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Chris Bryant : If that was all established at such an early date, how come the Catholic emancipation Act did not happen until 1829?

Mr. McWalter: My hon. Friend raises a good point. Interestingly, even at that stage, "A Letter Concerning Toleration", which is in many ways a foundation of our society's view on what is to be accepted, stopped short of tolerating Catholics. It did so because although the principle behind Locke's thinking was that we must never seek to criminalise what someone thinks, we can criminalise what someone overtly does.

At that stage, as my hon. Friend knows, some held the strong view that those who went to a Catholic mass were showing deference to a foreign power. That foreign power was in conflict with the monarch. Hence, there was a sense in which someone who professed such a view might, by that act as opposed to what they thought, be deemed to be acting treasonably.

I have mentioned that a creed has a positive agenda, but most creeds also have not simply a set of positives—lights by which one might live one's life—but a theory about where darkness lies. That involves the things that are deemed by that creed to be opposed to it, odious or even worthy of there being visited on those who profess those beliefs a sentence of death, or perhaps eternal death, which is damnation. That is the dark side of creed.

Historically—I do not have to go to Darth Vader for my religions—if we consider the rise of Protestantism, we see that Calvinism professed many of the same positive aspects as Lutheranism. What was etched much more clearly into its fabric, however, was a theory about how odious, contemptible and disgusting the Catholic faith was. That was not merely in words in Calvinistic articles. As the hon. Member for Castle Point said, such beliefs can sometimes be corrosive of society, and Calvinism was constitutive of the society and character of Switzerland in the 16th century and later.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting contribution to the debate. He talks about the dark side of creeds, but is he not really talking about the nature of tolerance? Tolerance is not indivisible. We exercise tolerance in the context of a wider range of ethical considerations. Of course we do not tolerate cruelty, wickedness or hatred. He is not talking about creeds so much as the nature of the human condition, in all its imperfection.

Mr. McWalter: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. First, there is a small distinction between toleration and tolerance. One of the things that got built into our system was toleration. That was saying not that every creed had the same value—clearly, some creeds had better value than others—but that we would at least not seek to gainsay the practices of those who profess other ideas.

The crucial point is that a kind of anodised version of religion characterises the Government's view both in this debate and the previous debate. That anodised view
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thinks only about religions in terms of the light side—in terms of what they enjoin positively and the extent to which families, cultures and people are bound together by that set of beliefs. That is why we want to tolerate different belief systems—people have the right to conduct their lives in that way. We must be vigilant, however, about the extent to which people sometimes profess creeds that express deep, vengeful and murderous intolerance. Sixteenth-century Calvinism was such a belief. Incidentally, I do not know the extent to which these remarks will be seen as negative by large numbers of my constituents. It was such a belief, however, and from what little I know about it now, it may still be.

One of the reasons why Calvinism was such a vengeful and murderous creed, and why its state wished to extirpate anyone who did not profess it, was that there had been a Catholic inquisition 40 years before. Calvinists therefore saw the people whom they were vilifying as destroying the lives of dissenters. Some might say that their extreme hostility to Catholicism, which is etched into Calvin's work, had the justification of those earlier events.

Within the notion of a creed, we have a right to be vigilant about whether there are people in our society who profess a creed that has a capacity for an intense negative and dark side.

I think that, as leaders of the nation, we owe it to the nation to be vigilant. We are the custodians of John Locke's views, although they were expressed imperfectly at the time. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) was right about that. We are the custodians of that tradition, and it is right for us to be vigilant in ensuring that the beliefs people express do not go beyond the bounds of what is acceptable to society.

Mr. Hayes: The conflict, or at least contrast, between dark and light that the hon. Gentleman is describing lies at the heart of almost every major religion. Nearly every religion I can think of—although this may not be true of all of them—marks a journey from darkness to light, and redemption depends on that journey. Surely legislating against that would fly in the face of all the principal faiths in the country.

Mr. McWalter: I am not suggesting that we should legislate against it. I am saying that it is right for a society to be vigilant—in its education system, for instance—about making people aware of some of the beliefs to which they subscribe. If people emerge from our education system with an anodised version of religion, that may not do the history of religion much justice. Ideas, creeds and beliefs are forces for good, for integration and the structuring of decent life, but they can also be forces of destruction, capable of exerting pressure on people to behave in all sorts of unacceptable ways.

I have a particular reason for raising this issue: 3 per cent. of my constituents are Muslim. I have met them on the doorstep and elsewhere, and I am particularly concerned about some of the younger adherents to their creed—and, indeed, younger adherents to other creeds as well. They often express their views in a particularly harsh and stark way. Perhaps as we get older we start to
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become more mellow, and less inclined to see those who are not with us as being against us; but some of the views expressed by some of my more excitable Muslim constituents give me cause for concern. Opinions on the status of heretics and, in particular, the status of apostates who turn against the religion into which they were born are expressed very crudely by some younger Muslims, and could easily get them into trouble. I agree with the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which fears that their religion could well be used against Muslim communities. Muslim representatives themselves express contrasting views, but the evidence I have seen strongly suggests that that could happen.

