Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): This has been a fascinating debate. I feel that I have never learned so much in a speech, short or long, as I did when I listened to the contribution about the dark side from my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter).

I welcome the Bill, in the broadest sense. I suspect that it contains many provisions on which most hon. Members will be able to agree when the time comes to vote. I shall say something about two particular measures, and then touch on the issue that has exercised so many contributors to the debate this afternoon—the incitement to religious hatred.

First, I welcome the provisions in respect of uninsured drivers and the powers that the police will have to take their cars away. Clause 131 amends the Road Traffic Act 1988. On June 10, I parked my car in Clydach vale while I waited to drive people to the polling station. Unfortunately, somebody drove into the side of my car. I was stationary at the time and it took three months before we discovered that the other driver was uninsured. I am therefore as aware as anyone else of the hassle that is caused to innocent drivers, and of the problems that arise in terms of increased premiums in subsequent years. The problem of uninsured drivers affects an increasing number of people, and the Bill will go some way to helping with that.However, in none of the Bills presented by the Government this autumn is there any measure to ensure that cars are insured. That
7 Dec 2004 : Column 1111
problem will remain as long as we ensure only that a car is insured on the single day that it takes to tax it. I hope that the Government will bear in mind the campaign undertaken by many hon. Members to ensure that all cars are insured.

Some redrafting may be required, however. According to clause 131, the constable is allowed to stop a car and demand insurance details under section 165 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. However, clause 131(5) states:

My hon. Friend the Minister may wish to reflect that it might be difficult for a police constable to ask the driver of a car for the required information if the car has not stopped. It may be necessary to redraft that provision. In any event, I welcome the intent.

I also welcome the provisions on fireworks, which will tighten up legislation on which we started work last year. I know that many of my constituents have been relieved that this year has been a better year than last in terms of the number of youngsters carrying fireworks around and of fireworks being thrown in the streets, because we have tightened up the law on the sale of fireworks. However, clause 106 is welcome because it will give the police power to stop and search under-18s who might be in possession of a firework in a public place, as well as adults who are not firework professionals but who might be carrying category 4 fireworks, which are demonstration fireworks and—to all intents and purposes—are not much different from a bomb. That provision is welcome and I know that my constituents will be grateful.

While listening to some of the debate this afternoon on the provisions on incitement to religious hatred, I have felt that some of the arguments posed have been overstated and hyperbolic. Some hon. Members have created Aunt Sallies, suggesting that the legislation will do something that it patently is not intended to do nor has any likelihood of doing. It is a question of righting a simple injustice. Public order legislation already provides for the prevention of incitement to racial hatred. As has already been explained this afternoon, the courts have determined that that applies to Jews and Sikhs, for whom their ethnicity and their faith are intimately connected. In fact, that is true for many people of many different faiths. Many of those who are brought up as Catholics remain cultural Catholics whether they maintain that faith or renounce it. Even those who have become "notorious apostates", in the words of the Catholic Church, are none the less Catholics. Many people in Northern Ireland and other areas of the country with a serious sectarian divide will know that it is difficult to differentiate somebody's faith from their personal circumstances.

Those who have argued this afternoon that faith is always a choice are wrong both in fact and in Christian doctrine, which has always described faith as a gift, not a choice. The other reason it is important to right the
7 Dec 2004 : Column 1112
injustice—that Jews, Sikhs and others are protected from hatred, but Muslims are not—is because there is significant Islamophobia in this land.

Mr. McWalter: On the theological point that my hon. Friend has raised, it should be borne in mind that faith is a gift offered that one has the right to reject or accept through the exercise of free will. It is still a choice.

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend entices me into an area of theological debate in which the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) and others might wish to participate. We might talk about prevenient grace and double predestination, to which my hon. Friend effectively referred when he mentioned Calvinism. However, now is probably not the time to debate such issues as you might call me to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Islamophobia is a serious issue that affects many communities, not only those with a large congregation of Muslims, in cities such as Bradford or in the east end of London, but those with small numbers of Muslims. Where there are only two or three Muslims in a community, they can often feel far more isolated and can be subject to quite sustained personal vilification and harassment on the basis partly of their colour, but often, too, of their religion. This country should not countenance that. Far from the accusation that the clause will be intolerant towards religious expression, I believe it to be a statement of Britain's inclusiveness and its acceptance and toleration of different faiths.

