Mr. Streeter: So is Satanism a religion or not? It is no good the Minister giving me the empty theory. I ask him a practical question that could well come before a court one day, and he cannot answer it.
Mr. Grieve: I am surprised to hear that the Minister cannot answer that question because a Departmentthe Ministry of Defencesaw fit to recognise the Satanist worship practices of a seaman on one of Her Majesty's ships and to provide him with a cupboard in which to keep his paraphernalia for his worship. So in those circumstances, I should have thought that, unless the Minister wishes to disown the Ministry of Defence, he has already indicated that the Government take the view that Satanism is a religion.
Exactly my point. We are legislating blindfold. We are trotting through a minefieldperhaps
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galloping through oneand unless the Minister can give us reassurance and clarity in the Bill, it is destined for difficulty.
I should like to conclude on this group of amendments by saying that we all support the Government's desired outcome. We want to live in a tolerant and free society, where any member of a religion, even one currently under pressure, has the freedom to express their belief. People should not be persecuted, hassled, bullied, abused or assaulted because of their religious beliefs. However, I believe that the existing law is satisfactory to give adequate protection to people who adhere to those religions at the moment.
I believe that a more robust approach by the Crown Prosecution Service and the police in every locality where allegations of abuse and victimisation are made is the solution to any such problem. The Minister and the Government have never been able to justify with examples why they have introduced the Bill. Uncertainty and lack of clarity is written through every line. Unless an amendment is included in the Bill to make it clear that we will still enjoy religious freedom in this country when the Bill is enacted, it should not pass into law. The Minister ought to support one of these amendments.
Mr. Winnick: I have one or two concerns that are more or less expressed in new clause 4, but if I had any doubts in my mind about the necessity for this measure they would be overruled by the present situation. Clearly, at a time whenthis has unfortunately already occurred over the weekendsome hate-mongers are trying to brand the whole Muslim community as being responsible for the atrocities that occurred last Thursday, the law needs to be changed to provide protection.
I understand some of the concernsI shall express one or two myselfbut when I listen particularly to Opposition Members telling us what frightful consequences will occur, it reminds me, as I have mentioned before, that when we were dealing with incitement to race hatred almost 40 year ago, we were repeatedly told that the law was all right as it stood, that civil liberties should not be undermined by what was proposed, and that free speech was absolutely essential. I come back to this point: as a result of what was passed nearly 40 years ago against a good deal of opposition, are we less free as a country? Have our civil liberties been undermined? Have special privileges been given to any particular minority, be that Jewish or Hindu? It is nonsense to suggest that that is the case, so I make the point that some of the fears about the Bill are irrational. They are no more likely to come about than anything that was predicted as a result of the legislation passed in the 1960s.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that although one can stop people saying things that one does not like, one cannot stop them thinking things that one does not like? There were no British National party councillors anywhere in the country in 1997, but there are 20 in 2005, a fifth of whom are in the Bradford district. The Bill will add to the burden of political correctness in this country that causes people to think that they cannot say things. It will thus create a
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recruiting sergeant for the BNP because people will think that if they cannot speak out freely, the only way in which they can express their view is by voting for nasty, horrible parties such as the BNP.
Mr. Winnick: If the hon. Gentleman is genuinely concerned about fascism in whatever guise it takesthe National Front, the BNP and all the other riff-raff and detestable rubbish who want to incite as much hatred as possible against various ethnic minoritiesI invite him to campaign vigorously against fascism in his constituency and join the national campaign. If he wants to be more actively involved in fighting fascism, as he should be, "Searchlight", an anti-fascist magazine, will give him and his colleagues every assistance.
I do not understand the difference that some hon. Members have cited between race and religion. We are told that we cannot change our racewell, we know that we cannot do that even if we wish to do so. Disraeli remained Jewish no matter how much he adhered to the Christian religion. Race is race. Obviously, when it came to systematic mass murder, the Nazis did not go round asking whether people believed in a religion or notthey would murder them. If the second world war had had a different outcome, my family and I would certainly have been murdered by the time I reached 11.
Although I understand these matters, I do not think that there is such a clear distinction. I do not have any religious beliefs or affiliations. Although it is true in a way that there is a difference between race and religion, anyone who is born into a religion does not lightly give it up. People are indoctrinated by their parents, and that happens in all religions. Some of us decide to leave religions later in life, but the majority of people are keen to remain affiliated to a religion when it comes to marriage or their wishes when they die, even if they do not adhere to the religion. I do not think that there is the clear distinction that some hon. Members wish to draw. They suggest that there is a sheer, clear divide between race and religion, but people are born into a religion, remain in a religion and are often persecuted because of that religion. We should try to avoid making a clear-cut distinction that is not really real.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Religion is of course a matter of choice, rather than a matter of birth. Will the hon. Gentleman give the House an example of a situation involving religious hatred that could not be dealt with already by existing Public Order Acts and would thus require the Bill? I think that he will struggle to do so, because the Government Front-Bench team has struggled for weeks to give a single example of a situation to explain why the Bill is needed to replace anything already on the statute book.
Mr. Winnick: To a large extent, the hon. Gentleman is putting forward arguments that were made almost word for word 40 years ago. If he goes to the Library at some stage and looks up those debates, he will find that his predecessors on the Conservative Benchesalthough very few Labour Memberssaid what he is saying word for word.
Why are the Government introducing the Bill? The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) seemed to suggest that it was purely a cynical move to get Muslim votes, but I do not believe that that is the case at all. The Government might be misguided and mistaken, but that is not my view. Unlike what happened nearly 40 years ago, the Bill might not be successful, but the Government have the genuine motive of trying to protect the interests of a group of people who have been harassed because of their religion. The Government believe that those people should have the same protection as that given to Jews and Hindus.
I now turn to the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). Despite what I have just saidI hope that this does not contradict what I have just said in any wayI want the Government to make it clear, even if they cannot do so in the Bill, that if the Bill is passed into law, as I hope it will be, we will not find ourselves in a position in which it will not be possible to criticise religion. I do not want that situation to arise and I hope that Home Office Ministers share my sentiments. Rowan Atkinson has made some valid points. I understand his concerns that there might be a danger that the sort of material often used by artists like him could be declared unlawful as a result of the Bill.
Chris Bryant: Has Rowan Atkinson really made any decent points on this? If his reading of the legislation were correct, the Public Order Act 1986 would have prevented Jim Davidson from making most of the jokes that he has made for the past 20 years, but it certainly has not.