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Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Home Secretary said that the Bill would have prevented the Bradford riots in 2001. That was reiterated by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins). That is not the view of people in Bradford. The hon. Members for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) and for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) have also made it clear that Bill would have made no difference. Does the Home Secretary accept that the measure would not have prevented the riots in Bradford?
Mr. Clarke: May I give a little fatherly advice to the hon. Gentleman as he begins his parliamentary career? He should listen very carefully to what I actually say. I did not sayand I do not saythat the Bill would have prevented the Bradford and Burnley riots. What I did sayI shall read it out again and I urge the hon. Gentleman to listenwas that, in evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on religious offences, the Association of Chief Police Officers said that hatred stirred up by extremist groups contributed to the Bradford and Burnley riots in 2001. I then said that it is this type of hatred that the Bill will, in my opinion, help to tackle.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab):
I do not think that anyone in the House could disagree with the laudable aims of the Bill, but will my right hon. Friend lay to rest once and for all the idea that it will stamp out proselytising, or street preaching, as it is known? Christian groups in my community applaud the ideas in
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the Bill, but they want an assurance that criticism and theological debate will not be stamped out. I want to be able to go back and say clearly to them, once and for all, that that is not the intention of the Bill.
Mr. Clarke: I can absolutely give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. A different response might come from the Conservatives in a moment, and we shall obviously listen to what they have to say, but the fact is that the Bill will not rule out preaching, making argument or debate, or putting forward points. It deals with incitement to hatred, and that is, in my opinion, entirely qualitatively different.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): The Home Secretary will be aware that legislation similar to this has been passed in Australia. Will he give the House a cast iron guarantee that we shall not have a repeat of two incidents that have taken place there? The first involved a Christian pastor at a church conference being hauled before the courts. He is to be sentenced at 10 o'clock this evening. The second involves a case concerning the work of the Alpha Course in prisons in Australia; that case is also before the courts. Can we have a cast iron guarantee that such cases will not occur in the UK?
Mr. Clarke: Yes, you can. I shall come to that part of my speech in a second, but I want to deal with the question of the law in the state of Victoria now, because other people have also raised the matter with me. I have said to many people, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to say to the House, that that legislation is not the same as what is proposed in the Bill. I have briefed myself carefully on this because I was aware of the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
Not only is the legal system in Victoria not the same as ours, but there are huge differences between section 8 of Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 and our proposals. Section 8 makes it an offence for a person to engage in conduct which incites not only hatred against, but also
another person or class of persons on the ground of religious belief or activity. That definition of words is massively wider than what we are proposing in the Bill. Additionally, the Victorian law prohibits incitement to serious contempt, severe ridicule and so on, of a religion itself, whereas the offence that I am proposing in this speech prohibits incitement to hatred of those who belong to the religion. So the threshold for the incitement to religious hatred that we propose is substantially higher than the one in Victoria; a comparison simply cannot be made between the two.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab):
The law that we pass in the House will not be in a steady state. It will be subject to review and to judicial interpretation. The question of racial hatred has been extended by case lawrightly, in my opinionto
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Jewish and Sikh people. Will not case law also extend this legislation, perhaps resulting in very different consequences from those that the Home Secretary rightly wishes to see?
Mr. Clarke: I shall again refer to something that I was going to say later in my speech, in order to address my hon. Friend's point. How will cases be prosecuted under the Bill? First, the House must be aware of the European convention on human rights, and of the protection of freedom of expression that it contains. Secondly, for a case successfully to be prosecuted, it would have to go through certain stages. I shall list them, as they pertain directly to the point raised by my hon. Friend.
First, a complaint must be made to and accepted by a police officer. Secondly, the police must investigate and acquire evidence. Thirdly, the case must be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, which will assess it by applying evidential and public-interest tests. Fourthly, the case must be considered by the Attorney-General, who must consent to its continuation. Fifthly, in most cases it will also be considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Sixthly, prosecuting counsel must decide whether or not to proceed with the case. That is independent of the other stages. Seventhly, the judge must consider the case on the basis of all the elements that I have just listed. Everyone, including the Attorney-General, must have agreed that there is a case to answer, and the judge can then decide to throw the case out if it does not meet the standards set for it to proceed. Then a jury must consider the case put before it in court. If after all those steps the defendant is convicted, he or she can appeal.
I gave that list because I do not agree with the "case creep" argument advancedwith integrityby my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). This is a narrowly defined law including a great many protections to cover people's anxieties.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The Home Secretary is well aware that certain statements in the Bible and in the confessions of faith of all the Churches tell against various other beliefs. Is he telling us that those statements will be deemed to be not statements of hatred, but the personal confessions of those Churches?
The House begins its sittings with a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. Parts of the Book of Common Prayer, such as the 39 Articles, have strong statements to make. Would those statements be considered an incitement to hatred?
Mr. Clarke: No, they would not. Although I did not know that the hon. Gentleman was going to raise that point, I think I can give him the assurance for which he asks. Statements in the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and other faith booksthe Koran, for instanceare precisely that. They are not incitements to hatred.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab):
Obviously there are legitimate concerns. I would not support any measure to prevent criticism of religion: like a number of other Members, I happen to
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be a non-believer. Is it not the case, however, that 40 years ago there was strenuous oppositionparticularly, as I witnessed, from Conservative Membersto the proposed law, which came into effect, to stop incitement to racial hatred? Time and again we were warned that it would undermine democracy, free speech and so forth, yet today not a single Member of Parliament, to my knowledge, would want a change in the law on incitement to racial hatred. It is quite likely that in years to come, this law will be no more controversial than that law.
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I draw strength from that. We have drafted this Bill tightly, as the earlier legislation was drafted tightly, in an attempt to outlaw incitement to hatred. That is precisely what we should do, because the hatred that some have sought to incite, on the basis of either race or religion, is deeply destructive of every value that society possesses. I believe that it is not just our right but our duty as a Parliament to do whatever we can to outlaw such incitement to hatred.
People are genuinely worried that we may cross the line into inhibiting freedom of speech or freedom of expression. A good example was given earlier, of legislation in the state of Victoria that had been drafted much more widely than this. I hold that it is our duty as parliamentarians to ensure that our legislation is drafted narrowly so that it has the effect that we want, and in my view it has been.
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