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Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that there is common ground in all parts of the House on the question of dealing with the mischief that the Government are addressing, and he is right to say that the Minister has been at pains to point out that the Bill will not create the mischief that some of us fear, which is unnecessary prosecutions. The difficulty that some of us have is that the Minister always ends up saying that the Attorney-General will act as the stop on such prosecutions, and that they will therefore not reach court. In doing so, the Minister fails to recognise that the problem is the effect that the complaint and the investigation will have on someone who is simply proselytising their religion, cracking a joke or doing any of the things that we believe to be part of free speech.
Dr. Wright: That is true and of course, according to a further powerful argument that has been deployed in this debate, if the Bill is left as it is, it will create expectations of consequences that will never be realised and should never be realised, and which the Government have said will never be realised. The argument is that the Bill is designed to offer symbolic reassurance, but that in doing so, it will generate expectations that, when unmet, will have consequences contrary to those that the Government quite properly want.
Such a statement is, more or less, what I would like to be included in the Bill. I would be prepared to add a "just" or a "merely" if that would help the Government, but having listened very carefully to what they had to say throughout our deliberations, I do not believe that there could be any conceivable objection to including in the Bill such a bland, anodyne statement. It became absolutely clear what this Bill was about and was not about.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his sensible new clause. Does he agree that the biggest danger with the Bill is not that someone will be sent to jail who should not be, but that, without his amendment, people will be afraid to speak out on things on which the Government would not mind them speaking because of the uncertainty over the Bill? Is not
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the biggest danger that the Bill will restrict freedom of speech because people will be unsure as to what they can say and what they cannot say?
The Minister may be about to tell me that he agrees entirely with this anodyne new clause, in which case I could have saved myself a few moments on the Floor of the House. If not, I fear that this is but a foretaste of what is to come. It would be better to try to put a reassurance of this kind in the Bill now. If so, the Government will have a chance of securing the Bill with assent. Without it, I fear that that may not be the case.
Mr. Carmichael: I should say that unless the Minister was minded to accept our amendments and new schedule, it would be my intention to seek to test the view of the House by way of a Division at the conclusion of our proceedings on this group.
In this short debate, we have already had significant references to the work of Voltaire and John Stuart Mill. I should place on record that at different stages of my academic career, such as it was, I have been a student of moral philosophy and of jurisprudence. I should add that sufficient time has passed for me to be candid and to state that I slept through most of my lectures on both subjects, but I did learn one thing from them, which was not to get involved in arguments that one was not qualified to argue. With all due respect to the hon. Members for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) and for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), I hope the House will forgive me if I take a more practical rather than philosophical approach to the amendments.
Implicit in what the Minister said in relation to the earlier group of amendments was that although we have had Second Reading and Committee and are now on Report, we have never got over the real issue that lies at the heart of the Bill and the difficulty it causes me and others. That issue is the fundamental distinction between the nature of religion and the nature of race and the very different views that should be taken to hatred that is stirred up on the basis of one's race and one's religion. That stems from the immutability of one's racial characteristics, which is quite different from the changeable nature of one's religious views.
The point bears making, however, that there is a degree of compulsion that comes with one's religious beliefs and questions of faith that leads one to demand and to be entitled to a degree of protection from the law. That is one of the biggest difficulties that the Bill faces. It is because one is compelled to speak out in a certain way because of one's religious beliefs that the freedom of religious expression is very important and the Bill poses a real danger in this regard. The Government may have rather oversold the Bill in some religious
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communities, but there is a growing realisation that the Bill will be as unpopular among the Muslim communities as it will be among those who have been lobbying us so vigorously in the last few weeks.
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is spelling out what he thinks is at the core of the Bill, but will he address this question? Causing hatred is obviously a very wrong activity, but should it by itself be an unlawful activity? It would be quite wrong to cause hatred for homosexuals, but if that does not spill over into unlawful or violent conduct towards homosexuals, should the law intervene?
Mr. Carmichael: There is no single answer to that question. There are certainly clear areas where it is in public policy interest that we should prevent hatred and racial hatred is now accepted as being one of the most important areas. Our view is that we do not think that the creation of the new offence of religious hatred is within the ambit of public policy or what is desirable under it.
Mr. Hogg: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but why should stirring up racial hatred by itself be an unlawful offence? Should we not be saying that hatred becomes criminal if it is likely to result in unlawful conduct towards the group brought into that state of hatred?
Mr. Carmichael: That is an interesting point of view, and if we were starting with a blank sheet of paper I would be minded to explore it with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am mindful that we are beyond Second Reading and I do not want to pursue this at too much length because we are where we are. We have the now-accepted position in law of the illegality of inciting somebody to stir up racial hatred. The right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests that it would be preferable to make hatred leading to some further unlawful act an offence. It is an interesting discussion, but the debate has moved on beyond that.
New schedule 1 is the crux of the issue and is about trying to make the Bill workable. It would be helpful to read it briefly into the record. It brings with it a definition of racial hatred, which it seeks to define as hatred
"'an indirect reference' means a reference to religion or religious belief or to a person's membership or presumed membership of a religious group as a pretext for stirring up racial hatred against a racial group . . . 'religious group' means a group of persons defined by reference to religion or religious belief."
It is our view that that brings with it the answer to the problem that the Government have identified. I am not entirely persuaded that the problem is more real than apparent, but to take them at face valueto accept that they are acting in good faithwhat we have here is a fairly elegant expression of the law as it currently stands.
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The provision would put beyond doubt the fact that a Muslimas distinct from a Jew or a Sikh, who has the benefit of coverage in relation to racial hatred or on the basis of mono-ethnicitywould be covered in circumstances where hatred was intentionally racially motivated. I am inclined to say that that is already the case. It certainly seems to be the view of a number of commentators who are better qualified in law than me, including my noble and learned Friend Lord Lester. I hope that the Minister will reconsider his somewhat inappropriate remarks about the motivations of Lord Lester. In the first sitting in Committee, the Minister suggested that my noble and learned Friend
I have to say that that was one of the few occasions on which the Minister fell below the standard that we usually expect of him in Committee. Frankly, it was an unworthy remark about someone with the pedigree of my noble and learned Friend. I hope that the Minister will feel that it is possible to be a little more generous about him today.
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