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Caroline Flint: Following the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument, I ask him again whether he believes that a future Conservative Government should repeal the legislation on incitement to racial hatred? The same issue applies to that. The wording of this clause is exactly the same as the wording of that legislation. Can he give me one example of the legislation on incitement to racial hatred leading to a clampdown on free speech and discussion about race, or having an adverse effect on comedy or television viewing? My question stands: following the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument, does he believe that the Conservative party should be committed to repealing the legislation on incitement to racial hatred?
Of course we have no intention of repealing the legislation on incitement to racial hatred. The Minister has missed the point. The opposition to her proposals stems from the belief that the Government are using flawed logic. Religion is significantly different from race. The Barnabas Fund, which has written to
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meand, I am sure, many other Memberson this point, notes that religion is a choice that affects attitude and behaviour, while race is not and does not. On that note, I rest my case.
Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): This one and a half hour debate is not the time to rehearse the various arguments on the issue. Those arguments have been made many times. I simply make a few remarks on this controversial issue, which has got passions running on all sides.
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the Government have been trying to achieve in these parts of the Bill. Our objections have not been about the end gamewhat they are trying to achievewe simply believe that there are better ways to achieve that. We recognise the seriousness of the issue and we recognise that, for many groups, there is a real sensitivity about what are clear attempts to make racial remarks under the cover of religious remarks. There is a gap that needs to be resolved urgently because it is creating tensions in the community. It is an important issue that needs to be addressed, and we welcome the fact that the Government have sought to do so.
Our disagreement with the Government has been that this important set of principles and piece of legislation has been tagged on to a big Bill that considers the way in which we organise police forces in this country. We felt that that was an inappropriate way in which to tackle the issue. Our proposal has always been for an equalities Bill, which would tackle many of these issues with a well thought through piece of legislation that dealt with discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
I hope that in the next three or four weeks we do not have any nonsense from the Government suggesting in certain parts of the country that the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives have been trying to wreck the Bill and do not want to do anything to tackle the problem of religious hatred. That is not the case. We believe that it is a serious issue that needs addressing. However, it should be done properly and robustly via an equalities Bill, which is a way of addressing the issue more effectively. That is what we will argue in the next four weeks.
Legitimate concerns have been put forward by a number of Members from all parts of the House, and not just by the Rowan Atkinsons of this world, but by organisations such as Liberty and PEN, the writer's organisation. They have raised concerns about the difficult balance between legitimate criticism of a religion and freedom of speech. The issue needs to be addressed, but the way to deal with it, and all the other issues, is not to tag it on to the back of a police Bill but to have a proper, well thought out equalities Bill. That is what we will argue in the next four weeks. The
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communities that want protection in this area should support an equalities Bill. It would give them the protections that they seek.
Peter Bottomley: I will also upset the Minister by supporting the Government's invitation to us to support the amendment that takes out the clause. She has made some serious points. The Leader of the House and others on the Labour Front Bench ought not to give the impression that they intend to exploit the issue for party political reasons during the next four weeks. Given the list of serious organisations that have doubts about the Bill, whoever is in Government after 5 May should hold an open forum with those groups, and with religious groups, to reach agreement on what is useful and acceptable. I would support what the Minister might have said, which is that the clause does not refer to "Muslims" but treats all religions in the same way. I praise her for that, because it is sensible.
I end my remarks by saying that I welcome the opposition of the community in Worthing to the recent arson attack on the local Islamic centre. I will not say any more because people may be charged. I support the Islamic centre's open evenings that bring people together about once a month. To those Christians who go there to say that they do not agree with us, I say that it is one of the things about having different religions and even different denominations. It is only a few hundred years since we burnt people at the stake for different interpretations of the same book.
Caroline Flint: The amendments cover three matters. The first is protection of the activities of animal research organisations. Amendments Nos. 36 to 38 relate to the economic damage clauses that we inserted in the Bill on Report in this House.
Amendment No. 36 responds to comments made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The amendment narrows the scope of clause 142 by stating specifically that peaceful advocacy of economic actions against companies that are connected to animal research organisations will not trigger an offence. The amendment ensures that an offence can be triggered only by methods of persuasion that are themselves unlawful. That has always been our intention.
Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 extend the list of persons connected to animal research organisations contained in clause 143 to include funders of research. Funding bodies have been targeted for unlawful actions by animal rights extremists, just as have employees,
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suppliers and customers of animal research organisations. It is right that funders should have the same protection as other persons connected to animal research organisations.
I now come to the amendments concerned with road traffic offences. The new clauses inserted by amendments Nos. 39 and 40 are imports from the Road Safety Bill, which will sadly not now be enacted in this Session. The new clauses deal with two matters. The new clause inserted by amendment No. 39 enables the police to have access to insurance industry data relating to vehicles whose use is no longer insured. The second new clause permits police to carry out an evidential breath test not only at a police station but at a hospital or at or near a place such as the roadside where a preliminary breath test has been administered. I think that we can all agree that both measures will contribute to road safety. They were welcomed by all parts of the other place.
Finally, amendments Nos. 80 to 86 would allow Scottish Ministers to exercise certain delegated powers in the Private Security Industry Act 2001, following its extension to Scotland. In particular, Scottish Ministers will, after consultation with the Home Secretary, have the power to commence the provisions as they apply to Scotland. Additionally, Scottish Ministers will have the power to designate by order which specific sectors of the private security industry in Scotland are to be licensed and when.
As this is the last group of amendments, I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends and the Front-Bench Conservative spokesmen for their constructive working relationships with us on the Bill. It is an important piece of legislation. It has covered a huge areaserious organised crimes, community support officers, custody officers, money laundering and, importantly, tackling animal rights extremists, an area for which I have had personal responsibility in the Home Office.
As I said, I am disappointed that the measures on incitement to religious hatred are not going forward. I say to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), who represents the Liberal Democrats, that it is a cop-out to say that we need another piece of legislation to deal with something that, as I said before, uses exactly the same wording and has the same intent as did the legislation on incitement to racial hatred. That said, I commend the amendments to the House and hope that the Bill will be enacted as soon as possible.
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