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It is a great privilege to move Third Reading, and I thank all hon. Members who served on the Committee. There was much general agreement on many of the measures that the Bill is designed to address and I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House for the constructive approach that they adopted both in Committee and today on Report.
For our part, I hope that many people will acknowledge that we have responded positively to many of the points raised by Opposition Members, and I trust that the House will agree that the Bill that we are now sending to the other place has been much improved by the scrutiny process. I welcome the broad measure of cross-party support for the provisions. Indeed, on Second Reading the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said that of the Bill's 220 pages, he could "broadly support" all but two, which has to be regarded as an achievement.
The Bill includes a cross-section of measures to tackle crime at all levels, from fighting organised criminal gangs at the top end of the spectrum to combating the scourge of antisocial behaviour at the other end. At the heart of the Bill is a raft of proposals designed to make the United Kingdom the least attractive country for organised criminals to operate in. Organised crime costs the country a minimum of £20 billion a year, but the social and economic cost cannot be measured in monetary terms alone, as the impact of this sordid business is felt in many communities. We all know from our constituents of lives ruined or tragically lost as a result of a drugs overdose, gun crime or sex slavery. Behind each of those tragedies is the network of criminals who supply the drugs, the guns and the migrants.
The National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the investigation arms of Customs and Excise and the immigration service have all achieved notable successes. I pay due respect to all the people in those organisations, but the reality is that the challenges posed by organised crime are such that we need to move up a gear. The Serious Organised Crime Agency will not just bring together those four constituent organisations, but it will adopt a wholly new approach by having as its core objective the reduction of harm caused by organised crime. That will involve traditional investigations and prosecutions, including use of the new compulsory investigative powers in part 2 of the Bill, but SOCA will also use all other methods at its disposal to disrupt, dissipate and destroy organised criminal gangs.
In establishing SOCA, we do not seek to disown what has gone before. I have already paid tribute to the four precursor organisations, but a new approach to meeting the challenges posed by organised crime requires a new organisation with its own culture and ways of working. If we are to mesh together successfully the police officers, customs officers and immigration officers transferring to the new agency, we cannot fashion it in the image of a police force. That is accepted and supported by the NCS, NCIS, Customs and Excise, the immigration service, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the director general designate,
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Bill Hughes, the chairman designate, Sir Stephen Lander, and many others. I invite Opposition Members to embrace that shared vision for the new agency and to work with us to make it a success.
This is not the occasion to run through the whole of the Bill, but I want to take this opportunity to touch on the issue of incitement, which has at times dominated the debate. A little over a week ago, the nation marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz at a ceremony in Westminster Hall. If the Holocaust teaches us anything, it should teach us to be acutely aware of where hatred of a religious or racial group can lead.
Hon. Members who oppose this provision have failed to address two fundamental points. First, how do they respond to their Christian, Muslim or Hindu constituents when they ask, "How can it be right that Jews and Sikhs are protected by the criminal law against those who would incite hatred against them, but we are not?"? The second point that hon. Members have failed to address is the fact that we know that far right groups, and others, use religion as a surrogate for race. Those who would seek to whip up hatred against minority ethnic communities are familiar with the provisions of the Public Order Act 1986 and are sufficiently astute to peddle their vitriol with carefully chosen words. As colleagues have rightly pointed out, religion and race are not always intermixed, and we want to protect those people for whom the issue is not their race but their beliefs. I put it to the House that it is equally right that there should be an equivalent offence of inciting hatred against religious groups, to provide protection for faith groups that do not have an association with a particular race. The targets are oftenbut not alwaysthe same, and the effects are equally damaging to community cohesion.
The Government's view is shared by the broad swathe of faith groups. The new offence is supported by the Church of England, the Catholic Church, the Free Churches, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Hindu Council UK, the Network of Sikh Organisations, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Buddhist Society, the Network of Buddhist Organisations, Jain Samaj Europe, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United Kingdom, and the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe. Support comes not just from faith groups but from the Association of Chief Police Officers, Justice, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Law Society and the Attorney-General.
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