Islamophobia is sometimes deliberate and sometimes casual. It is a great shame that so few people in this country understand the basic tenets of Islam. Remarkably few of us, even in the House, properly understand what jihad is. We completely fail to understand it when we describe it as a crusade; the concept is very different from that.

It is a shame that most religious studies courses in our universities are entirely confessional and vocational, for all sorts of historical reasons. I am an external adviser for the Oxford MA degree in theology and it saddens me that, for that degree, although one can study many of the Calvinist teachers of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, one is still unable to study many of the great Jewish or Islamic teachers. Only when we can turn that around will we have a chance of understanding Islam properly and of binding that community fully into the heart of British society.

We need to make a move because the existing loophole has been regularly and deliberately used by those who want to foster racial and religious unrest—those who dislike people who do not fit into their white perception of how Britain should be. I am talking primarily of the British National party but people in other organisations have deliberately used the loophole, too. Earlier, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), referred to a BBC television programme that showed how the BNP are doing so.

Violence of any kind towards any person, whatever their religion, is obviously wrong. Setting fire to people's homes, attacking synagogues, gurdwaras or mosques, sending horrible literature or putting excrement through people's front doors because of their race or religion is
7 Dec 2004 : Column 1113
wrong and it is already covered by the law. However, while we allow a culture of hatred towards different religions to exist in this country, we enable that violence to grow in society. That is the menace I want to prevent by bringing the clause into law.

Some false arguments have been made this afternoon. We have heard much of the argument that the clause will harm freedom of religious expression, yet half the time the piece of religious expression that people seem to want to have the freedom to exercise is the freedom to hate other people. That is so distant from my understanding of any religion that I have come across that I find it rather difficult to comprehend.

As we heard when we debated this matter the first time around in 2001, there is an argument that people should have the freedom to make the Westminster confession. The Westminster confession is robust in its attack on the Roman Catholic Church or the Catholic Church—or the whore of Babylon as it is referred to in some of the documentation that was produced at the time. I agree that people should have the right to make the Westminster confession. They should have a perfect right to criticise the views of the Pope and to disagree with Cardinal Ratzinger and the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. There are large areas of theological dispute that I could have with them, but it is not a limit to freedom of expression to say that one should not incite people to hate Catholics.

Similarly, in the 19th century, when Christmas trees came into fashion in this country, many Calvinists believed that they were a terrible thing and that Britain was going back to its pagan roots as well as adopting Catholic symbols because people were celebrating Christmas. Some people may argue forcefully that all such celebration is wrong, which is fine. What is unacceptable is then to argue that those people who have Christmas trees in their windows or who celebrate Christmas are lesser people in society than anyone else and to foster hatred against those people, because out of hatred comes violence. I believe that it is perfectly possible in law to draw a distinction between incitement to religious hatred and forcefully holding a different theological position.

Another argument that has been advanced this afternoon—by some hon. Members of considerable standing in the House, so I am slightly surprised—is that there is no need to prove the intent to incite religious hatred and that that goes a step further than the Public Order Act 1986. In fact, that Act contains no provision to prove intent to incite racial hatred. The provision relates to intent, to provoking a breach of the peace or to the likelihood of such a breach of the peace being created. There is an exact parallel with incitement to religious hatred.

The shadow Home Secretary said in a rather curious speech, which ended extremely abruptly, that the United Kingdom had always been tolerant of other religions. That is profoundly untrue. We do not need to take a great lesson in the religious history of the United Kingdom to know that the Jews in York and in many other parts of this country, such as the east end of London, have suffered serious attacks throughout the
7 Dec 2004 : Column 1114
centuries. The United State of America was founded in large measure on the back of religious dissidents who left this country because they found it intolerant.

Next Section IndexHome Page