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On the more serious point, I emphasise the importance of ensuring that the new provision is extended to both religious and racial hatred. It is not a case of us being picky. If we do not extend it to both, we provide one set of protection for Jews and Sikhs, who are currently covered by the race hate legislation, and another for other religious groups. It is an important principle, to which we shall return.
Mr. Grieve: After Committee and after pondering that issue, I began to wonder whether, if the provision goes on the statute book as the Government intend, we would find case law develops so that the religious aspects of the racial offence against Jews and Sikhs are transferred to the category of religious, rather than racial, offence, in which case the Government have been worrying about nothing on that point.
Paul Goggins: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are worrying about something very substantial indeed: the evidence we have that people try to stir up hatred against others because of their religious belief. That is the heart of our concern, which we seek to address through the measure. If hon. Members start to differentiate between race and religion in legislation, the anomaly that we are seeking to remedy between Jews and Sikhs and other religious groups would be repeated in the Bill. That would not be welcome.
Mr. Grieve: We return to one of the general issues that we considered extensively in Committee and which, I hope, we may be able to revisit this afternoon in a sensible frame of mind and perhaps from a slightly new angle. It was apparent in Committee that there was a universal acceptance that in the context of human discourse, it is sensible and prudent that people should express themselves moderately wherever possible. Equally, as became clear in the course of debate, there was some acknowledgement that matters of religion are matters of personal conscience, unlike race, which is immutable. I defy any hon. Member who participated in the Committee to have been able to conclude by the end of it that it was possible to distinguish between a religious belief and, say, a political belief. They are all matters of personal opinion and are all capable of criticism.
In Committee, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Ms Thornberry)I am sorry to bring her in again, as she is not in her placetook the view that we might prudently prohibit all forms of incitement to hatred whatever form it took, therefore including, I suppose, incitement to political hatred. Notwithstanding that, the Minister was clear that he was trying to limit it to incitement to religious hatred only. That gives rise to two questions. First, what is the rationale behind doing this if it is difficult to differentiate religious and political hatred and any other form of hatred? Secondly, how can we do that without preventing or infringing freedom of speech in a way that many hon. Members may find unpalatable and unacceptable?
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In new clause 2, I trywe did not do this in Committeeto approach the matter from a slightly different angle. Is it possible for the House, while allowing the Bill to proceed in its present formI have grave misgivings about that, for reasons to which I shall return laterto have a sufficient definition of the mischief that we are trying to tackle so as to provide reassurance to individuals about the bounds of the criticism in which they can engage in considering other people's religious beliefs and, indeed, those people themselves? The Minister said in Committee that it was not the Government's intention to prevent the most vigorous criticism of religion but to prevent the most vigorous criticism that might incite hatred against the individuals who held those beliefs. We therefore spent some time considering the sort of people who might be protected. In amendment No. 9, I have re-tabled an amendment, in a slightly different form, that we debated in Committee. It highlights the fact that people who might enjoy protection under the Bill include Satanists, Scientologists, believers in the need for human sacrifice to propitiate a deity, believers in female genital mutilation so as to live in accordance with the rules of a religion, believers in violence as a means of proselytising a belief, and believers in the divinely ordained supremacy of one race over another.
We have to face the fact that under the Bill as drafted, one of the consequences, perhaps unintended, of the Government's approach is that such groups would enjoy a measure of protection and that people would be told that they are not allowed to incite hatred against those who hold such beliefs. We are entitled in this House to express hatred of the British National partyindeed, it is done quite regularlyand we frequently express hatred not only of the BNP but of some of its leading participants and proponents. Philosophically speaking, what is the difference between that and the hatred that one might have of people who believed in female genital mutilation as part of their religious convictions? I have never been able to understand how that distinction can be made.
In Committee, the Minister engaged in a certain amount of nimble footwork in trying to suggest that some of the people whom I list in amendment No. 9 would not be covered by the Bill because a religion has to have some public benefit. However, it is possible to have a religion that has a public benefit and where people still believe in some of those things. As there is no definition of religion in the Bill, it will attract the definitions that currently exist under human rights law and charity law, which are extremely broad and will cover individual sects, including those that many people might regard as repellent.
"Nothing in Part 3 of the Public Order Act 1986 . . . shall be read or given effect in a way which restricts or prohibits freedom of speech or expression on any matter of religious belief or lack of religious belief, unless the tone or content of such speech or expression is such as to constitute a justification for violent acts against any group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief."
What is wrong with that new clause? How does it undermine the Government's intention? If I have understood the rationale behind their arguments correctly, it is that we must curb freedom of speech not
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because of the speech itself but because of its corrosive consequences in acts committed against individuals. The Under-Secretary will correct me if I am wrong, but that appears to be the justification for the Government's position.
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