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Mr. Grieve: In selecting the list for debate here and in Committee, I tried to identify groups that might be regarded as controversial and for which some people have expressed intense dislike, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). It is there for the purposes of illustration and debate. I make no judgment on Scientology, which is a subject of which I know very little. The only judgment that exists in respect of Scientology suggests that it is not a religion at all, in which case it would not enjoy the protection of the Bill in any event.
Charles Hendry: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for clarifying those issues and for explaining more of the thinking behind the amendment. Certainly, as an organisation, Scientology has gone through serious hoops in terms of ensuring that it has the right to broadcast on television by satisfying the Independent Television Commission that it is not a cult. It is a not-for-profit organisation, and that is well recognised.
The huge flaw in the Bill that my hon. Friend highlighted is the lack of a definition of religion. The Minister has set out certain guidelines that cover that, but it is not clear on which side of the boundary Scientology would fall. It is right and proper that we should have a debate about whether it is a religion, but the lack of clarity makes the Bill unworkable.
I hope that when my hon. Friend considers the issues raised in this debate, he will understand why the inclusion of Scientology in the list has caused offence and take that into account.
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As a new Member, I think that I am beginning to learn some of the tricks of this House. If the Government have a bad law they put up a nice Minister and hope that they can get it through. At the beginning of the debates in Committee, the Minister gave those of us who wanted changes to the Bill some hope when he said:
"we are prepared to engage and we are prepared to listen. Obviously, we would be foolish if we did not consider any sensible proposals that could improve the Bill."[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 28 June 2005; c. 4.]
Having listened to the debates today and on Second Reading and read through the Hansard of the Committee proceedings, it is clear that this is a bad Bill and that even the Minister proposing it is not too sure what it is meant to do. Indeed, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who went through almost every exampleI counted them off as he did sothat was given as to why the Bill was needed, showing that such incidents can be dealt with by existing legislation. We are therefore left wondering what exactly the Bill is about.
Even some supporters of the Bill, such as the hon. Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), are beginning to have doubts about it. Indeed, the hon. Member for Rhondda made the case when he said that he wanted certain changes made for theatres because the Government have "lowered the level". If the Government have lowered the bar that makes it difficult for theatres to put on plays, has it not been raised for those who wish to proclaim their religion or to preach in church?
Sammy Wilson: The hon. Gentleman says no, but the terminology is exactly the same. He was worried about the aspect of intent, which will also apply to people who preach in churches and express views about other people's religion. The hon. Member for Walsall, North also said that he wants some safeguards.
The other reason why the Minister should consider accepting new schedule 1it is typical that such a sensible and pragmatic approach should be proposed by a Scotsmanis that all it would do is formalise the promises made by himself and by the Secretary of State. On Second Reading, when my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) mentioned the Westminster confession of faith, the Secretary of State said:
"I think that I can give him the assurance for which he asks. Statements in the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and other faith booksthe Koran for instanceare precisely that. They are not incitements to hatred."[Official Report, 21 June 2005, Vol. 435, c. 671.]
At the end of the debate, he promised the House that the Bill would not place restrictions on freedom of speech, stop comedians telling jokes, or prevent people with strong views about religion from expressing their opinions. If that is so, why cannot the explicit terms in new schedule 1 be incorporated in the Bill? Since assurances have already been given in the House, surely new schedule 1 can be included to reassure those who fear that the measure will restrict the freedom of speech
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of those who want to express their religious views or tell jokes. Why will not the Government make the assurances explicit in the Bill by accepting new schedule 1?
Leaving the Bill so open-ended will lead to bad law and malicious complaints to the police. That applies even with the safeguard of the Attorney-General. The Home Secretary announced the seven stages in any prosecution. However, the five stages before a complaint reaches the Attorney-General are sufficient to cause trauma and difficulties for people against whom malicious complaints have been made and when the police have started an investigation. The one sure way of not having to rely on the Attorney-General and of ensuring that we do not go down the road of people suffering the trauma of an unnecessary police investigation, which may never finish as a prosecution, is to provide explicitly in the Bill for the things that will not be included, as listed in new subsection (3) in new schedule 1, paragraph 2.
Paul Goggins: The debate has been powerful and wide-ranging, not least the contribution of the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). However, although the debate has been wide-ranging, four key issues were presented.
The first key issue is freedom of speech, to which new schedule 1 and new clauses 2 and 4 are relevant. I do not dispute the honourable intentions of those who tabled the amendments. They want to include in the Bill an assurance that legitimate words and actions, in speech or in writing, in jokes or in preaching or proselytising religious belief are not caught. My candid assessment is that the amendments are either so weak that they add nothing substantial to the measure or they add so much that they create further loopholes.
Let me give an example. New subsection (3) in paragraph 2 of new schedule 1 provides for four broad exceptions, which extremists could manipulate to avoid prosecution. We already know from evidence that the police have given us that extremists get round the existing race hate legislation by inciting hatred on the ground of religion. That places them outside the law. They know that and they manipulate it accordingly. If we include exceptions, such as those in subsection (3), we will create further loopholes. The Government believe that inciting hatred, on the ground of either race or religion, is wrong and that, whatever the context in which it occurs, it should be covered.
It is true that we have not defined hatred in the Bill. Several hon. Members made a point about that. We are happy to accept the dictionary definition of intense dislike and enmity. Making an enemy of somebody is a high test but that has not been a problem when considering earlier legislation, for example, the Race Relations Act 1965, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Public Order Act 1986. They all refer to hatred but none defines it on the face of the legislation.
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It is worth acknowledging the aspect of new clause 2 that acknowledges the gap between the religiously aggravated offences that we have created and the more serious offences of inciting violence or murder. New clause 2 accepts that, if
it would be wrong. However, I stress to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) that I cannot accept the new clause because it blurs into the serious offence of incitement to violence, which already exists. It would also omit a series of other behaviour, whereby hatred or inciting hatred may be intended. That would not be captured if we accepted new clause 2. I do not dispute that it was an honest effort but the threshold remains too high.
Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation, although I am sorry that he cannot accept the amendment. I am troubled by the implication of that. It was said during the course of the debate that no one was trying to prevent people from hating others because they did not like their views or their religion, yet the Government persist in holding the view that someone might be able to hold a private hatred but that they cannot communicate it to someone else in order to persuade them to take the same viewpoint. I find that astonishingly illogical, and we ought to be anxious about that. If the mischief that we are trying to address is not inciting people to hatred so as to commit acts of violence, what the Bill is really saying is that people cannot communicate their own strongly held beliefs to others, even though that would not lead to violence.
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