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Mr. Grieve: The trouble is that those people are correct. If one looks at the ordinary meaning of the Bill and removes the discretion of the Attorney-General, people are absolutely correct that it would be a major fetter on freedom of speech. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Mahmood) said that "The Satanic Verses" would be open to prosecution under the Bill, and I must say that I think he was right. That might never happen, but under the exact terms of what the Bill says, it would be the result of putting it on the statute book.

Mr. Denham: Precisely the same objections were made about the Public Order Act 1986, but they have not proved to be the case in practice. The problem is not primarily the Bill as it stands—I shall address its contents in a moment—but the way in which it is perceived outside. Some people believe that the Bill will protect their religious belief from any type of criticism or insult, but it will not. The Government have the major challenge of explaining the Bill to people outside the House.

Although I had a bit of harmless fun with the hon. Gentleman about the relationship between the Bill and the 1986 Act, it is not clear whether the Bill's wording would inadvertently lower the threshold of the test for the impact of what people say. I have read the measure on many occasions and have changed my view several times about whether it would lower the threshold. I do not believe that the Government intended to lower the threshold, so I welcome the Secretary of State's commitment to examine such matters in Committee. There is a case for changing the wording to make it clear that people are the focus of the Bill, and it is important that we do not inadvertently introduce a much lower test.

6.54 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): I add my congratulations to those of other Members to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik). His maiden speech was indeed a delight to listen to. It was full of humour and not altogether uncontroversial, but neither was mine. I hope that he
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enjoys his time in this place as much as I have enjoyed mine—and that is as friendly as I am going to get tonight.

The Bill is the latest in the long line of oppressive measures that has come out of this Government. However, this one is especially dangerous. At the end of the last Parliament, we passed a Bill that managed to prohibit us even from smacking a naughty child without some busybody turning up with a magnifying glass to see whether that had left a mark. This Bill will curtail not action, but the free expression of thought, which has always been the underlying tenet of our democracy. It did not matter whether one was a fascist or a communist, whether one was a militant evangelical street preacher or a militant atheist, or whether one was a carefully spoken professor of philosophy at Oxford or Alf Garnett, because whoever one was and whatever one thought, one was able to express those thoughts freely. One did not have to work out what someone else might think of those thoughts and decide what to do about them several stages down the line.

I am worried about the definition of intention. The Bill will not be restricted to covering the intended stirring up of religious hatred because, as it says, it will apply if an action is "likely" to stir up religious hatred. A person might not think that his or her actions are likely to result in the stirring up of religious hatred, but if an act of religious hatred follows and someone wants to contend that the person should have thought that that would be likely, what matters is not the intention, but what another party has done.

I shall draw an analogy away from the subject of religion to explain why I am worried. I frequently make speeches about the pro-life issue. Let us suppose that I address an audience with an impassioned speech about what goes on in abortion clinics, as I frequently do, and make the judgment that the audience will be sympathetic to what I say, as they usually are. I could say, "If we could see the unborn children going into those clinics, we would rise up against it." I have used the expression "rise up against it" many times and I mean it metaphorically. It might be that the audience was made up of 100 people and that 99 went away and all they did was to hand out pro-life leaflets. However, one person might take what I said so much to heart that he committed an act of violence against a clinic or, worse still, against someone going to work in a clinic.

That is an analogy, but if I were a vicar, which I will never be because that is something else that I disapprove of, I could be addressing my congregation after making the judgment that it was the usual Sunday morning congregation, so they knew me and I knew them. I might use a metaphor, but someone in the congregation could take the metaphor literally and go out and do something of which manifestly none of us would approve. Under the Bill, I could then be charged with the offence of saying something that was likely to stir up religious hatred. The vague definitions in the Bill seriously undermine it. I would be more reassured if the Bill was about intent, but the definition goes way beyond that.

Then there is the definition of what is a religion. If I say that I think that devil worship should be outlawed, is that stirring up religious hatred? If I say that I do not think that Satanism should be encouraged in Her Majesty's prisons—by the way, I do not—is that stirring up religious hatred? Some of the best conversations that
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I have ever had have been with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). We have had fantastic conversations in the Lobbies. What we have said would probably not bear much scrutiny under the proposed legislation. However, the hon. Gentleman and I have enjoyed our conversations, and I want to ensure that people can continue enjoying the freedom of religious debate, which I think will be severely curtailed under the Bill.

