Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention, but I believe that there is a clear distinction between race and religion. Race is immutable and, on
11 Jul 2005 : Column 608
any consensus view, a very poor foundation on which any intelligent person could make a distinction about someone's other characteristics. Religion, on the other hand, relates very strongly to a person's personal characteristics and views. The Attorney-General will therefore face a much harder task in regard to decisions on religious hatred than he does on racial hatred. That seems to be reflected by the fact that the Minister has suggested publicly that the level of prosecutions on religious hatred will be far lower even than that of prosecutions on racial hatred in the past few years.

Paul Goggins: I have a further reason to intervene on the hon. Gentleman: I have never suggested that. In fact, I have suggested that the numbers would be broadly similar. As I have just said, in nearly 20 years, there have been 44 convictions. The hon. Gentleman has once again described his view that religion is different from race, and of course I agree that there are differences, although I do not agree with his analysis. I simply wanted to point out that the Attorney-General comes some way down the process in this regard. The police first have to investigate a case; the Crown Prosecution Service then has to decide whether there is sufficient evidence and whether it would be in the public interest to pursue it. That all happens—and it happens well—before the Attorney-General has a veto over a case. I simply ask the hon. Gentleman to keep this matter in perspective.

Mr. Grieve: I had rather hoped that I was keeping it in perspective. The Minister's suggestion that there would be very few prosecutions seems to have been put forward to reassure the vast majority of people who are engaging in religious debate that they need have no fear while doing so. My anxiety is that the Bill is worded in such a way that anyone looking at its terms will see that they are very wide, and that only the Attorney-General's discretion will restrict them. For those reasons, I am trying to find a way forward.

I do not much care for the Bill—I shall come back to that in a moment and suggest some alternatives—but I am trying to suggest ways in which the Attorney-General's remit might be lessened. The police might therefore not need to get involved. They might say, "There was nothing in those words that could justify violent acts against anyone. You might find them very offensive, you might not like what was said, and people might be getting very worked up about it, but there is no justification for prosecution because the hatred was not of a kind that would tend towards acts of violence."

One of the problems with the Bill is that it does not define hatred. By its usual definition, all that it amounts to is an intense dislike.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Or enmity.

Mr. Grieve: Indeed. The implication that a person is likely to carry out an act of violence does not flow logically from either of those concepts. That is one of the reasons why the Bill is seriously flawed. I simply ask the Minister seriously to consider whether new clause 2 might provide a way forward in that regard.
11 Jul 2005 : Column 609

Chris Bryant: The bit that the hon. Gentleman has left out of all his discourse so far is that each of the sections of the Public Order Act 1986 contains a get-out clause, as it were—a reason why someone might not be committing an offence. Each section is worded slightly differently, but they include circumstances in which a person is unaware of the content of the material in question or does not suspect or have reason to suspect that it is threatening, abusive or insulting. So there are already provisions under which someone would not be guilty of an offence.

Mr. Grieve: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but I have always thought that those were more of a publisher's get-out than a proponent's get-out. I suppose that it is just possible that a person might use threatening, abusive or insulting words without knowing that they were, but it would be rather surprising.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman might be right so far as section 20 of the Public Order Act is concerned, but each of the different sections is worded very specifically to ensure that there is a get-out, not only for publishers but for people who use words and behaviour, or puts on a play or makes a broadcast, in each of the different categories. The Act is pretty clear.

Mr. Grieve: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I still believe that a protection that states, as the Public Order Act does, that

does not address the second issue, which relates to the stirring up of hatred. Clearly, if people are prevented from using threatening, abusive or insulting words, or have a let-out that they did not realise that they were threatening, abusive or insulting, that is one thing. However, I felt that the Minister made it clear in Committee that there might be circumstances in which someone could use insulting behaviour. Many people regard certain comedy turns as insulting, for example. If a comedy were to be put on that was deeply insulting to the religion being parodied, it would lose the person involved the protection of that particular limb of the Act.

Dr. Evan Harris: Until the hon. Gentleman uttered those last few words, he was being far too kind to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). The defence in section 18(5) of the Public Order Act is no defence for those who are putting on a play or performance, especially when people have been consulted about its content in an attempt to meet their concerns. The people putting on the play would have been told, "We find this insulting", so they could not be unaware of the fact. If anything, the measures would encourage people not to consult or to let people know in advance that they might be putting risky material into a comedy, an entertainment or a play. Whether the material would incite hatred against individuals is a separate issue, but the measure that has just been mentioned is no help.

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why we must be so careful with this legislation. New clause 2 at least offers some measure of protection. It is unlikely that
11 Jul 2005 : Column 610
anyone would suggest that a comedian's lampoon—however pointed, barbed or insulting—could constitute an encouragement to violent acts.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend has identified perhaps the greatest problem with the Bill, namely that hatred is not properly defined. Might I suggest that a way forward might be to define the concept so that it involved a propensity to cause violence? That would involve taking up his new clause, and attaching that concept to the definition of hatred.

Mr. Grieve: My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very good point. If the Minister were to come to the Dispatch Box and suggest that that might be a way to proceed, I would welcome it. The fact that we can have this kind of debate on Report is extremely useful, because when the Bill goes to another place, the record of these proceedings will doubtless be read, and people will be able to see that that suggestion represents another approach to the problem. I tabled quite a few amendments in Committee to try to find a way around this problem. They were rejected, however. On Report, therefore, I wanted to confine myself to essentials. My right hon. and learned Friend is right, however, that that might be a better approach, and that a definition of hatred could be extremely helpful. Anyone who looks in the dictionary can see that the term is not well defined, which has been one of the anxieties throughout our consideration of this legislation.

Rev. Ian Paisley: On Second Reading, I asked the Home Secretary a question concerning statements in the Bible and in the confessions of faith of all the Churches telling against various other beliefs. I asked:

He said: "No, they would not." Surely the way to safeguard that in the Bill would be to accept the hon. Gentleman's new clause, but there is nothing in the Bill to safeguard the promise made. The Minister replying to the debate knows well that one cannot go into a court and say, "When the Bill passed through the House of Commons the Minister said this", for the judge would laugh and say, "Sit down."

Next Section IndexHome Page