Many other people also profess their beliefs very stridently. It is much easier to hear about what and whom they dislike and hate than about what their positive message might be. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle that the proposal in the Bill is well-intentioned, that we all know that it would not be there if the British National party had not decided to attack Muslims rather than, say, people who are black. That is the origin of this measure, which will factor in this anodised version of religion. If there are still Calvinists of the sort that I mentioned, or even Torquemada Catholics, it will be impossible for us to say, "Those people have a creed that is hateful, and we must do what we can to ensure that it is extinguished."

Andrew Selous : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we currently have a law that protects Muslims, but not one that protects Islam? The two are different.

Mr. McWalter: Members of any religion are much more likely to take offence than those who hold less strong views. Most people in our society are fairly ignorant of such matters, myself included. I do not know enough about Sikhism to be able to delineate its dark side. But through education, we perhaps manage to convince all people that they should try to look honestly at their beliefs, reflect on them and see whether they have a tendency to conduce to bad behaviour in certain circumstances in a multiracial, multi-religious society. That is one of our society's values, and we bring it to those of different religious persuasions.

It is unlikely that the Government will rein back on this provision, but I reiterate what I said at the beginning of this short speech—[Interruption.] It is not so short now. This is a good Bill that contains lots of valuable things, but schedule 10 is not of value and I hope that the Government will resile from pushing it through on Report and Third Reading.

5.2 pm

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP): On listening to the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) go on at length about the dark side, it struck me that the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) perhaps had a point in mentioning the Jedi knights. He will doubtless now have a huge mailbag from obsessive science fiction fans, explaining the true place of Darth Vader in the Jedi religion. Fortunately or otherwise, the part of the Bill in question does not apply to Scotland, so I shall quietly side-step this issue, leave it to the Scottish Parliament to deal with its own version of that provision, and address instead the nitty-gritty issues relating to the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
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I should say at the outset that we in the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru acknowledge that there is merit in the idea of cross-border co-operation in dealing with serious organised crime. We are not opposed to the Bill and we recognise the need for an organisation such as SOCA, but we have some serious reservations about the detail and, so far as the SNP is concerned, particular aspects relating to Scotland. SOCA's creation is a further indication of a move away from crime fighting on the ground and towards a more intelligence-led system. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead spoke of the "Dixon of Dock Green" approach, but there is a balance to be struck between such a traditional approach and a completely technological one. I fully appreciate that a great deal of intelligence information is required to deal with organised crime successfully, but it is also essential to have people on the ground.

SOCA will deal with many of the aspects of organised crime previously dealt with by Customs and Excise, which has moved toward intelligence-led operations. The Scottish Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, examined the operation of the Customs service in Scotland, and it is fair to say that we were less than impressed with the impact of this intelligence-led service. Many of our smaller ports do not have adequate Customs cover, and there is some evidence that many of those involved in the drugs trade regard the smaller ports as an easy route to getting illegal drugs into the UK. I suspect that that is increasingly true of people smuggling and other organised crime activities.

I refer the Under-Secretary to the final paragraph of the fourth report by the Scottish Affairs Committee:

Those concerns remain, and they probably apply to other parts of the UK. Indeed, the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) made a similar point about his constituency. If SOCA is to be truly successful in defeating trafficking and other obnoxious organised crime, it must have sufficient officers on the ground throughout the UK, and should not rely entirely on remote intelligence. This morning, Sir Stephen Lander, the designated head of SOCA, noted on the "Today" programme that much organised crime in the UK originates abroad, so points of entry into the UK would be of essential interest to the agency. At many smaller ports, however, there is not even a fisheries protection officer, let alone a representative from Customs and Excise, so many of them could be used as points of entry for the import of illegal substances and for other obnoxious trades.

The Public and Commercial Services Union has expressed concern about the resourcing of SOCA, as there appears to be little new money to set up the agency, which is expected to be cost-neutral in its first two years.
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Are cuts in other crime fighting agencies inevitable if it is to be fully financed? The concern expressed by the Scottish Affairs Committee comes into even sharper focus, as there is likely to be a reduction in the provision for many remote and rural areas. If smaller-scale drug smuggling is not deemed a sufficiently serious problem, it could be overlooked. SOCA's objective should be to stop the drugs trade and other such activities, not shift the focus on to larger operators.

In preparing for our debate, I asked a parliamentary question to ascertain how many Customs officers were employed in Scotland. I was told:

I would be grateful if the Minister clarified SOCA's intentions regarding the number of staff to be based in Scotland. Presumably, some Customs officers would be transferred or seconded, but how many officers will undertake other SOCA duties in Scotland?

