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Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I want to begin by apologising to the House for not being present for some of this afternoon's debate; I was speaking in a Westminster Hall debate that was taking place at the same time.
It is the proper function of a responsible Opposition to applaud the Government when they get things right, as well as criticising them and suggesting alternative proposals when they get things wrong. It is acknowledged in all parts of the House that almost everything in the Bill is welcome, and quite properly so. I do not intend to go through all its provisions, but I should point out that those relating to uninsured drivers are particularly welcome. I know from my constituents the anxiety and upset that this issue causes; indeed, I am myself the former victim of an uninsured driver, so I know from personal experience how upsetting such an experience can be.
Like many Members who have spoken this afternoon, I want to discuss clause 119 and schedule 10, and I make absolutely no apology for doing so. It is the proper
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function of this House to discuss, debate and tease out controversial issues, and it is clear that these provisions are the subject of a great deal of public interest.
Mr. Heath: As the hon. Gentleman says, he is one of several Members who have chosen to concentrate on clause 119 and schedule 10, which leads me to think that we have had a rather unbalanced debate on this large Bill. Indeed, this confirms my view that the right thing for the Government to do is withdraw the clause and schedule and reintroduce them in a separate Bill, in order to accomplish the specific purpose for which they are intended.
It is always important to acknowledge good motives in politics, and certainly on the part of one's opponents. The Home Secretary referred to his having a noble motive in introducing the provision relating to the incitement of religious hatred. It is deeply hurtful and upsetting to be attacked because of one's faith or to experience one's religion being vilified and ridiculed. Many Christians in this country would probably say that they are the butt of adverse humour and believe that many aspects of public life challenge the faith that they hold dear, so I understand the Government's motives in including the clause in the Bill. We should all be moderate in our use of language, but it is especially important for people who are in positions of public prominence. We should not overlook the value of censure. We do not always have to resort to law, and public opprobrium can be used to rebuke people who do not use moderate language. Recently, some comedians experienced public censure when one of them overstepped the line.
This is clearly not a party political matter, as Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about clause 119 and schedule 10. There are three reasons why we should be wary of those provisions and treat them with circumspection. First, the existing criminal law is fairly robust, and protects everyone from criminal acts and incitement to commit such acts. Since 2001, religiously aggravated offences have been introduced, further strengthening the law. Viscount Colville of Culross, who chaired the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales, said:
"There is a very substantial amount of criminal law relating to incitement . . . It is much more positive and less abstract than some people may think . . . a good deal of criminal law is available . . . I do not believe that it has all yet been tried out before we invent something else."[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 April 2004: Vol. 660; c.4467.]
That is an important point. There is already a vast amount of legislation on the statute book. The problem is enforcement. To digress for a moment, I am particularly pleased that my party has policies to recruit an extra 5,000 police a year. That is the right approach; we do not always need to introduce more laws. The existing law on incitement is much stronger than we have been led to believe by Ministers.
Secondly, on freedom of speech, there have been a number of worrying incidents. Recently, the Bishop of Chester was reported to the police for remarks that he
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made in a sermon in the normal course of his business. It is worrying that the thought police are already investigating what happens in the pulpit. Furthermore, a pastor in Scandinavia was recently sent to jail for a month for making certain remarks in a sermon. It is a paradox of religious faith that it has the power to offend and upset but, at the same time, to give great comfort, satisfaction, joy and contentment to many people. Because of the exclusive claims of many faiths, they inevitably cause upset and offence to many other people. It is in the nature of many faiths to evangelise, which may also cause offence. It is incredibly important that we do not restrict the freedom of people of faith to express themselves fully in the way that they believe their faith calls them to do.
We need to look at what has happened in other jurisdictions where Governments have introduced a similar type of law. In March 2002, a Christian group organised a seminar in Australia. It was a private meeting at which three recent converts to Islam sat at the back and took notes. What they heard caused offence to them, although one can argue about whether what was said was offensive. The Bill refers to words, material or recording
a similar situation. As a result of a complaint, the case was taken to court. It has been in the Australian courts for seven months and has become bogged down in the Australian legal system. It is a worrying precedent that we ought to bear in mind.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): We have had an interesting and useful debate. It lacked the party political controversy of some of our discussions, and some extremely interesting speeches were made. I shall try to respond to a number of points made in the debate, but I start by emphasising that in the past, when there has been substantial agreement between both sides of the House, there has often been acute danger ahead for us.