I do not believe in inciting hatred that results in violent acts, or hatred that results in serious discrimination. However, I believe in the right freely to criticise, and to do so in the strongest possible terms. If one of the hon. Gentleman's band of followers wants to stand in the street, point his finger to me and say, "Ann Widdecombe, you are bound for hell", I do not want to go whimpering to a policeman. I want to turn back and say to him, "Now let us discuss that because I have got absolute proof, mate, not you." That is how I want to react. That is democracy. That is a free society. That is human beings having the basic confidence in their own convictions to accommodate other people's convictions regardless of how offensive they might be to them.

There was a time when that was an ordinary way of British life. We do not need to sacrifice it in the name of yet another load of oppression from the Government, another load of political correctness and another serious removal of freedom from our country.

7.1 pm

Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): I crave the indulgence of the House in interrupting such an important and enjoyable debate to deliver my maiden speech. Furthermore, as the first Jedi Member of this place, I look forward to the protection under the law that will be provided to me by the Bill. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) for his convincing and searing testimony in support of the proposed legislation. It will be a privilege to serve alongside him.

First and foremost, I pay tribute to my predecessor, the recently ennobled Dr. Jack Cunningham. For 35 years, Dr. Cunningham served Copeland with dedication, diligence, foresight and no small amount of flair. His example is that of what can be achieved by ordinary working-class children with the right opportunities, encouragement and ambition. Dr. Cunningham has left me with a solid legacy upon which I hope to build—record levels of employment in Copeland, huge investments in schools with accompanying increases in standards, improving public services and, in Whitehaven, a town that has been transformed.

As a constituent, I, like many others, will miss Dr. Cunningham. However, as a friend and successor I know that he is, literally, not too far away from this place and that he will be on hand to give advice, both solicited and unsolicited, in the coming years. I hope sincerely that I can emulate his achievements.

I wish to thank Thompson and Frances May Reed, without whose support, advice and example I would not be standing in the House today. It is a sincere privilege and pleasure to be a Member of the House. However, I am cautious of becoming that which many people refer to as a parliamentarian. I am well aware of how this environment can captivate those who work within it. It
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has the power to cajole Members into its privileged embrace and, in some instances, to encourage those very same Members to forget why it was that they fought to enter the House in the first place.

I stand before the House as someone who has the sincere honour of representing the constituency of my birth, mindful that I am here to ensure that Parliament serves the needs of my constituents and not simply the needs of itself. I am genuinely proud to represent the people who I grew up with and the communities within which I grew up. They have placed an enormous amount of trust in me and I will do everything within my power to repay their faith.

Without doubt, Copeland is the most beautiful constituency within the whole of England. My constituency—my home—can be found on the west Cumbrian coast. Wastwater, England's deepest lake and Scafell Pike, England's tallest mountain, reside within it. This extraordinary environment produces extraordinary people who in turn are capable of extraordinary achievements.

From the village of Distington in the north to the town of Millom in the south, and through the mining villages of Pica, Lowca, Parton and Moresby, we can see the sort of community spirit that is all too rare in modern Britain—a community spirit that is based upon mutual support, shared experiences and a commitment to compassion and solidarity in times of need. Those villages represent that sorts of communities upon which our great nation was founded and the untapped potential that we still possess.

Just south of those villages is the town of Whitehaven, once one of Britain's most prosperous and important ports, and today one of our hidden national treasures. The harbour dates back to 1664 and was for many years a major trading post with the new world. Those links to and with the United States continue to this day and are perhaps best illustrated by my informing the House that the grandmother of George Washington is buried in the grounds of Whitehaven's St. Nicholas church alongside her servant, an African slave.

As a staging post for the young Jonathan Swift, the view of the town from the surrounding high ground is reputed to have provided the inspiration for Lilliput, the fictional land of "Gulliver's Travels". Further, the town's pre-eminent maritime reputation was recorded in the middle of the 19th century by the great American novelist Herman Melville in his epic book "Israel Potter", in which he chronicled the famous invasion of the town by the American continental navy during the opening years of the war of independence. As 2005 is the international year of the sea, there can be no better place within the UK to celebrate it than in Whitehaven. This weekend, in excess of 250,000 people will do just that as they flock from throughout the country to take part in this town's biennial maritime festival. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends, if they have the chance, to do the same.

Leaving Whitehaven, we travel through the towns of Cleator Moor—home to Keir Hardie, Robert Owen and William Morris avenues, which perhaps gives a clue as to the politics of the town—and the medieval town of Egremont, which is now world famous for its crab fair and annual gurning championship. South of that lies Seascale, Calder Bridge, Ennerdale, Wasdale and
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Ravenglass, before we encounter the outstanding natural beauty of south Copeland and the villages of Waberthwaite, Bootle and Haverigg. The south of Copeland is known for its remarkable meats and delicacies and its superb locally produced beers, all of which are on a par with, or better than, anything that is produced on the continent. Until now, I have deliberately omitted to mention Santon Bridge, the venue for the internationally renowned biggest liar in the world competition. I have never been an entrant in that competition and my speech is not an application to take part in this year's event.

