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Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I have sympathy with my hon. Friend's aim, but he asked what the problem with the new clause was. It does not refer to intent. It simply refers to whether speech constitutes a justification. Surely the new clause should be directed towards intent.

Mr. Grieve: My right hon. and learned Friend is right. In Committee, we spent much time considering intent. If he examines some of the other amendments that I have tabled, especially amendments Nos. 3 to 8, he will realise that leaving out the word "religious" would confine the offence of inciting religious hatred to one of specific intent and remove it from the second category, which is sometimes described as the "likely limb". I am afraid that that is not immediately clear, but that alternative approach might commend itself to hon. Members.

I must however be realistic. I have to accept, in the light of what happened in Committee, that the Government vigorously reject the approach. They were committed to maintaining the duality of incitement to racial and religious hatred, including the possibility that the offence could be committed not only with but without specific intent, if the threatening, insulting or abusive words were likely to be heard by people in whom they were likely to stir up religious hatred. I stress to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) that that is one of the reasons for my fundamental objection to the Bill.

Given that we are on Report and I am trying to tempt the Government, however, I am at least willing to try to encourage them to consider new clause 2 and provide some greater protection. If they did that, I would not jump up and down and say that the Bill was acceptable but it must get through not only this place but another place. The prospect of its getting though another place in its current form is limited. Given that I have always attempted to proceed by argument, not simply by confrontation, I tabled new clause 2 because it provides at least a measure of definition. Unless we provide that the words can be construed as constituting justification for violence, the Bill gives complete protection, whether there was specific intent or not.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the Government reject new clause 2, it would make their promise that the Bill would not curtail freedom of speech hollow? That would reinforce the view of many of us that they intend the new orthodoxy about which Labour Members spoke in Committee. The Government have banned people from doing things that they do not like and the Bill now bans people from saying things that they do not like.

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend is right. There is the hint of a new orthodoxy in the air, which provides that people must restrict their speech so that they do not cause offence or encourage people to dislike others, whatever the views of the person to be disliked. Philosophically, that is a nail in the coffin of a free
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society. The moment we go down that road, it will be impossible to hold the sort of robust discourse that created the freedoms and democracy that this country enjoys. They were not born of everybody being inclusively kind to each other. I am sure that many advances in freedom of speech in the past 200 years were offensive to those on the receiving end.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I recognise that my hon. Friend is trying to improve rather than retard the Bill. However, I put it to him, without wishing to nit-pick, that the unspoken premise of new clause 2 appears to be that there should be no requirement to prove intention because people must simply be assumed to intend the natural consequences of their actions. That is a dangerous working premise. In matters of argument, whether political or religious, the assumption of rationality is rather dangerous.

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. However, it is worth bearing in mind the fact that new clause 2 has to be read in conjunction with the Bill. The measure creates an offence of incitement to religious hatred, one limb of which requires specific intent—the intent is therefore already present—while the other limb requires, in the absence of specific intent, the words to be threatening, abusive or insulting and likely to be heard by people in whom they are likely to stir up hatred. My hon. Friend—and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham—must forgive me, but we went over the matter in great detail in Committee.

John Bercow: I was not privileged to serve on the Committee.

Mr. Grieve: I appreciate that. Indeed, if my hon. Friend wants to develop the argument, he can examine the other amendments which I mentioned and to which I intended to move on, but I do not want to take up too much time.

John Bercow: Go on.

Mr. Grieve: I shall do so briefly and shortly.

In the meantime, new clause 2 does not remove the limb that requires specific intent. It simply makes it clear that, irrespective of whether there is specific intent, the words, speech or expression must be

It has the merit that, once introduced as a concept, many things that people say about others, including things that may be offensive, certainly insulting, but probably not threatening—threats in discourse have little place in a democratic society—would be defused. In Committee, we worried especially about insulting terms.

My impression from contact with many members of secular and religious groups who have deep anxiety about the Bill—about 2,000 of them, in an impressive gathering, remarkable for its diversity, were demonstrating outside the House this afternoon—is that they would at least be reassured that their ability to express their dislike of other people's beliefs or their views on the morality of others would be protected, even if some people might find it insulting and even if some
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idiot elsewhere in the country seized on it as a justification for doing something that the ordinary words used could not possibly justify.

I challenge the Under-Secretary to explain why new clause 2 is unacceptable. It makes some progress towards achieving a measure of greater agreement about how to include safeguards in the Bill.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): In the hon. Gentleman's introductory remarks, he spoke of the difficulty of distinguishing between religion and politics, or at least the principle of providing for an offence of inciting religious hatred but not political hatred. Has he had the opportunity to consider the position of, say, an Islamic People's party or Christian Democrats, if their members claim that their critics are inciting hatred against them on the ground of religion, not politics? Does that give them an unfair advantage in the hurly-burly of political discourse?

6 pm

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There are in the world today—and, indeed, in this country—groups who have founded their political agenda on religious principles. Indeed, in Europe, the Christian Democrats did exactly that for a long time. So the two concepts are closely linked, but one of the questions that the Minister failed completely to answer in Committee was how we should disentangle them. I do not think that they can be disentangled.

The Minister falls back on the argument that the disentanglement will be done by the poor old Attorney-General, who, when confronted with a set of facts, will decide whether they transgress or exceed the mark. The Minister knows my view on this: it is very unsatisfactory to create a legislative framework that is wholly incomprehensible to the wider public and leaves them at the mercy of a single individual who sits in his office and decides whether they have overstepped the mark. I fear, too, that when prosecutions start, this approach will lead to all sorts of allegations that the Attorney-General is being selective and protecting certain religious groups and not others. I defy the Minister: even the Attorney-General, a man who would seek to apply a great measure of dispassionate assessment to any problem that he faced, could not fail to be swayed by societal considerations about what is or is not a mainstream point of view.

Paul Goggins: Perhaps I could ask the hon. Gentleman to calm down a little. He knows that in the nearly 20 years that the law on race hatred has operated, there have been 76 prosecutions, 44 convictions and seven occasions on which the Attorney-General has stopped a prosecution proceeding. It would serve the hon. Gentleman and the House well if we could put the role of the Attorney-General into perspective in this regard. It is an important role, but let us just get it in perspective.

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