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Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Sometimes, the person who follows a maiden speech has to search hard to find something to be polite about, but on this occasion the House heard a staggeringly good first speech. I am sure that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) will be listened to with pleasure and interest whenever he speaks. I have heard that said before, when it was not true, but I am certain that it is true this time. He recounted his personal experiences and the history of his constituency before making a profound and important contribution to the debate in a way that will make all of us believe that we have a worthy new MP for Dewsbury.
My concern about the Bill relates to unintended effect. I agree with all that the hon. Member for Dewsbury has said about the need for a tolerant society to become a society of acceptance. We should all learn much more about one another and from one another, and we should be prepared to understand more about the world through other people's experiences and deep understandings. I do not think that anyone could accuse me of having anything other than a belief in and a concern for religion, but I do not like Bills that, first, can define neither hatred nor religion satisfactorily.
I am very worried particularly about the fact that religion itself is not defined. I used in an intervention the example of Scientology, which is not a religion in my view. It is a means of making money for a group of people. It was invented for that purpose, and Lafayette Ron Hubbard called it the Church of Scientology to get away with things that he could not have got away with if his organisation had been open in the way that other such organisations were. Under the Bill, it seems almost impossible, by such definitions as exist, for one to be able to say publicly what one needs to say about Scientology, without being in severe danger of being found to have stirred up hatred and contempt.
I hate those peopleno, of course, I do not hate them, which shows the problem with the word "hate". Decent people do not hate, but people who judge whether or not people hate may say that what is stirred up in them is hatred. That is the problem with the definition of hatred. None of us would like to be accused of either hating or stirring others to hate, but I find it very difficult not to feel very strongly about Jehovah's Witnesses whobelieving the words of a crook, Charles Taze Russellkill babies by not giving them blood transfusions. If I were to say that outside the House, it would be considered as stirring hatred. I am not doing that, but it is not me who decides whether I am stirring hatred; someone else decides that I might be stirring hatred in someone else by using those words.
Miss Widdecombe: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems with the definition is shown by the fact that what he is proclaiming is hatred of the act, not of the person who performs the act? Indeed, that is one of the most crucial distinctions that Christians make. Yet in proclaiming hatred of the act, under these provisions, he could be very easily accused of hating the people who perform the act.
I agree with my right hon. Friend, and the question that she asked, which the Home Secretary
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failed to answer correctly, was exactly to the point. If what the Home Secretary said was what the legislation said, there might be a different argument, but what he said the legislation said it does not sayor, at least, it says more than that.
The same must be true of Satanists or witchcraft. There was a great deal of discussion about witchcraft organisations doing a whole range of things in certain churches. There is a certain religion in which it appears that babies stolen from their mothers have been passed off as a kind of miracle children. I am not suggesting that many people adhere to those beliefs, but I am suggesting that pretty tough words may need to be used about them, and the result of those words could well be that some of the people to whom they were addressed would consider that their use stirred up hatred against them. I merely say that that is a strong possibility.
Those are examples of what might happen, whereas the Home Secretary has provided not a single example of what the Bill would stop. Labour Members must accept the fact that this is the first Bill of such seriousness on which the Home Secretary has come to the House without explaining the examples that led him to make this decision. I therefore go on to why people should be worried about the Bill.
It is all right for some of the hon. Gentlemen who have now left the Chamber to say that they want reassurance from various groups of Christians. During the past few months, in the town neighbouring my constituencyIpswicha group of Christians who have proclaimed their views in the streets for many years were ordered to go to the police station to explain why they should not be arrested for stirring up hatred. They had a very difficult time. They happen not to be a Christian group with whom I have much in common. They are a narrow group of rather old-fashioned believers of a Brethren type, but I will defend them for ever; they should have the right to proclaim their faith in Britain and not to be stopped and taken to the police station by the police. If that can be done under the present law, how much more likely that it could be done under the Bill? After all, if the Home Secretary is saying nothing else, he is saying that the Bill will make the law tougher. If it will not make the law tougher, why is he introducing it at all?
Mr. Grieve: I can confirm that, in my constituency, street preachers have been told that they may preach, but that they may not say that those who do not share their views are destined for hell, because that is insulting, apparently. I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend that that happens under the present law under which the Bill is proposed by the Government, and the consequence is that such things must fall foul of the more draconian penalties that would be visited under the law, as amended.
My hon. Friend is right. Of course, one of the problems is that we are dealing with an atmosphere in which quite a lot of people do not really believe that there is much to choose between various religions, that one should not therefore get too hot under the collar and that the only thing that really matters is that people should be extremely nice and tolerant to other people. That is their problem, and it is why, when I stated the truth about the history of the
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Jehovah's Witnesses, a number of Labour Members thought that I was being scandalous in telling the truth. That is, of course, hurtful, but it happens to be true. That is the difficulty that we are dealing with in the Bill.
I am one of those people who did not change religion, but who changed denomination, and I must tell the House that prejudices by no means disappearedmy right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) will agreebut 100 years ago, much of what could be said about Muslims and the like would have been said about Catholics in this country. We solve these problems not by protecting people, but by arguing the case and making people understand the truth. That is the nature of these matters.
I have never agreed with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). I believe that his teachings and attitudes are so far from the Christian religion that I find it hard even to put them in that context, but I would defend his right to attack Catholics in the tough way he has done, because that is the only way in which people feel free in a free society to show why such things matter to them. In a sense, I prefer those things to matter to him enough for him to insult my faith, my belief and what is most important to me to stopping him; because in stopping him, I would dehumanise him and reduce his ability to be himself in our society. That is a crucial part of freedom. Freedom allows him and his friends to shout at me when I march through Walsingham, and to shout at me the things that hurt most. When we choose a religion, we choose something that may well be more important to us than anything else on earth. Therefore, I have to put up with him, but I do so because that is what freedom is about; it is not putting up with people who argue with us about things that do not really matter to us or anyone else.
So I come to that verse from the Koran. If we read that verse or many others from the Koran in a secular circumstance, with people who are not at all particularly supportive of religion, we find that it is very difficult to interpret in any way whatsoever but as one that stirs up hatred. It is perfectly possible to find another interpretation in the circle of Koranic experts or among those for whom such things are revealed, but once we move outside those categories, it is very difficult to argue that its use anywhere else would not stir up religious hatred against the people who believe those things. In that case, those people are being encouraged to behave in a way that we would find entirely intolerant. Therefore, if I want the Koran to have the respect that it should have, even though I have the doubts about its origin and the nature of its founder that have been expressed elsewhere, I believe in the integrity of those individuals. If I want to protect them, I beg them not to give the protection to themselves that could so easily rebound against them. That is the question that gives us most concern.
I end with the point about unintended effects with which I began. The trouble with the Bill is that it has not worked out what it will do; it does not even define the
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two key words on which it is based. It does not give us a single example of an occasion on which it would provide a protection that does not already exist, nor is there an obvious example of someone or some group who, because the Bill has not been the law, were severely disadvantaged. What the Bill does, however, is to stir up great fear among people as different as the Brethren, the Catholics, some Muslims and some Hindusamong people who are secularist or deeply religious.
The Home Secretary cannot but accept that the Bill has caused some of the most serious thinkers on the subject of freedom considerable concern. He cannot dismiss Justice's concerns or the concerns of many major Christian denominations and of many major leaders of the Muslim community. Even at this late stage, is not this an occasion when he should remove the Bill and turn to the Lester amendments, which seem to get the balance right? After all, freedom is the means by which all religion is protected; the lack of freedom destroys us all. Pastor Niemoller was right: unless we are prepared to protect the freedom
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