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Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is right. In Committee, I quoted from the Koran, the Old Testament, the New Testament and the 39 Articles, particularly Article 18. I do not wish to bore the House with repetition, however.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con):
I was unavoidably detained elsewhere during the early stages of the Bill. Did my hon. Friend quote from Voltaire, who, however much he disliked what one said, would defend to the death one's right to say it? Would not that be a more civilised maxim to guide the House today?
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Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend is right. I do not think that I needed to quote thatit had been quoted extensively by others before I had the opportunity to do so. One of the problems highlighted in Committee was that many texts in the Bible, and certainly in the Koran, given a literal interpretation, must certainly be said to stir up hatred. One of the psalms that I read is specifically about hating other people who do one harm. In those circumstances, I raised the matter with the Minister. The 39 Articles also make it clear that there is a duty to point out the error of others, and to challenge them in their views.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): While I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do with this new clause, does not he agree that his argument with the Attorney-General making a judgment might apply similarly to a third party having to judge the tone and content of something?
Mr. Grieve: Ultimately, someone must make a judgement, and on the basis of new clause 2, the people making the judgment will be the jurors in the criminal trial that takes place. At least it would be possible, however, to say to the jurors, "Unless, members of the jury, you are satisfied that the tone and content of what was said was such as to constitute a justification for a violent act against another group, it doesn't matter how threatening, abusive, insulting or what the intent might have been. It is irrelevant; the person is not guilty." It would boil down to that.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I understand that Voltaire, on his death bed, was asked to renounce the devil and all his works, and he said that it was no time to make unnecessary enemies. Under the Bill, might he have been in some difficulty and forbidden to die?
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): Is not a further complication that we happily allow people to hate each other, and in any case, how can we prevent them from doing so? It is an entrenched part of terrace culture that the supporters of certain football clubs hate those of other football clubs. We live with that. Surely the problem comes when the hatred leads to violence or incitement to violence. That is the distinction that we must capture.
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is right. It is a difficult dividing line. In fairness to the Government, as I understand it, they have kept on saying that the mischief that they are trying to meet is precisely the one that he identifies. The trouble is, however, that once one starts to argue that incitement to religious hatred is a criminal offence of itself, one has moved the goalposts a very long way. Anyone who reads this Bill can see that it potentially criminalises a wide range of expressions of views about other people.
Is not the truth that we are beginning to see a consensus building up that what is objectionable is not
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just the state of mind of the person listening to the language but the consequences of that state of mind? Therefore, what we are trying to strike down is language that might cause a state of mind to arise which itself will give rise to violent or unlawful conduct. Are we not coming to that?
Mr. Grieve: My right hon. and learned Friend has got it absolutely right. The problem then, which is one of the reasons why I think this legislation is so misguided, is that the Government have found themselves hoisted on their commitment to create equality and a level playing field between racial and religious hatred. As a result, as became apparent from debates in Committee, every time a suggestion was made that religion should be treated differently from incitement to racial hatred, it was condemned by the Government on the basis that they would then fail in the promise that they made to the Muslim community, as I understand it, to create a level playing field with Jews and Sikhs. That is why I suggested to the Minister earlier that the Government might like to consider the possibility of splitting hatred against Jews and Sikhs on religious grounds from hatred against them on racial grounds. I accept, however, that that is a problem. As long as the Government persist in demanding that the Bill should apply equally as regards race and religion, we will be faced with that problem.
In the fascinating debate in Committee, which I found to be one of the most interesting in which I have been involved since entering the House, it became plain to me that the Government were trying to do something that was difficult, impossible and had a whole series of unintended consequences about which the House should be concerned. The truth is that race and religion are different. As long as the Government persist in maintaining that they must be treated identically, we will face that sort of problem.
In the other amendments that we tabled, we tried to deal with the problem through an alternative approach, by leaving the offence of "specific intent" in religious hatred but removingif I may use the expression that seems to have been introduced in Committeethe "likely limb" of the offence. That approach has much to commend it, but falls foul of the issue that I raised a moment ago about the equality between racial and religious hatred. Again, as long as the Government are hooked on maintaining that link, it will not help them to find a way through their problem. I have grave anxieties, however, about whether people should be criminalised on the basis of expressions of religious hatred unless they were specifically intending to foment such hatred. In those circumstances, those are other grounds on which the House might consider that it would be sensible to allow a distinction to be made between racial and religious hatred.
Dr. Evan Harris:
The hon. Gentleman made a key point about Jews and Sikhs. A number of legal experts tell me that they do not believe there is discrimination now, and that Jews and Sikhs are protected against incitement to racial hatred because there is no Act or law that defines religious hatred. The new schedule will make it absolutely clear that any victim of incitement to racial hatred, whether or not that victim is a religious group, should and could be covered by the Bill. I do not
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believe, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not believe, that the anomaly that the Government have identified does exist.
Mr. Grieve: What the hon. Gentleman says is relevant to the new schedule, which seeks to deal with circumstances already established by case lawcircumstances in which an attack on someone's racial and ethnic identity is made through the medium of his religion.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on another point. I have never had the impression that the clause protecting Jews and Sikhs from racial hatred was intended to protect them from criticism, even vigorous criticismor even the fomenting of dislikeon the basis of their religious views. The Minister may correct me, but I know of no prosecution that has been brought on the basis that criticism was in fact criticism of their religious views. In my experience, such prosecutions have generally been brought as a result of far wider attacks on people's ethnic identity. To that extent, I have always thought that the anxiety apparently expressed by the Muslim community in Britain, which the Bill seems to want to address, is fundamentally misplaced.
Let us assume for a moment, however, that the Government wish to cure that problem. One way of doing so would be to adopt the new schedule. We have been over this ground before, and I leave it to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) to speak to the new schedule, which has been described as the Lord Lester amendment. I will say, though, that it has the merit of allowing protection to be set down in statute for those who are under attack on the basis of their ethnic identity through the medium of their religion. The courts have already succeeded through case law, but the new schedule would set it down in black and white, and I think it would provide a really effective compromise. We have mentioned that before, and I look forward to hearing the Minister explain why it is not a better approach.
I apologise for taking up so much time, but the issues are lumped together. This is an important group of proposals. I urge the Minister to respond positively, because if we do not find a way forward, the Bill will go nowhereor, at any rate, no further than the House of Commons. Moreover, we will introduce to an area in which I believe there is some agreement a further degree of party-politicisation, which I do not particularly welcome in the circumstances and which will continue until the Government decideif they wishto use the Parliament Act to force the Bill through.
That would not make the Bill any better. We have here a number of proposals which, if the Government responded to them positively, would at least provide a way forward. I must make it clear to the Minister that I have always considered the Lord Lester amendment to be the best option, but I hope that if they find it unacceptable, the Government will look sensibly at some of the other ideas.
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