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Mr. Heath: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will carry on because he is doing an extremely good job of demolishing the internal logic of the Bill. Indeed, if the Government do not accept his amendment, I strongly suggest that he votes against the Bill on Third Reading. However, I cannot understand why he limits the difficulties that he has exposed to plays and not to the other spheres that the rest of us recognise pose equal difficulties for the wording of the Bill.
Chris Bryant: It is because the change to the likely limb in each of the other clauses will have a different effect from the change to the likely limb in section 20. If the hon. Gentleman looks closely at section 20, he will see that I am right.
There are plenty of hedges around the offence relating to the production and performance of plays, not least the defence that the wider context of the play must be borne in mind. That is why the Minister will probably tell me that the director of the National Theatre has every freedom to produce plays such as "The Jew of Malta" or "The Merchant of Venice", or a play written by a young Muslim woman from the east end of London that exposes problems in her community that she believes have stemmed from Islam. Such a play might even show some very unpleasant aspects of Islam, as she sees it, and might even include language that was extremely aggressive, threatening, abusive or insulting to Islam, because some of the characters might have to present such attitudes for the presentation to be effective. Indeed, many people might find elements of the novel "Brick Lane" by Monica Ali, if put on stage, offensive, insulting and so on. The wider context of a play must be borne in mind under the Bill. Intent must be borne in mind, and I believe that the Government are weakening the likely limb unnecessarily. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some comfort in his reply.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): It occurs to me that the longer we go on discussing this group of amendments, the less clear it is exactly what will and what will not be caught by the Bill. One of my fundamental problems with the legislation is that, unless it is amendedI shall discuss some of the specific amendments very briefly in a momentand if it passes into law in its current form, I believe that we are in danger of stoking up difficulties between various communities. There is such uncertainty about what the Government intend and such uncertainty about what is and is not caught that the Bill will not help community relations and is likely to inflame them.
The Government have chosen their Minister with great care. He has been extremely courteous throughout the proceedings that we have enjoyed together. He is obviously a very reasonable man. He is, quite honestly, the right face to introduce legislation of this kind, but I can imagine the tactics meeting at the Home Office after the Bill's consideration in Committee, bearing in mind the lobbying that was going on, and I can imagine the Minister saying, "Look, we've got to give way on something in the Bill. Let's find the smallest possible amendment that we can concede, and we'll completely block the rest." What the Minister has done successfullyI welcome the concession that was made in the previous group of amendments, which, of course,
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I will not discuss nowis to deal with the speck of sawdust, leaving the plank lying in the middle of the Chamber for us all to trip over. Unless one of the amendments in this group is accepted, I do not think that the Bill will become law; nor should it.
A number of excellent points are made in many of the amendments, which I should like to touch on briefly. I will be mercifully brief. I am a very fair-minded person, so I want to touch first on new clause 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), the broad thrust of which I support. However, the word "tone" worries me slightly. I can imagine occasions on which the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) could be in his pulpit and expounding a very important religious doctrine, of course, very reasonably indeed, but perhaps in a tone that might fall foul of my hon. Friend's new clause.
I certainly support new clause 4, which would provide the kind of balance that we are looking for in the Bill. At the moment, it is not clear that the Government do not intend to clamp down on the kind of religious freedoms, discussions, discourse and even the kind of cynical lampoonery that I do not often enjoy and often find distasteful when poked at other people, other religions, other political parties and so on, but that is none the less an important part of a healthy democracy. New clause 4 has a lot to commend it, and if the Government cannot go all the way and accept new schedule 1, I hope that they will at least look seriously at new clause 4.
I think it particularly important that proposed new paragraph (3) in new schedule 1, or something like it, be incorporated into the Bill, because it gets to the heart of the matter. Why were 2,000 reasonable people outside Parliament campaigning against the Bill earlier today? I am not sure whether they are still there. Why have we been lobbied so extensively on the Bill by a lot of people who do not normally take the trouble to write to their Member of Parliament or to come to see us at our surgeries? Why is that happening? It is happening because a lot of genuine, decent people, many of whom hold their own religious beliefs very passionately and sincerely, are very scared indeed that the Bill will in some way curtail their freedom of religious belief and religious expression. They fear that the Bill, cloaked in uncertainty, will in some way undermine their ability to preach their gospel, to expound their faith and to contrast and compare other religious beliefs freely, sincerely and passionately. That is why people are demonstrating in Parliament square today, and it is why we have received so much lobbying. No matter how many ministerial assurances we receive, we have all heard them before. Ministers come and Ministers go. Unless we place something in the Bill that makes it abundantly clear that that is not what the Government are seeking to do, the Bill will not attract widespread support, and it will be poor law.
Even if the Minister cannot accept new schedule 1 or part of it, I hope that the Government will be able to introduce in another place an amendment, drafted by experienced parliamentary draftsmen, that deals with the substance of proposed new paragraph (3) in new schedule 1. I am repeating myself so that the Minister, who is returning to his place, absolutely understands that we must have something in the Bill that gives
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comfort and reassurance, as well as legal protection, so that people from all faiths in this country are free to expound their faiths in the years to come.
I enjoyed what has been said about amendment No. 9, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield. It is very important to discuss what we mean by a religion. We had a bit of a discussion about Satanistswe do not often do so in the Houseduring our proceedings in Committee. I should like to ask the Minister whether he thinks that Satanism is a religion. He many want to leap to his feet to intervene now; he may want to deal with that in his winding-up speech. He is itching to move. I think that he is about to intervene, and here he goes.
Paul Goggins: I will intervene if only to apologise to the hon. Gentleman for having to leave the Chamber for a short period. Given the considerable discussion that we had in Committee, he knows that it has never been the job of Parliament to define in statute what is and what is not a religion. We have left that to the courts, and it is right that we do so because a religion may change over time.
Mr. Streeter: I am so pleased that the Minister replied as he did, because it seems to be absolute and utter evidence for the fact that we are legislating completely in the dark. We do not know what we are trying to stop and what we are not trying to stop. We do not even know what a religion is. The Minister who is responsible for introducing the Bill cannot tell the House today whether or not Satanismthe worship of the devilis a religion in this country.
Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman leaps a few steps further, because he will also know from the discussions that we had in Committee that we do not just leave such things to the courts in a haphazard way. The courts take their responsibility very seriously. We have Strasbourg case law, as he knows, which requires a religion to have a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, and to be worthy of respect in a democratic society, and in the case of Campbell and Cosans, to be compatible with human dignity. Some of the so-called religions in amendment No. 9 fall well short of that description.
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