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Mr. Clarke: I do not think that the risk to which my hon. Friend refers is there. We are adding to the existing legal framework rather than diluting or watering down in any respect the existing framework. It is an addition to try to ensure that we get to a state of affairs where every group is protected in a similar way.
Mr. Grieve: Not only is intent not required for this offence, but the Home Secretary is widening the scope of the offence where intent is not required. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that many people in this country are, unfortunately, likely to be stirred up to religious hatred on a nothing. The way in which subsection (3)(b) is worded means that somebody making a comment from a biblical text or from a text in the Koran to an audience of learned people, which is then repeated to an audience of extremists, would be responsible for inciting hatred. The same comments, quoted from the same holy book, might well be taken by those extremists in a completely different sense, and their hatred would therefore be incited.
We have had a full and lively debate, and I am confident that the Bill will undergo detailed scrutiny in Committee. That is right because of the interest that the Bill has generated inside and outside Parliament. I understand the genuine concern that some hon. Members on both sides of the House have about the impact that the Bill may have on freedom of expression, although I say again that the Joint Committee on Human Rights of this Parliament came to the view that the measures contained in it are unlikely to give rise to any violation of the right to freedom of expression. Nevertheless, I accept that the issue needs to be fully and properly debated. I note that there is near universal agreement that stirring up hatred against people because of their religious beliefs, or lack of belief, is wrong and that it is right that we should seek to deal with the problem. The disagreement is not about why or if we should deal with that behaviour, but how. Given that, I hope that the debate will be positive and constructive. I commend the Bill to the House.
"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill because, while the Bill recognises the problems caused by extremists seeking to stir up hatred against others on the grounds of their ethnic identity, by creating a new offence of inciting religious hatred, it will disproportionately curtail freedom of expression, worsen community relations as different religious and belief groups call for the prosecution of their opponents, create uncertainty as to what words or behaviour are lawful and lead to the selective application of the law in a manner likely to bring it into disrepute."
I pick up immediately on the Home Secretary's final words. He pointed out that, effectively, this is the third time that this proposed legislation has been presented to the House. Therefore, it is important that we get it right and that we deal with it coolly and clinically. In view of the comments of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), I shall read an extract that was put into the record by Lord Alli in supporting the Government. He read out a verse from one of Hitler's most ardent opponents, Pastor Martin Neimoeller, which everyone will recognise. It reads:
That is a famous verse and I suspect that everyone in the Chamber understands and agrees entirely with the sentiments that are expressed within it. I hope that the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, when they read Hansard, will accept that.
We all abhor discrimination and attempts to stir up hatred on whatever grounds. I am glad that the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety is in the Chamber, as I should like to respond to a striking contribution that she made to a previous debate. She claimed:
"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".[Official Report, 7 February 2005; Vol. 430, c. 1224.]
That argument is clearly absurd. Before Ministers throw around any more silly accusations, they should remember that the Bill's opponents include Liberty, the writers' organisation PEN, and many seasoned campaigners against discriminationnot least Lord Lester, who has 40 years experience of campaigning on race relations.
As the Home Secretary suggested at the end of his speech, we are not debating whether discrimination is right or wrong, but how we balance a belief in freedom and tolerance with the rights and interests of minorities. That balance is important and we do not believe that the Bill achieves it. The Bill is wrong in principle, it would be barely workable in practice and, arguably, it is unnecessary in any event. It has also raised expectations among minority communities, who are likely to be seriously disappointed if the law were brought into effect. Above all, a basic principle is at stake. We believe that the best way to target someone who hates others because of what they believe is through the force of argument, rather than the law. Criminal law should be used to punish people who do injury to the person, the property or the liberty of the individual, not simply offend their beliefs or feelings. That is the crucial difference between the proposals in the Bill and the original piece of legislation that it seeks to amend.
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In 1986, the Conservative Government rightly sought to criminalise people who attempted to stir up hatred on the ground of race, because race is not something that someone chooses, as the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) pointed out. It is who they areit is their very person. An attack on race is an attack on the individual. Religious belief is quite differentit is something that someone chooses or, indeed, chooses to opt out of. There are many different religions with competing claims and competing ways of life. It is entirely appropriate to debate the merits of each, to question the basis on which a religion is founded and, by implication, to challenge the way in which someone lives his life.
David Davis: I do accept that and, unlike the Home Secretary, I shall illustrate the point with an individual case later. If I do not do so, I am happy to accept another intervention from the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Gummer : My right hon. Friend talked about the balance between freedom and the need to protect people against discrimination. However, if we wish to restrict freedom, we must come to the House with specific cases that require extremely serious legislation. Has he noticed that the Home Secretary has not at any time produced a single case that would necessitate the introduction of legislation? All that he has doneand I understand whyis suggest that if people stir up hatred for religious reasons it is a very unpleasant thing. I agree that it is, but he has not adduced a case for the law.
David Davis: My right hon. Friend, as always, predicts my argument. He is entirely right, as a notable feature of our debate is the fact that the law is so vague that even the Home Secretary cannot get it right. When he said that intent was required, he was wrong. The law does not say thathe missed out the word "or" in the relevant provision.
As my right hon. Friend said, the Government propose to limit the debate. They say that that is not the case and that the Attorney-General will decide if someone has gone too far and broken the law. That is their lock, as they call it. Before it reaches that stage, however, an individual can be investigated and have his character called into question. It is not clear why anyone should face that prospect, or why anyone should continue to pursue activities, whether writing, comedy or science, that put them at such risk. Inevitably, we will end up with a situation where serious debate and freedom of speech are limited. Our society and our tradition of tolerance will be poorer as a result.
"It will not criminalise material just because it stirs up ridicule, prejudice, dislike, contempt, anger or similar causes. It is about inciting people in a way that will damage those individuals because of their religion, not because of their beliefs."[Official Report, 7 December 2004; Vol. 428, c.105455.]
Let me give a first case example, to meet the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). The remarks that I shall quote came from the Prime Minister when he was justifying his decision to undertake the war in Iraq. He said:
"But what galvanised me was that it was a declaration of war by religious fanatics who were prepared to wage that war without limit. They killed 3,000. But if they could have killed 30,000 or 300,000 they would have rejoiced in it. The purpose was to cause such hatred between Moslems and the West that a religious jihad became a reality"
the words of the Prime Minister, justifying his decision to start the war in Iraq. It is entirely possible that those words could have been caught under the definitions in the new lawso much so that a former Lord Chancellor, debating the Bill in the other place earlier, said that he would find it difficult to mount a defence of the Prime Minister under the proposed law.
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