The Bill, which we will not oppose on Second Reading, is something of a Christmas tree, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who speaks for the Liberal party, described it in his opening remarks. I agree and place on record our gratitude to NCIS and the National Crime Squad for what they have done. I also underline what he said about the national witness protection scheme. When I recently visited Nottingham to meet Mothers Against Guns, they eloquently stressed the importance of the scheme.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome expressed reservations about the new powers for community support officers and cited the 50 measures on law and order that have been introduced by the Government in the past seven years. It is clear from what he said that in Committee he and I will have much in common on our agenda.
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The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) spat out his support for those on his Front Bench and looked much better once he got that off his chest. He warned us not to over-flatter the criminals' success and inveighed against the Government's plans to deal with religious hatred, praising the motivation but pinpointing the dangers in practical terms. I very much agree.
The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who must be preoccupied today with his other duties, in which we all wish him wisdom and judgment, pointed out that religion is a matter of choice, whereas race is a matter of fact. He stressed that the two concepts should not be confused.
The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) made a wide-ranging speech in which he dealt with matters such as the proceeds of crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said that there had been far too many measures on law and order50since the Government came to office. He accused the Government of confusing activity with progress.
The hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) made a really interesting speech. She agreed with the formation of SOCA and talked about people trafficking and drugs. She made two key points, on funding and on the danger that SOCA would act as a magnet for the best of our police forces. I shall return to both matters later.
The hon. and learned Member for Redcar also made a number of technical points about disclosure notices. We are concerned that clause 56 goes too wide and that it allows powers to be exercised by a constable, whereas previous legislation required authorisation to be obtained at a very high level. We shall want to look at this matter in Committee. She also mentioned the pivotal role of the custody sergeant and spoke of the dangers of civilianising that post. I thought that she completely demolished the Government's case, and I hope that Ministers will consider what she had to say very carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) made an excellent and moving speech in which he inveighed against people trafficking and the vile trade in children, women and men who are exploited and degraded by it. He said that the trade was worth nearly £20 million. He made clear how serious it is and said that the UK was a particular magnet for it, with 2 million people trafficked across our borders each year. In a speech that I have no doubt will be read with care by Ministers, he also set out the case against the clauses on incitement to religious hatred.
The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) also spoke about religious hatred and advised us that there are no fewer than 390,000 Jedi knights in Britain. He also dealt with the question of definition. Rowan Atkinson was in the House only yesterday and, like him, the hon. Gentleman talked about the "chilling" of the climate of free expression. That is an excellent phrase.
My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) concentrated on the issue of religious hatred. The hon. Gentleman treated the House to a philosophical and historical perspective on religion, and
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attacked the Government for their anodised view. He urged the Government to resile from their support for the relevant clauses.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) took a view that was rather different from the one adopted by the more senior cleric on this side of the House who preceded him. Apart from him, only one other speaker supported the Government's proposals on incitement to religious hatred. He complained that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), the shadow Home Secretary, did not give him a peroration. I shall see whether I can give him one towards the end of my speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) also spoke about clause 119, and pointed out the flaws in the Government's case. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) talked about financial reporting orders and said that crime must not pay. He was the only other speaker on the Government Benches to support the religious hatred clauses in the Bill.
The final contribution from the Back Benches was made by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). He opposed the religious hatred clauses, and underlined the importance of using moderate language in these discussions. I am sure that all hon. Members will be pleased by the moderate language used this afternoon.
The Opposition want to help the Government with this Bill. We want to identify various matters that we shall raise in Committee, and I hope that the Minister winding up tonight will take a fancy to some of the amendments that we expect to propose.
The first issue that we will want to discuss is the structure of SOCA. Although we support its formation, we understand that recruiting the brightest detectives and the best police from existing forces could damage those forces.
There is already evidence that some key leadership elements are likely to be removed from the police. We hope that the Minister will explain in Committee why she did not consider secondment as an option for staffing the agency, as happens in the Army with the special forces. We hope that she will put our fears to rest about the danger of a leadership vacuum as a result of the brightest and the best being recruited to SOCA.
