Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): If the purpose of the measure is to protect Muslims, why has it been universalised so that it also applies to a whole host of other groups in society?

Ms Blears: The measure is not there simply to protect Muslims; I used them as an illustration. The measure is also to protect Christians and people from a wide range of other religions, as well as people of no religious belief at all. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) advanced the case that people of no religious belief should also have protection, and we think that that is a perfectly proper position.

Mr. Sarwar: Does the Minister agree that the vast majority of the people in this country are peaceful and law-abiding, including British Muslims? This extension of the law is to protect all the communities of the United Kingdom, not just the Muslims.

Ms Blears: I am delighted to be able to confirm that. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Mahmood) made the point that the provisions will also cover a situation in which some people in the Muslim community who hold extreme views used language that could well be an incitement to hatred of other people on religious grounds. This is an even-handed piece of legislation that seeks to provide a level playing field for the people of this country, and to protect them.

Mrs. Fitzsimons: Does my hon. Friend agree that we are united in the pursuit of that level playing field for more than 20,000 of my constituents, if not nearly all of them, and that the excuse that there would be an over-expectation in that regard could be used against every law that the House has ever passed?

6 pm

Ms Blears: My hon. Friend makes an important point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) described himself as a cynical and cantankerous politician. He also said that he
7 Feb 2005 : Column 1223
had tried to get himself arrested for blasphemy. However, the police took a good, pragmatic approach in those circumstances. I think that that is evidence that the police will take a similarly pragmatic view, as will the Attorney-General, in relation to expectations that may have been raised here.

Several hon. Members rose—

Ms Blears: I am dealing with a substantive point: the difference between Labour and the Liberal Democrat Opposition. In Committee, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon said:

That is an important division between the two sides of the House.

The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) said that the right to free speech would be infringed. It is a matter of judgment for Members whether such an infringement would be appropriate. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) who said, 35 years ago,

That is a difficult balance to strike, but I think we have struck it in the right place and the Opposition have struck it in the wrong place.

Lynne Jones: Will my hon. Friend assure those of us who want to support the Government that the "incitement to religious hatred" clause would not, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Mahmood) implied, give carte blanche to anyone who wanted to prosecute Salman Rushdie?

Ms Blears: Let me say to my hon. Friend, who welcomed amendment No 106, that we have sought to make clear that this is about protecting groups of people against whom hatred is incited, not the beliefs themselves. Many Members have said that religion should be strong enough to defend itself, and does not need the protection of the law. Indeed, that is the purpose of new clause 4, tabled by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon. This is about protecting people. It is not about the ability to criticise, ridicule or lampoon, or to have fundamental disagreements about the beliefs themselves. It is absolutely right, in a modern democracy, for people to be able to engage in robust and vigorous debate. The Government do not seek to outlaw that.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): I know that this is late in the day, but why is it not perfectly proper for me or anyone else to say "I hate religious bigots"?
7 Feb 2005 : Column 1224

Ms Blears: I think that that is very different from inciting hatred against people and all that flows from that—the extremist material that we have seen that is capable of inciting such hatred. I think it perfectly permissible to express those views, although I would not necessarily want to do it myself, but I do not think that it is right for us to be able to incite hatred against individuals.

People have talked about unrealistic expectations. They have said that we shall see a huge range of vexatious and litigious activity. Safeguards already exist. I do not just mean the reference to the Attorney-General, although he will have to consider the public interest. Guidance will be issued by the Crown Prosecution Service, which will be followed by guidance from the Home Office itself. I want to make absolutely sure that there is no misunderstanding in any group about how the legislation might be used.

Let me say this to the Liberal Democrats. It is important for people not to misunderstand what this law is about. I am sure that the Liberal Democrats would acknowledge that Iqbal Sacranie, in particular, has now clarified comments made before the Bill was published in July last year. He is now perfectly clear about the fact that this is about protecting people, not beliefs. It is vital for that to be understood.

