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Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): The right hon. Gentleman argues that the debate is about tolerance. Is it not in fact about intolerance?

David Davis: Of course, if the debate is about tolerance it is about intolerance as well. I am arguing that we are confronting a major change in the balance between freedom of speech and the right to say what one likes about—[Interruption.] I see the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton is back. I am sorry that he did not hear the beginning of my speech. We are confronting a major change in the balance of freedom of speech. The Bill is insufficiently precise. There are ways in which we can deal with the issue before the House, and I shall come to that later, but the Bill is not it. It is too general, too wide, too vague and too dangerous.

Mr. Heath : I, too, am glad that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) is back in his place. Was it not the case that the illustration that he gave in support of the Home Secretary's proposals had absolutely nothing to do with the Bill? It could not have been affected in any way by the new offences that will be put on the statute book. It underlines the need for a proper anti-discrimination act, which we still await.

David Davis: The hon. Gentleman is right. I shall come back to that individual case in a moment.

The second problem with the Bill is that it is questionable whether it would, if enacted, protect minority groups in the way that they hope. For example, many Muslims believe that the Bill would stop the defamation of the character of the Prophet Mohammed. Many believe the new law would be a substitute blasphemy law that would protect their religion from criticism. However, the Government have confirmed that that is not the intention, so the situation is confused. Would, for example, the author Salman Rushdie have been prosecuted for "The Satanic Verses", which undermined the Koran and suggested that the foundations of the Muslim faith were bogus? If the answer is yes, we are in dangerous territory, but if
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the Home Secretary again says no, we are in danger of bringing the legislation into disrepute and of upsetting groups of people whom the Bill is intended to protect.

Not only will many sections of the community be disappointed by the Bill, but they may also find that things are made considerably worse. We risk creating a tit-for-tat situation which encourages suspicion and mistrust between religions, rather than the harmony that we seek. That has been the experience in Australia. The Home Secretary says the law is different there. I shall be interested to see how the courts judge between vilification and incitement to hatred. It is an interesting distinction. Amir Butler, the executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee and a former supporter of religious hatred laws, has explained how the practice of those laws made him change his mind.

Mr. Charles Clarke: The difference is substantial. Section 8 of Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 makes it an offence for a person to engage in conduct that incites not only hatred against, but also serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, another person or class of people. The difference in definition is massive; it is not a minor difference of interpretation.

David Davis: The overlap between that legislation and this Bill is enormous.

Amir Butler found that after Muslims brought a case against a Christian organisation, Muslim festivals and meetings were regularly attended by Christian evangelist groups attempting to find breaches of the law—this sort of legislation will encourage that sort of thing. The outcome in Australia was an unintended consequence of the legislation and it has forced Amir Butler, who was a major proponent of those laws, to oppose them. As he now says:

The Bill undermines the religious freedoms that it is intended to protect.

Mr. Streeter : Is my right hon. Friend aware that Justice, an independent, all-party human rights and law reform organisation, supports his proposition that the Bill may make the situation worse? It fears that provisions that are intended to increase tolerance may in fact increase intolerance.

David Davis: It is entirely unsurprising that Justice supports that proposition. When other countries have introduced this sort of draconian law to restrict freedom of speech, support has increased for the sort of far-right parties that the Bill is intended if not to suppress, then to limit. After such laws were implemented in France, Jean-Marie Le Pen experienced increased support. Far-right parties have also thrived in Canada, Denmark and Holland as result of such laws.

For us to allow such a change to the law here, the Government must prove categorically that the change is necessary and that the existing laws are not up to the job. To date, they have failed to prove that case—indeed, the
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Home Secretary has failed to prove it today. Lord Colville, the Chairman of the Lords Select Committee that wrote the definitive report on the subject, said:

We do not have to rely on Lord Colville's opinion—let us look also at the facts. A man called Norwood was recently successfully prosecuted by the police for putting a notice in the window of his house suggesting that Islam should be banished from the UK and associating Islam with the outrage of 9/11. In another recent case, a street preacher who held up a banner attacking homosexuality while proclaiming, "Jesus is Lord" was prosecuted under existing public order legislation. I understand that the Crown Prosecution Service is currently monitoring 70 to 80 religiously aggravated offences, so more examples may be on the way.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend noticed that whenever we adduce a specific example of what might be called hatred, the Home Secretary says, "Oh no, this law will not cover that."? He has not given us a single example. I am beginning to think that this is not a dangerous Bill, but mere posturing, because ample legislation already exists to deal with the issues. If that is not the case, will the Home Secretary give a single example of an offence that would not be caught by existing legislation?

David Davis: I am not sure about the rules governing such an exchange between myself and the Home Secretary, but my hon. Friend may be right. The simple truth is that the Bill is dangerous because it is so vague, so wide and so ill-defined.

My hon. Friend is also right on the question of other legislation. Aside from the Public Order Act 1986, the Human Rights Act 1998 incorporated the concept of religious freedom into British law, incitement is already a recognised criminal offence, judges already have the power to increase sentences if they find that religion is an aggravating factor in a crime, and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 gave people extra protection against hate crimes, whatever their motivation.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): On the subject of specifics, my right hon. Friend will be aware that virulently homophobic lyrics in some reggae songs urge the murder of lesbians and gay men. Given that the best-selling artist Beenie Man sings, "Hang lesbians with a long piece of rope", and that Elephant Man sings, "Queers must be killed", and that no legal action whatsoever has been taken to prevent the sale or distribution of such material, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Home Secretary, even if he does not think that this is an appropriate Bill to tackle such matters, has a responsibility to explain how he intends to ensure that that incitement of hatred is not permitted and that the interests and safety of lesbians and gay men are protected?

David Davis: I do not know the individual cases to which my hon. Friend refers, and it would not be right for me to comment on them, but it is certainly the case that incitement to violence and hatred of that nature ought to be prosecuted with the full force of the law—I have no doubt about that.
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Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend believe that a likelihood—"likely" is the word used in the Bill—on the part of one person to invoke thoughts and feelings that could be construed as religious hatred can ever be quantified safely or consistently in the courts?

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