It is only right that I now pay tribute to all of those exceptional men and women from my constituency who have served so honourably in our armed forces. This proud tradition continues to this day and I send my respect, gratitude and thanks to all those—and their families—who are in service on our behalf.

I do not pretend to be the authentic voice of my generation, but as we prepare to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war I must, on behalf of my generation, offer a long-overdue gesture of thanks to that generation who fought against the tyranny of fascism. My generation owes all that it has to that golden generation of men and women. Our thanks may perhaps be best expressed by working to ensure that those who gave everything they had to ensure the survival and prosperity of my generation are now looked after properly by us and allowed to live their lives with the dignity and respect that they deserve in the embrace of a grateful nation.

I have taken care to mention many, but by no means all, of the communities within my constituency, as those communities have selflessly served this country for centuries. In 1778, the townsfolk of Whitehaven repelled the invading forces of the American continental navy, led by a one-time son of the town and founder of the American fleet, John Paul Jones. That attack sent a tremor throughout the empire, proving that our island was not impenetrable and that the colonial rebels were serious about their intentions. That service for our country by the people of my town established an esprit de corps which has since been replicated throughout all the communities of my constituency, and remains so until this day.

When the nation's appetite for coal and iron ore was at its peak, the men, women and children of Copeland gave their good health and often their lives to feed that hunger. My great grandfather, whose body still remains entombed alongside those of his friends and fellow workers in the ruins of Whitehaven's Haig pit, is one such example. The need for coal to fuel the development of the nation and the empire led to an undersea pit being sunk at Saltom, a feat of engineering akin to the construction of the channel tunnel. Work began in 1729 and by 1731 the pit had reached a depth of 456 ft. It represented the first attempt at undersea mining in England and was the deepest undersea mine ever at that time. It was described at the time by its architect and driving force, Carlisle Spedding as

That was done in the service of our nation.
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During the second world war, a small west Cumbrian village produced munitions for the war effort. Following the end of the war and the actions of the US Congress in withdrawing from co-operation on an Anglo-American nuclear research programme, this area, known as Sellafield, was chosen as the site at which our country should produce materials for our nuclear deterrent. It was done in the service of our nation. Soon thereafter Sellafield became home to the world's first commercial-scale nuclear power station. That, too, was done in the service of our nation. The passage of time in no way lessens the value of that service or the relevance of those feats. Far from being a distant folk memory, the legacy of those achievements can still be seen from Copeland.

The House will be aware that the UK's nuclear liabilities, from both civil and nuclear military programmes, in the service of this nation remain within my constituency, and that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority was rightly established by the Government to deal with those liabilities. More than 60 per cent. of all the jobs in my constituency stem directly and indirectly from Sellafield. Consequently, the future of the site and the economic future of my constituency are inextricably linked. Copeland is home to what is probably the single largest concentration of nuclear engineering, operational and technical skills anywhere in the world. That unique skills base represents a priceless national asset and it must be utilised and built upon for the well-being of Britain as a whole, not just my constituency.

Debates in the House about the nuclear industry, particularly the parts based in my constituency, have too often been characterised by wilful ignorance and knowing distortion of the facts. I will never stand idly by while hon. Members play politics with the livelihood of my constituents. For as long as I remain in the House, I hope to be able to contribute a factual voice of reason, not only in this but in many other debates in the years ahead. There will soon come a time when my constituency will ask for its service to the nation to be recognised and rewarded. When that time arrives, I will work to secure the support of the House to ensure that that voice is heard and the debt honoured.

Earlier, I made reference to Whitehaven's regrettable involvement in the slave trade—a practice unquestionably built upon racial hatred. Like many constituencies, Copeland is now an increasingly multiracial, multicultural area and it is the better for it. Legislation such as this Bill is required to ensure that Britain not only safeguards but improves its record on protecting civil rights and liberties. It will also further cultural understanding and social integration. Against a backdrop of rising race-related crime in some areas—Northern Ireland in particular, if the figures published yesterday are to be believed—and the growth of far-right parties in the UK, it is difficult to present a coherent objection to the Bill. I am satisfied that, provided it is undertaken in a sensible, sensitive and effective manner, the implementation of the law envisaged by the Bill would not result in critics' fears being realised. Instead, it would complement existing legislation while assisting in the development of a culture of mutual respect and acceptance among all our many faiths and cultures. The—

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