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Chris Bryant: There is a point that the hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand. However attractive Labour Members found the Lester amendment, we believed that some people would choose to incite others on the basis of their religionthe hon. Gentleman would say, as a proxy for their raceand that the Lester proposal would incentivise people to act that way even more. It provides a clear get-out clause for those who are referring only to religion by virtue of religion. That is the problem.
Mr. Carmichael: If the hon. Gentleman is talking about people who are being attacked on a theological or doctrinal basis, rather than as a proxy for race, I believe that that is perfectly proper. I do not believe that the law should protect people from attacks on either theological or doctrinal bases. Furthermore, if it is anything other than that, I have to tell him that it would be covered by the terms of the new schedule, which I invite him to reflect on more closely and carefully.
Our other concern is that the Government have adopted a very narrow approach to the Bill. If we are to deal effectively with religious hatred, we cannot deal with it in isolation. We have to recognise that the reform of the law of blasphemy is long overdue. That law, which provides protection only to people in the Church of England rather than Christians as a whole, is a law that has long since outlived any useful purpose that it may ever have had. In that regard, I want to mention amendment No. 12, which is proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). He has tabled the provision in a personal capacity, but I want to make it clear that I have absolutely no difficulty in supporting it and that I commend him for introducing it.
"It shall not be an offence under this section if the activity consists of . . . criticising the beliefs, teachings or practices of a religion or its followers, for example, by claiming that they are false or harmful; . . . proselytising one's own religion or urging
A significant distinction may be drawn between that free-speech rider and the one in new clause 2, proposed by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield. My provision is about protection of free speech, whereas he invites us to accept a condemnation of speech that is used to justify violence. I wonder if he might have been better advised to finish his new clause after the words
"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".
Mr. Grieve: I have to say that if I were to confine my remarks to those phrases, it would mark the end of the Bill. That might be a very good thing, but I tried to be realistic. Without any qualifying element, we would be saying that freedom of speech cannot be restricted in respect of
Mr. Carmichael: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has read my mind and realised why I was so keen on that rather truncated version of events. New schedule 1 would not introduce the concept of incitement to religious hatred at all; I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point that he is trying to make the best of the Government's rather poor job on this provision.
That covers the essential aspects of new schedule 1. The question was raised in Committee whether the Bill would provide protection for what were broadly referred to as white Muslims. I have to say that I accept now as I did in Committee that that is very much the case. In order to justify a measure of this nature, I have to tell the Minister that I would need to be persuaded that there was a significant and pressing problem. I have not yet seen such evidence[Interruption.] Perhaps we are about to be provided with it.
Sir Peter Soulsby:
The point made in Committee that still applies now is that it is not just a question of giving protection to white Muslims. There are many Muslims in many mosques, just as there are many Christians in many churches: people from many different racial backgrounds are represented. Somalis, Pakistanis, Kosovans, Indians, Bangladeshis, people from Saudi Arabia and from many other countries are represented in mosques in this country. The point of new schedule 1 is that it would enable those who wished to whip up hatred against any of those people in a particular mosqueas, indeed, in a particular church, which may have many different ethnic and racial groups presentto do so. It would provide the perfect excuse for someone to point to a mosque and say, "Look, there are
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many different racial groups there and I am not, of course, whipping up hatred against any of those particular groups because
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman is exceeding the bounds of an intervention. May I say to the House that interventions are generally becoming rather discursive? There is limited time for debate and some hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye.
Mr. Carmichael: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that I get the hon. Gentleman's drift. He has to have regard to the very wide terms in which racial hatred is defined in paragraph 1 of the new schedule, which would catch most of the circumstances that he mentions.
Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman can read Hansard for himself if he wants to know the answer to that direct question. There was discussion, and there is a clear distinction to draw. A religious aggravation would essentially always exist in the first place whether or not expressly provided for in statute, and I accept that that has been quite effective. That is a very different thing, however, from the introduction of the concept of incitement to religious hatred as an offence per se. That distinction between the offence per se and the aggravation is an important one to bear in mind.
On new clause 4, I was interested in the views of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase. He clearly comes at the point from a direction similar to that from which my hon. Friends and I come. I wonder whether his term "offensive language" is essentially different from the "insulting" language that is already part of the Public Order Act 1986. I wonder, indeed, whether there might be some practical considerations there. In broad terms, however, if this were an earlier debate on an amendment, I would have little difficulty with it.
The question of the various definitions of religion provided, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said, a tremendously interesting andat timesentertaining discussion in Committee. All that the hon. Gentleman really does here is highlight further the nonsense in the Government's position and the difficulties that arose when they embarked on the position that they have insisted on taking.
Finally, the amendments that would effectively introduce a crime of intent are interesting and should have been considered much earlier. That would be an important protection against the erosion of free speech, which concerns us. However, we have been round that course already, and I fear that those amendments will have little more joy than most of the others we have pursued today.
It was a delight to hear earlier from the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) that he has achieved a new degree of realism in his approach. I note
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that one of his amendments is subtly different from one he tabled in Committee. In trying to define religion, his previous amendment said that one of the groups that should not be covered included those who were believers in the supremacy or superiority of one gender over another. He has ditched that point in his new amendment, so I am not sure whether he now believes that those people should have protection under the law because he subscribes to that view himself, or whether he is just trying to steer clear of today's debate in the General Synod of the Church of England.
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