Paul Goggins: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The new clause will give the reassurance that he suggests. He cited the very different legislation in Victoria state, Australia, under which people report complaints to the Equal Opportunities Commission. However, a different system will apply here. The new clause reassures the preachers who my hon. Friend mentioned. It will send out the clear message that there can be no messing about. People will not have the power to make a citizen's arrest for the offence because that will be entirely a matter for the police.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Once the amendment is agreed to, as I hope it will be, surely the situation will be exactly the same here as in the state of Victoria, in that a report will be made and a complaint made against a person, rather than a citizen's arrest being attempted.
A report will be made not to the Equal Opportunities Commission, but to the police, who will carry out a full investigation. They will present what they find to the Crown Prosecution Service and then if, together, it is felt that there is sufficient evidence and it satisfies the public interest test, the Attorney-General can consider whether it is appropriate to bring a prosecution. All these safeguards are in place. I agree that it is important that we put in place safeguards to ensure that no over-zealous interpretation of the new offence, or of specific circumstances in which it may occur, inadvertently adds unnecessarily to tensions that may exist.
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Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for listening to the views of the Committee about the power of arrest. However, listening to an important but small point does not let him off the hook for listening to the large points to which we shall come. Can he give some other examples of criminal laws where the power of arrest has also been excluded? How does he intend to publiciseI am sure that his remarks will be well read tomorrow morningand get the message across to people what will happen as a result of the Bill?
Paul Goggins: I said in Committee that I saw my responsibilities for the Bill not simply in getting it through Parliament, but beyond that. When we formulate the guidance, we must do so in a way that is inclusive and helps to raise awareness and to educate people. I believe that many fears will be allayed. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have listened and that I will continue to do so throughout our debates.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Is the Minister telling the House that there could be a period when the person would not be arrested? Is he saying that if someone else is informing the police, there would not be an immediate arrest?
Paul Goggins: There could be a period during which the police, even if they know that something is happening, wish to investigate further. They may wish to bring someone in under caution for questioning, and they will do that in what they consider to be a responsible way. We seek to prevent somebody from wading into a gathering and acting in an individual way that could exacerbate problems and tensions rather than reduce them.
In the spirit of consensus, it might be a little churlish to explain to the House why the Government new clause is superior to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield. However, it is my duty to do so. There are one or two technical difficulties with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. More seriously, we have made a great effort in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 to consolidate all powers of arrest in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Rather than having them scattered, we will have them in one place. That is why we are proposing an amendment to the 1984 Act rather than to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.
This has not been an issue in terms of race hate law, which has worked perfectly well for nearly 20 years, but the equality of protection, which is a fundamental principle within the Bill, is important. That is why we propose to extend the exception that we are introducing to cover both religious and race hatred. I hope that what I have said illustrates that we have been listening to the concerns that have been expressed.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con):
I thank the Minister for his comments. I am happy to accept new clause 3 in substitution for amendment No. 10. I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that, as so often happens when Government draftsmen lay their hands on the idea of others, the new clause reads much more happily than the amendment could ever do. I rejoice that the argument that I advanced in Committee, which I
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recollect was qualified by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Ms Thornberry) as barmy, appears to have received a sympathetic response from the Government.
The position is simple. The Bill, which criminalises incitement to religious hatred, leaves open the possibility that individuals could turn up at a public meeting, listen to a speaker's words and conclude that they were infringing the law. Because there would not be a police officer present, under the new rules on the powers of citizen's arrest they could mount the platform and say in colloquial terms, "You're nicked." They could then summon the police to take that individual away, regardless of the fact that, as the Minister has often told the House, few prosecutions are anticipated under the provision.
That highlights another aspect of the Bill, to which we shall doubtless return later today. Its scope is uncertain and it is easy for someone to conclude from its wording that there has been an infringement that would justify an arrest. Even though the Attorney-General may decide that he does not wish to prosecute the matter, there would be no redress for the person who had been arrested, as those who had arrested him could argue that, under the Bill, they had a reasonable suspicion that an offence had been committed.
A greater recipe for community strife could not be imagined. I was reassured that I was not barmy when the week before last I met some police officers in my locality who are policing a multicultural and multi-faith area. I asked them whether they were aware that the provision was going to be introduced and what they thought about it. When they learned what was likely to happen in their locality, their reaction was one of the utmost horror. There are groups in the area that they police that are on the look-out for transgressions by other religious groups or, indeed, by individuals within a religious group. Recently, for instance, one group within a religion had gone to a car park to seize religious items from another group because they believed that those items were about to be misused. The Government are therefore wise to heed my request. I was seriously concerned about the issue, so I thank the Minister for taking it on board.
The provision has been extended to cover racial hatred. I accept the Minister's reasons for doing so, but I cannot think of a circumstance, even in relation to racial hatred, where one would wish to see a citizen's arrest carried out in this fashion. In Committee, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) said that he could not think of a single instance in which it had been a problem in the past 20 years. That is because it has never happened, but it could well happen in future.
I am grateful to the Minister, and I will not take up any more of the House's time. I am delighted to be able to tell the Minister that we endorse wholeheartedly the Government new clause even though, I am afraid, we are most unlikely to endorse wholeheartedly the rest of the Bill.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD):
I shall be brief because the main points have been made by the Minister and the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). We, too, are minded to support the Government new clause. I am grateful to the Minister for giving the matter careful consideration and for
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reintroducing the provision in its current form. It would be interesting to know whether there is a wider departmental view about the prudence of certain measures extending citizen's arrest in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, or whether that is limited to this narrow application. However, it would be churlish not to accept the shift by the Government. We are grateful to the Minister and we are pleased to support him.
Paul Goggins: Briefly, I join the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) in his praise for the draftsmen, not least for using to better effect some of the ideas that he proposed. I also praise my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Ms Thornberry), who may have her own reasons for describing the hon. Gentleman as barmy, but we need not discuss that now.