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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): Will the hon. Gentleman please explain how a prohibition of religious hatred against peopleequivalent to the present prohibition of inciting racial hatredthat protects Jews on the basis of their faith, would stop the quite proper activities that he is describing on the part of Christian organisations? I think that the hon. Gentleman is misled, and he has not explained how the consequences that he fears will be brought about under the Bill.
Bob Spink: The Christian Institute certainly believes that there are dangers in the Bill as drafted. It is worried, for example, about dealing with the actions that Muslims sometimes take against people who convert from Islam to Christianity, in case that is regarded as incitement to religious hatred. That is the point. If the Minister believes that the Bill should go further than the current protection that the law provides against incitement to violence or any criminal acts, perhaps she will explain why she believes that it is necessary.
Present law protects people not only against incitement to violence, but against
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incitement to racial hatred. The courts decided that two religious groups, the Jews and Sikhs, were covered by that protection, though it has to be said that that law has not stopped some of our comedians from making pretty florid racist jokes, so the hon. Gentleman's charge that humour would be silenced seems ill founded. Currently, only Jews and Sikhs are protected against incitement to hatred on the basis of their faith; Christians and Muslims are not protected in that way, and they deserve the same protection.
Fiona Mactaggart: For the last time, it is true that the law protects people against incitement to commit a criminal act, and it also provides further protection against incitement to racial hatred. In a secretly filmed documentary, the British National party leader, Nick Griffin, said that he could not say the things that he said about Muslims about black people, because that would contravene the law on incitement to racial hatred, but he could say them about Muslims, because that was not illegal.
I shall move on. We must be free to tell the truth to expose human rights abuses, and others must have the right to criticise us for what we do and how we do it. In any event, the religious hatred proposal is technically flawed. Paragraph 3 of schedule 10 does not even define what constitutes a religious belief or a lack of religious belief. Everyone, from atheists to animists and from humanists to Hindus, has cause to worry about the uncertainty within the proposals. Only lawyers are celebrating the Bill, because they will benefit greatly in wealth and in work from its great uncertainties.
"Glenn Hoddle's remark that the disabled may be being punished for sin in a former life was silly, but should it be criminal? It's a point of view. A few hundred million adherents to reincarnationalist faiths hold it. May I not mock the fallacy of reincarnationism? The new law will lead to trouble and confusion. Leave it alone, Mr. Blunkett."
Chris Bryant : Is it not ironic that the same journalist argued that Buttiglione should not remain as a commissioner, because of his views? At one moment Matthew Parris wants tolerance; at another, he does not.
The hon. Gentleman has made his pointno doubt he will meet Matthew Parris in the newspapers on that issue. Some people think that Matthew Parris should be locked up. I do not happen to think so, but surely he should not be at risk of being locked up for
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expressing his opinion about somebody's belief. Incidentally, Glenn Hoddle was today appointed the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers, and we all wish him well.
Let us examine the Australian law on religious vilification, dating from 2001. On 9 November, The Times law page revealed that two Christian pastors were being prosecuted for criticising Islam by drawing attention to the teachings of the Koran and questioning Islam's compatibility with western democracy. Those pastors read out quotations from the Koran at a seminar, and were reported to the Islamic Council of Victoria, which took the case to court. The court sat for three days, and the case ran for almost eight months. Indeed, it may still be runningno doubt Matthew Parris will tell us tomorrow. On the back of that case, however, another similar case has been launched. That is, of course, nonsense, which we do not need in this country. We should not corrupt a good Bill with an ill-thought-out measure. The religious hatred provision should be dropped.
"The Government's aim is to strengthen the link between the police and the community, increase the accountability and responsiveness of the police service and build the confidence and awareness of the community."
I agree with those words, but the trouble is that they are only words. To our cost, we know that the Government are all talk and no action, and it is by their actions that we shall know them. How will they act to improve the 999 call service, which has become a joke in many areas? When will they stop closing our police stations and making them part-time? In Castle Point we now have only two, part-time, police stationsone in Benfleet and one on Canvey Island. I want those to remain open, and open for longer if possible. Canvey Island police station was closed at one stage last year; I fought to get it reopened, with the help of the excellent Councillor Ray Howard, and we succeeded. We want to ensure that both police stations stay open.
In Castle Point we are lucky to have a very good police force with dedicated professional constables and officers and excellent leadership from Chief Superintendent John Mauger. Local detection rates are increasing; our local crime levels, having risen for some time, are falling; and our dedicated and tough antisocial behaviour order team has made a great start, with some 35 arrests in recent weeks. We now have in place six or so ASBOs, which have dramatically reduced street crime. I welcome the measures in the Bill to extend ASBO powers and to give triggers to local councillors, but we need to take much tougher action when ASBOs are breached if they are not to fall into disrepute. The Government must deal with that problem.
