. Such people and groups will welcome the protection offered by clause 38. Such antisocial groups crave acceptance and respectability, which clause 38 would give them for their religious beliefs, and protection from scrutiny, exposure and criticism, which the clause would also provide.
The Bill will be an invitation to every religious group or cult to claim that it is a mainstream religion entitled to the protection of the law. It would be impossible, however hard the Home Secretary tried, to draw a distinction. The Bill will enable such groups to demand the prosecutionthe silencingof people such as me for denouncing them in the way that they so richly deserve. In case hon. Members think that I am exaggerating, I shall give them an example of what I have in mind.
There is a religious group that calls itself "The Family". It used to call itself "The Children of God". Its origins lie in the American Jesus movement of the 1960s. At the outset, its founder, David Berg, preached a doctrine of rebellion, communal life, rigid discipline and intensive Bible study. So far, probably in most people's book, so good. But, as time went by, Berg developed a doctrine of no action being wrong if done "in the spirit." The result was what I and anyone else who has studied this movement consider to be totally unacceptable sexual, anti-semitic and world revolutionary activity and behaviour. For example, Berg requires his women followers to become prostitutes. Instruction pamphlets that he has written, entitled "God wants me to be a stripper" and "God's whores", make that point, and I have copies, if anyone doubts that they exist. Do we want to protect organisations that produce this sort of material and act out the instructions?
It gets worse. Berg interpreted the New Testament's