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Mr. Grieve: I suppose that I have to admit that I tabled that amendment in Committee slightly tongue in cheek. When I came to define the terms for the purposes of Report, I thought that I ought to try to identify those who might be generally thought to be people whom individuals would dislike. I do admit that the gender issue is rather controversial in the context of the Christian practices of the Anglican faith, of which I am a member.
Chris Bryant: I have to say that I do not think that that is controversial at all. Men and women are equal. They should be equal under the law and, for that matter, in religion. We look forward to women being ordained as bishops and the Church agreeing to that. This, I know, strays some considerable way, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from the purpose of the Bill and the amendments before us.
I start from the fundamental belief that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are intrinsic to the democracy in which we all want to live. I want to live in a society in which nobody feels cowed or timid in the expression of their freedom of speech or their freedom of religion. One of the points of debate here is that many of us on the Labour Benches perceive that not everybody in this country equally enjoys the right to express their religious belief, and to join in that belief by association with others. That is the problem that we are essentially trying to address.
We believe that there is an injustice in the law as drafted, which allows protection, as many Members have mentioned, by race and, therefore sort of, by proxy, allows for those whose race and religion so overlap that the overlap is almost complete. Therefore, Hindus and Jews are allowed protection under the law
It is not unusual for us to hear two conflicting views from the hon. Gentleman, and there is
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only the one of him. He misrepresents the position. The protection afforded to Jews and Sikhs is against racial hatred, not religious hatred, and that is provided only on the basis of the fact that one judgment took the view that they are monoethnic.
Chris Bryant: Well, we have achieved something here todaythe Liberal Democrats agree with one another. To be fair, there are many issues on which I agree with the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris).
The point is well made that Sikhs and Jews were not originally afforded any protection under the law. Subsequently, by virtue of the overlapping of their racial and religious grouping, they have ended up receiving protection, not for their religion but by virtue of their race.
Dr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman has, I think, misunderstood the law. The Bill says that incitement to racial hatred would be made unlawful, and defines that by reference to cultural groups, race and so forth. What case law did was to identify that, by definition, Jews, when subjected to incitement to racial hatrednot doctrinal or theological criticismwere covered. That is not something that they have gained; they were always covered, and case law has demonstrated it.
Chris Bryant: Consequently, Jews and Sikhs are protected under the law, not by virtue of their religion, but by virtue of their race, because there was a definition that that constituted their race. The hon. Members for Oxford, West and Abingdon and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) are trying to draw a very narrow distinction, on which, I think, we are all agreed. I am grateful to them for helping me to tease out the point.
The important point we are trying to make is that the particular injustice that we believe exists under the law encourages racists to express their hatred and incite hatred in relation to people's religion rather than their race, even when their hatred would probably be directed against their race.
I shall come to whether religion is something one chooses or something that is given and how one should address that question. It seems clear, however, that if it is possible to differentiate between the sin and the sinnerif, in other words, it is possible to hate the sin but love the sinnerit must surely be possible to hate a religious belief, or disagree intrinsically with it, yet still like, or indeed love, the person who holds that belief. Equally, it must follow that it is possible to protect the believer and leave the belief to fend for itself. That is what I believe the Bill will do.
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Dr. Harris: I have raised this point when other Members were speaking, and it was first made by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). Should it be possible, even if it is not the style of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) or me, to urge people to hate homophobic religious bigots? In the example of Christian fundamentalists, that could be urging people to hate the people not the belief. Should that be made a criminal offence?
Chris Bryant: I do not think that that example entirely falls within the ambit of the Bill, and it should not do so. The point was raised earlier that many would debate whether someone's sexuality is a fixed or chosen aspect of their life. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon shrugs his shoulders, but that is a material consideration because many people have advanced the argument that the law is not good enough because one does not choose one's race but one does choose one's religion. The point that many Labour Members would make is that the percentage of people who actively choose their religion is remarkably small. One of my hon. Friends pointed out earlier that people can change their religion, but I still believe that just as it is wrong to judge somebody on the basis of the colour of their skin or their genderor, for that matter, their sexualityit is wrong and just as irrational to judge somebody, or think of them as a lesser person, on the basis of their religion.
Philip Davies : The hon. Gentleman fails to say why political belief should not fall into that category. Tony Benn, the former MP for Chesterfield, famously said that he was born in the Labour party and he will die in the Labour party. If people can be born into a religious belief, can they not also be born into a political belief? Why is that not covered in the Bill?
Chris Bryant: That is rather the point that I was trying to make. I do not think that we need to stray down that route, and nor should we stray down the route of incitement to homophobia, although some of the most offensive and insulting material that I have ever seen was from some Christian organisations in relation to homosexuality. Some of the views espoused by, for example, Belfast Pride, which pretends to support homosexuality but in fact viciously attacks it, are very unfortunate.
Dr. Harris: Leaving homophobia aside, the hon. Gentleman says that he is happy that we should hate religious bigotry, but that it is not his style to say that we should hate religious bigots. That is fine, but should it be criminal for other people who do not share his style to say that we should hate extreme religious bigots? Should it be criminal to do so?
Chris Bryant: I am saying that it is possible to differentiate between the belief and the believer. It is also possible to differentiate between merely saying some words that other people might find offensive and deliberately seeking to incite other people to hate a group of people by virtue of their religious association. The latter is irrational and wrong and the law should criminalise it. That is why, broadly speaking, I support the Bill.
: The distinction between the belief and the believer depends on the person making the
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distinction. A good person with love in their heart will be capable of hating the belief and loving the believer. But if a person has hate in their heart, they will be unable to do so.
Chris Bryant: I am hesitant to start talking about good people and bad people. I remember when Jesus was described as good and he asked why he was being called good, because there was only one who was good. It is not helpful to go down that route when considering these amendments.
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