We are concerned about the annual plan and strategic priorities that are to be set by the Home Secretary. Under the Bill, he is required to consult Scottish Ministers, but it is not clear what will happen if they disagree. Scottish Ministers do not have the power to veto the way in which the agency operates in Scotland. Indeed, there is confusion about the Home Secretary's role in relation to the operation of SOCA in Scotland. Under clauses 8 and 9, which deal with the annual plan and strategic priorities, he must consult, but under clause 24, which deals with the power to give direction to a police authority, he must secure the agreement of Scottish Ministers. If the Home Secretary can set SOCA's priorities, effectively he has the power to give direction to police authorities, irrespective of clause 24. Will the Under-Secretary clarify that that is the case, and that by using those powers the Home Secretary will have the right to direct the operation of police in Scotland, at least within the ambit of SOCA's investigations? If that interpretation is correct, it is unacceptable and I shall seek a strengthening of the power of the Scottish Minister so that there is more than consultation. As perhaps envisaged in clause 24, there should be agreement on the operation of SOCA in Scotland, as crime is a devolved matter. I am surprised that Scottish Ministers did not insist on that.The same applies to the code of practice in clause 11, where again there is only a requirement to consult.

On the Bill more generally, there appears to be a lack of a clear definition of serious organised crime. The original White Paper provided a definition, albeit a somewhat woolly one. It could be argued that one would know serious organised crime when one saw it, but that might not necessarily be so, especially at the outset of an investigation. There seems to be no brake on what the Home Secretary decides is serious organised crime. There has already been discussion today about Travellers, for example. One hon. Member spoke about computer viruses, which may be organised crime if used, for example, to undermine computer systems for the purpose of stealing money, although that may not be the work of a single hacker. Another hon. Member assumed that paedophilia would not be within the scope
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of the Bill, but the activities of such rings—on the internet, for example—could be defined as serious organised crime. Some effort must be made to decide what serious organised crime is.

Given the absence of a definition and the fact that the Home Secretary can determine priorities, there is no long-term plan for the agency. That is fundamental to dealing with serious organised crime, however it is eventually defined. As the Bill is drafted, the agency could be subject to changing political priorities as Governments change.

From a Scottish perspective, the greatest concern relates to operational matters in clauses 23 to 25. Clauses 24 and 25 in particular cause us severe problems, as they relate to officers being seconded from police forces to SOCA, and vice versa. The most serious difficulty is that a civilian member of SOCA with no training in or understanding of Scots law and procedure could act with the powers of a police constable in Scotland. That raises serious questions not only about undermining police forces, but about the potentially disastrous consequences of not acting in accordance with Scots law or procedure, which could allow those caught in a SOCA investigation to get off on a technicality.

I raised the matter earlier in an intervention, but in his usual manner the Home Secretary brushed it off as not being of any great importance. He mentioned that officers had operated successfully with the French authorities on immigration. That may well be true, but I am sure they did not act independently of the French authorities on French soil, which effectively could happen in the agency. It is not a trivial or purely legalistic point. If the proper procedures are not carried out, there could be serious consequences for the whole investigation. After the investigation and charge stage, the Lord Advocate and the Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland take over the case and it would go through the Scottish procedure thereafter, so there is the potential for huge difficulty.

It would be unacceptable if SOCA could authorise any officer in its employment to operate with the powers of a police constable in Scotland without any knowledge of the difference between English and Scots law and procedure. I urge the Minister to reconsider the provision and ensure that proper training is provided. I accept that it might be necessary for a SOCA officer from south of the border to be seconded to an investigation in Scotland, but only with proper training.

Interestingly, the Police Federation of England and Wales also raised concerns about the clause, from the opposite point of view, arguing that if a police officer transfers to SOCA, he could lose his status as an officer of the Crown. That problem has also been raised before, and deserves more consideration.

The Law Society of Scotland has raised another point in relation to clause 46, which deals with the assault and obstruction of SOCA officers. There appears to be a discrepancy that could result in there being a variation in the maximum sentence for that crime. The society says that the maximum sentence that can be imposed in Scotland under the clause is 12 months in prison, but that the maximum for the analogous crime under section 41 of the Police (Scotland) Act 2002 is nine months.
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The maximum sentence possible for assaulting police officers or other emergency workers under the new Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill, which is currently before the Scottish Parliament, is also nine months. It would seem illogical to have different sentences for the same crime. I appreciate that the Scottish Parliament might want to consider increasing the maximum sentence that it allows, rather than the other way around, and that that would probably be the best way to deal with the problem.

As the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) noted earlier, the PCS union has raised concerns about the resources available to SOCA to employ its own staff at competitive terms and conditions. If staff are to be seconded from other departments on better terms and conditions than those available to full-time SOCA staff—and given that staff may be coming from various agencies, there is a clear danger that that might happen—and if they are doing the same work, that could create a two-tier work force and all the resentment and problems that go with that. If SOCA is to be the success that we all want it to be, it must be properly resourced to avoid those problems.

In conclusion, I repeat that we support SOCA in principle and can see the logic behind it. It will have an important part to play in dealing with organised crime which, by its very nature, tends to be cross-border. However, there are serious concerns about the aspects of the Bill that I have mentioned. I hope that the Minister will take some of them on board. We do not oppose the measure and hope to see SOCA in operation, but we hope that Scots law and procedure are properly protected in the final version of the Bill.

5.17 pm

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