I think that amendment No. 106 makes the position much clearer. I oppose amendments Nos. 11 and 12. I also oppose new clause 3, because it takes us no further than the law as it stands, and new clause 4, because I do not think that this is the right time for us to repeal the blasphemy laws. We have said that we will keep the matter under review. There is no consensus in the country on the issue. I believe that 48 per cent. of people polled thought that the blasphemy laws should be repealed, while 38 per cent. thought they should remain or be extended. I do not think that a condition of passing this legislation should be the repeal of the blasphemy laws, although it is right for us to examine the issue regularly.

There is a difference between us and the Opposition. We feel that it is wrong to stir up hatred against people on the grounds of their religion. Clearly Opposition Members do not feel that that is wrong, and simply want to limit it to racial hatred. We do not think that that goes far enough. I ask the House to resist the new clause and amendments, and to support amendment No. 106.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr Deputy Speaker put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [3 February].

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 191, Noes 291.

Division No. 69
[6.05 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Allan, Richard
Amess, David
Ancram, rh Michael
Arbuthnot, rh James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bacon, Richard
Baker, Norman
Barker, Gregory
Barnes, Harry
Baron, John (Billericay)
Barrett, John
Beith, rh A. J.
Bellingham, Henry
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Best, Harold
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Browning, Mrs Angela
Burns, Simon
Burstow, Paul
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, David
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies (NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Carmichael, Alistair
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Conway, Derek
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cotter, Brian
Cran, James (Beverley)
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Curry, rh David
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Dodds, Nigel
Donaldson, Jeffrey M.
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
Duncan Smith, rh Iain
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Flook, Adrian
Forth, rh Eric
Foster, Don (Bath)
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Garnier, Edward
Gerrard, Neil
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Grogan, John
Gummer, rh John
Hammond, Philip
Hancock, Mike
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heald, Oliver
Heath, David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Hendry, Charles
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Hogg, rh Douglas
Holmes, Paul
Hopkins, Kelvin
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, rh Michael
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Kirkwood, Sir Archy
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, rh Oliver
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Lilley, rh Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
MacDonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick
McWalter, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Malins, Humfrey
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Mates, rh Michael
Maude, rh Francis
Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
May, rh Mrs Theresa
Mercer, Patrick
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Redwood, rh John
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, David
Sanders, Adrian
Sedgemore, Brian
Selous, Andrew
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Spring, Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Tredinnick, David
Trickett, Jon
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Viggers, Peter
Walter, Robert
Wareing, Robert N.
Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Whittingdale, John
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, David
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Bob Russell and
Sir Robert Smith


Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Banks, Tony
Barron, rh Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Bennett, Andrew
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Berry, Roger
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blunkett, rh David
Boateng, rh Paul
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Byers, rh Stephen
Byrne, Liam (B'ham Hodge H)
Caborn, rh Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Colman, Tony
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Cooper, Yvette
Corston, rh Jean
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cummings, John
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, rh John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Brian H.
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hain, rh Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hanson, David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Havard, Dai (MerthyrTydfil & Rhymney)
Healey, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith (Streatham)
Hinchliffe, David
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Hutton, rh John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Ingram, rh Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, rh Alan (Hull W)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Kennedy, rh Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S.
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, David
Lazarowicz, Mark
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
McAvoy, rh Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McCartney, rh Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDougall, John
McFall, rh John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Rosemary
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWilliam, John
Mahmood, Khalid
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Meale, Alan (Mansfield)
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Alan
Miliband, David
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Moran, Margaret
Morley, Elliot
Morris, rh Estelle
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prescott, rh John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, rh Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Raynsford, rh Nick
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Short, rh Clare
Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
Singh, Marsha
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, rh Jacqui (Redditch)
Soley, Clive
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Jack
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Claire
Watts, David
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike (Batley)
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Iain (Hartlepool)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Tom Watson and
James Purnell

Question accordingly negatived.

7 Feb 2005 : Column 1228

Mr Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Next Section IndexHome Page