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Philip Davies: In Bradford, we have the misfortune of having four BNP councillors. I would like to make it clear that I consider them a nasty bunch of thugs, to be honest, but does my hon. Friend agree that we have seen a rise in the BNP under this Government and that that is partly because of the political correctness that they have instilled, which stops people feeling that they can speak freely? The Bill will be a recruitment sergeant for the BNP as more and more people feel that their legitimate views cannot be expressed any further.

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is reflected in the Cantle report, if one bothers to read it. It made it clear that those who espoused extreme views were those who felt themselves to be marginalised, sometimes unjustifiably but sometimes with some justice. That is why the House should be very careful before it creates a new class of marginalised individuals.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Do Labour Members take any responsibility for the rise of the BNP over the past eight years, because it is people like us who are fighting it on a daily basis, clearing up their mess?

Mr. Grieve: It would be wise if the Government were to heed that problem and to listen to the contributions that people make to improve the legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) gave some good examples concerning religion. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) raised the valid point that homosexual groups have pointed out that some Christian sects may be able to claim protection from utterances of great unpleasantness on the grounds that those are part of their own religious beliefs.

May I attempt, partly for the benefit of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), to summarise why the Bill will not achieve its intended consequence? There is no definition of religion. Indeed, religion cannot be defined. There are two separate sets of current definitions, one in charity law and one under the Human Rights Act 1998, but religion undoubtedly covers a multiplicity of sects, including sects that many hon. Members would consider to have unpleasant and outrageous beliefs. If that is the case, on what basis is the House going to say to the citizens of this country that they cannot have intense dislike of such organisations?
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Intense dislike is all that the word "hatred" means, yet in the debate we have heard again and again people say that hatred is tantamount to carrying out an assault or violence on an individual. Incitement to violence is already well covered by the criminal law. The dictionary definition of hatred, the only definition, is "intense dislike", so the House needs to ponder the question: why should people not have the right to intensely dislike the beliefs of others? The point was well made. One cannot divorce the belief—this was the point made by Rowan Atkinson—from the believer. How are we going to deal with those circumstances to create legislation that is workable? The Minister and the Government have provided no answer whatsoever to that question.

We will attempt to look at this issue in Committee, but on the face of it, religion is a matter of personal belief and conscience. During this debate, some Members have said that it is not—that it is a cultural thing, and that many people are born into their religion. I accept that, but it could equally well be said that many of us are born into our political beliefs as well. However, I have never heard it suggested that as a result of our being so born, those political beliefs should not be open to the criticism and censure in which we routinely engage in and outside this House.

We are taking a completely wrong turning when we seek to equate religion with race. One is immutable, the other is not. One is a matter of choice and conscience, the other most definitely is not. I suggest to the Minister that it is because he has tried to translate this concept into established legislation that he is getting into so much difficulty. I want to concentrate on that point for one moment.

This House may not have too much difficulty with the concept that we should not intentionally seek to stir up hatred against other people on the ground of their religion, although as I have pointed out, there may be perfectly legitimate reasons why one should want to stir up intense dislike of people who have horrible religious beliefs. But the Government are going even further. The amendment to the 1986 Act, quite apart from the wording of the Act itself, introduces the concept that one may commit this offence without intent, simply because

On looking at the factors that have to be decided objectively, in order to commit this offence one has to threaten—we would all agree that such an action is wrong—and to be abusive, which most people would also agree is wrong in most discourse. But one can also commit this offence by insulting others. The term "insult" is very wide. It was deliberately made wide in race relations legislation because there can be no grounds for insulting somebody on the basis of their race. But there may well be perfectly good grounds for wishing to express views that could be construed as insulting.

The Minister listened earlier to interventions that dealt with the question of whether the Pope is the Antichrist. I regard that as an insulting comment. The novel "The Satanic Verses" is full of insults against Muslims—there is no way of avoiding that. For that matter, "The Da Vinci Code", a current bestseller, is undoubtedly blasphemous and insulting to Christians—
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if they feel minded to be insulted by it. Yet all that one need do for the offence to have been committed is simply to be insulted by these things, and then find someone who is stirred up to hatred as a result.

This country, I am afraid, as we all know from our constituencies and our own experience, has a plentiful load of cranks who are stirred up to hatred of their fellow men at the merest opportunity. There are religious bigots. There are individuals with messianic views. All these people, on the basis that they may be encouraged in that position, will be the catalyst through which individual comments can be converted into criminal offences. I simply cannot believe that that is what the Government intend, and we will work hard in Committee to try to rectify these, the Bill's worst vices.

That does not get away from the fact that this is bad law. If we want to improve it, we should consider the Lord Lester amendment—it has been canvassed on previous occasions—which has the merit of preventing racial abuse by proxy and incitement to racial hatred by proxy, while not having the enormous problems associated with the Government's approach.

The more one reads the text of the Bill, the more one realises that the Government are creating a catch-all piece of legislation and then seeking to reassure people on the basis that no one will be caught very much because they will ensure that the Attorney-General exercises his discretion to stop it happening. That is not a basis, Mr. Speaker, on which the House should legislate. In fact, it is offensive to law-abiding people in this country, leaving them in a state of uncertainty and creating the very climate in which demands will be made for the unjustified prosecution of individuals. It will foment hatred rather than reduce it; and it is for that reason that the House would be well advised to vote for the reasoned amendment and against the Bill.

9.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): The one thing on which we can all agree is that we have had a rich, interesting and genuine debate. You may not be surprised to learn, Mr. Speaker, that part of my preparation for taking the Bill through Parliament, knowing how controversial it is, was to seek some divine inspiration. Imagine my discomfort when, at my church on Sunday, the following passage from Jeremiah was read out.

Sometimes as a Home Office Minister, it is like that—but only sometimes.

I was relieved, to say the least, to hear so many of my hon. Friends speak so strongly in favour of this important measure. My right hon. Friends the Members for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) and for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) and my hon. Friends the Members for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) and for Tooting (Mr. Khan) all gave strong, wide-ranging speeches about the need to meet the challenges of today in a changing world.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed), in an excellent maiden speech, related the issues of the debate to his own constituency. For one fleeting and enjoyable moment, he took us to the beauty of Wastwater, which is a wonderful place. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik), in what has been acknowledged on both sides of the House as a powerful speech, drew on his personal experience as well as his political analysis. In my view, he will indeed last longer than the bandmaster of the Titanic who, as we heard, came from his constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) spoke strongly in support, as he always does. He has a proud record of pressing these issues in this place and in his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) who always contributes to these debates did so again, though, as he freely acknowledged, his aspirations lie somewhat beyond the narrow remit of the Bill.

The Bill clearly generates strong views both for and against the proposed offence, and our debate has provided ample opportunity for both sides to put their views on the record. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and, indeed, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) made strong speeches, and I am pleased to confirm that neither said anything that would contravene the proposed new offence.

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