We shall also want to be satisfied that SOCA, by dealing not with terrorismwe understand that argumentbut with level 2 crime, including prostitution, drugs and people smuggling, will find a natural position between other law enforcement agencies. Considerable confusion could be caused, for example, if one agency is dealing with terrorism and another with people smuggling, as they are natural bedfellows. We will want to explore the relationship that SOCA will have with the intelligence agencies.
We shall also want to be clear that there will not be confusion in any particular region in which SOCA is responsible for the fight against drugs but the police are
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responsible for enforcing the law. We fear that if a failure resulted, each side would blame the other, which would not be good for policing.
We also want to be satisfied that the drive towards localism, local performance and local accountability will not be damaged by the new structure and that it will not have any unintended consequences. We want to be sure that addressing the regional vacuum will not cause problems elsewhere, especially in the relationship between SOCA and the local police forces.
We also want to be clear about the adequacy of funding. How will SOCA's funding needs be addressed? We also want to be clear that the Home Secretary will not, under clause 9, arrogate to himself wide powers to determine strategic priorities. Parliament must be careful not to pave the way for an unscrupulous Home Secretary to determine strategic priorities with an eye to achieving a political purpose. The Home Secretary said today that a Cabinet Sub-Committee would guide him on that. My reading of clause 9 is that that is not in the legislation. I hope that the Minister will be able to persuade us that it does not need to be.
We need to explore also the apparent provisionin clause 38(1)that any member of staff of SOCA can be designated as having the powers of a police officer. It takes considerable training to be able to exercise those powers and we will need to explore that issue in Committee.
The major theme of the debate has been the religious hatred clauses. It will not have escaped the Government's notice that the Opposition are deeply unhappy about them, and that feeling is shared on both sides of the House. We are keen to maintain the balance between religious freedom and freedom of speech, but the debate has shown that those clauses are confusing, will make bad law and will not work. The Minister should consider carefully the telling intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), who asked precisely what threat the clauses were meant to stop. The Government have not answered that question. If it is the BNP, as many hon. Members have suggested, there are better ways to see off such dreadful people than introducing these clauses. My strong advice to the Minister is to have a word with the Home Secretary after this debate and to save the Committee and herself a lot of trouble by dropping those clauses now.
We shall also want to explore the issue of animal rights. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) will look at ways of strengthening the Government's clauses, which we support as far as they go.
We shall also want to know why the use of intercepts has not been included in the Bill. We are concerned by the lack of reference to them and we have called consistently for the Government to lift the ban on intercept use in courts. It is clearly odd to confine the fruits of intercepts to intelligence only. The UK is one of the few countries in which intercept evidence is not admissible and we hope that the Minister will explain why she is not changing that situation in this Bill.
We shall also want to look at the changes to PACE, in clauses 101 to 115. We shall want to look carefully at several aspects, including the conceptas set out in the debatethat everything is now arrestable. I shudder to
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think of the paperwork, let alone anything else that would be involved in that legal change, which must be carefully considered.
We need to look carefully into a number of aspects, including the power of a civilian to make an arrest in very much wider circumstances, which could be counter-productive. The all-premises warrant is a considerable extension of power and we shall want to explore precisely what its effects would be and whether they would be acceptable.
Police community support officers have been discussed. A considerable increase in their powers is advocated in the Bill. We are not opposed to CSOs, but there has been no independent assessment of their effectiveness and value for money. We think that there should be one. Some forces, including Hampshire, have already made clear their view on CSOs and we are concerned about the additional powers of search and arrest, the use of equipment and the lack of training. It looks like an attempt by the Government to achieve policing on the cheap and could undermine confidence in the professionalism of the police.
There are a range of views on dealing with behaviour in the vicinity of Parliament and the matter will probably be best left until Report, so that the House can have a considered look at it in a wider focus than in Committee.
Finally, I turn to the general context for the Bill, where I fear that I must be somewhat less obliging to the Home Secretary and his team. If they think that by carpet-bombing the Queen's Speech with tough-sounding law and order measuresalbeit ones with which the Opposition broadly agreedesigned to conceal the Government's lamentable failures in combating crime, they will evade the justified wrath of the electorate at the appalling nature of their record on crime, they are sadly mistaken. The public will remember that these measures are not the start of Labour's agenda for fighting crime, but the product of seven years of talk, seven years of being asleep on the job, and seven years of failure.
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