I congratulate our local police. They need more help, not less, but the Government gave them a rise of only a 3.75 per cent. this year, although they needed 5.75 per cent.an additional £2 millionsimply to stand still. They must get that if they are to make use of the powers in the Bill.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although the current penalties for breaching ASBOs are quite severe, the probability of someone who does so
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having those penalties visited on them is too low? The problem is not the sentence, but the probability of its being applied.
Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman speaks wisely; he is absolutely right. The courts are not taking breaches of ASBOs seriously enough. I can cite a specific case. A police team in my constituency did 120 hours' work to bring a case involving a very serious breach of an ASBO, but the person concerned got only 20 hours' community service. That is complete nonsense. ASBOs will be brought into disrepute if the courts do not take appropriate action.
Labour is targeting Castle Point for 4,000 more houses, but reducing our police funding in real terms. It is also targeting Castle Point as a seat that it wants to win in the general election. It will be judged, as I will, on actions, hard work and commitment to local people. I am very happy to submit myself to them, and I think that they will speak for me at the next election.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), particularly since the vast majority of his speech was taken up with the virtues of the Bill. Given that he welcomes its overall drift, even though he takes exception to certain provisionsas, indeed, do II hope that he, as well as many of his hon. Friends, will vote for its Second Reading.
In some ways, the Bill seeks to combat a "Dixon of Dock Green" approach to policing and crime. Huge numbers of people in our society would find that approach amusing and easily avoided when they contemplate nefarious behaviour.
The Bill brings together several agencies in order to take serious crime really seriously. That is welcome. As we have heard, it includes provisions relating to people who have been caught up in illegal immigration and are effectively imprisoned in brothels. Having come from another country, they are forced to perform sexual acts for their miserable living.
I recently graduated from the police service parliamentary scheme, and during my time with it we carried out a joint raid on one such house. There was an extremely young girl thereshe could only have been about 14who had been taken from Thailand and placed in the house. When the police arrived, she was overcome with joy that she had been rescued from her desperate servitude. When she was told that she would be on a plane the very next morning and that she was to be reunited with her family, she was ecstatic. She cried tears of joy at being liberated from her miserable circumstances.
That was a joint operation between the immigration service and the police service, but I had a sense that it was partly a show being put on for me as a Member of Parliament. I felt that such joint operations were not conducted frequently enough, and that the barriers between the operational systems of the two services seemed to be sufficiently high that, although that particular success was welcome, such successes were not being achieved regularly enough.
The Bill tries to link the operations of all the different services. It also tries to attack the gangs involved in those activities and the financing operations that lie
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behind the gangs. The extension of provisions relating to the proceeds of crime is also an extremely welcome part of the Bill. I look forward to all those proposals receiving strong support.
I should like to add a footnote to an exchange that I had earlier with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) about clause 58. I queried whether, in her understanding, the clause would exempt journalists from the provisions on disclosure notices. I was worried that there was no explicit reference to journalists in the clause and, having taken other advice, I am still not clear about that. I know that the explanatory notes to the Bill say that the intention is to ensure that journalists cannot be subject to those processes, but I am not sure whether the wording of the Bill has quite achieved that purpose. If I am selected to serve on the Committee, I shall look forward to working out a way of making it more explicit that a clear exemption for journalists exists in this regard.
Like most hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), I remain as entirely unconvinced by the provisions governing incitement to religious hatred as I was when these matters last came before us. I voted against them at that time. I suppose that, if that debars me from serving on the Committee, I shall not have the opportunity to raise the issue at that stage, but I give notice to the Whips and the Minister that I fully intend to raise it on Report, if that is the earliest opportunity I have to do so.
A number of fundamental matters are at issue concerning the kind of country that we have and the kind of provisions that we make to manage the extraordinary diversity of views within it. People have suggested that we are simply extending to Muslims and Christians provision that is already available for Sikhs and Jews, but that is not what the Bill says. It says some specific things about those of some religion, or indeed none. Anybody expressing a creed is to be protected from other people inciting others to hatred of those people who are held to be professors of that creed.
A good thing about creedsa bad thing about them, perhapsis that people who say what they believe in have a positive agenda on their values, the kind of society they wish our society to be, the kind of person they want to be, the kind of families they think are the best structured and so on. They profess a range of positive things.
Let us consider certain aspects of a creed. For example, it is etched strongly into Britain that all people should have the right to develop and subscribe to whatever creed they want. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) claimed that Labour Members have, apparently, no sense of history and he quoted a bit of history to illustrate his credentials. The truth is that the notion that everybody has the right to profess their creed is strongly etched into our constitution, courtesy of the work of John Locke in his essay "A Letter Concerning Toleration" and in "The
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Second Treatise of Civil Government" of 1689, which consolidated a view of our society that was put in place by the so-called Glorious Revolution.
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