|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman has made that point before. The simple point that I am making is that new clause 2 takes us far too close to incitement to violence, which already exists and is a more serious offence than the one that we are discussing here. New clause 2 is an honest attempt to bridge a gap that the Government have identified, but the threshold is too high.
New clause 4 presents me with different problems. I am in no doubt whatever that my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) is trying very hard to put clarification into the Bill. He sees that as helpful and wants to make it clear that material that
would not be caught. I believe that this is a genuine attempt to be helpful, but hatred is a very high test. It is certainly well above the tests involving criticism, ridicule, causing offence or even, in the words of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, "criticising in vehement terms". None of these activities would be caught.
The Home Secretary has stated on the face of the Bill that the legislation is compatible with the European convention on human rights, which of course enshrines a right to freedom of expression. That right is therefore built into the assurance that all the activities described by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase are already covered. That is implicit in the Home Secretary's assurances on the ECHR. Indeed, on the two previous occasions on which the Joint Committee on Human Rights has considered this legislation, it has
11 Jul 2005 : Column 647
agreed that it is proportionate to the problem that has been identified. It has also said that the Home Secretary is right to say that the Bill is compliant with the ECHR.
Dr. Wright: The Minister's argument is that some amendments are too weak and some are too strong, yet he accepts the desire across the House to place further reassurance in the Bill than currently exists. Will the Government therefore table a third way amendment at some point to address these difficulties and provide us all with the reassurance that we need?
Paul Goggins: I do not know whether a third way exists, but I have said throughout these debates that I continue to listen. Indeed, after we have voted on the Bill tonight, it will go to the other place, which will also have a go at scrutinising it. I say again to my hon. Friend that the assurances that he seeks are already built in to the Bill in the form of the guarantee of compliance with the European convention on human rights. I certainly do not want to go to the other extreme and include behaviour that would allow extremists a loophole through which they could escape. Even if no third way is to be found, I say to my hon. Friendas I said in Committeethat the drawing up of guidance on the way in which the legislation should be interpreted and implemented will be absolutely vital. I want to do that in a way that includes faith communities, people from the arts and others who have expressed concern about the Bill, so that their worries can be taken into account and they can be reassured as we develop the guidance that their fears are misplaced.
Mr. Carmichael: Will the Minister tell the House when we, Members of the elected Chamber, will see the guidance? Why, having had the Bill's Second Reading, Committee and Report stages in such short compass, have the Government still not made available to the House such a significant part of their proposed operation of it? Is that satisfactory?
Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman will know that guidance is not ordinarily made available until legislation has been passed into law. I am looking to see whether it might be possible to bring forward draft guidance. I can consider that in this instance because this is not a complex Bill in terms of length, number of clauses and so on. It is a very tightly defined Bill, so it might be possible to have some draft guidance. I am considering that at the moment. Obviously one would not ordinarily issue draft guidance, because legislation can change before it is enacted. That is the reason for not publishing draft guidance in many instances.
Does the Minister recognise how unsatisfactory it is for him to come to the House and say that he will not include in the Bill wording that would
11 Jul 2005 : Column 648
reassure Members on both sides of the House, and that we should rely on guidance that we will not see before we legislate? That is not the way to make law.
Paul Goggins: Were that all that I was saying, I would agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am saying that the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase are answered by the guarantees in the Bill of compliance with the European convention on human rights. I also say to Opposition Members who want to introduce a higher test and other provisions in their amendments that that would create loopholes that extremists could exploit, in their efforts to incite hatred, to get away with with impunity.
Ms Thornberry: Does my hon. Friend agree that in the light of the terrible events last Thursday, the need for this Bill to be enacted swiftly becomes even more pressing, given the possibility of a rise in Islamophobia as a result?
The second issue raised by Opposition Members is the so-called Lester amendment. Let me begin by responding to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael). I meant no disrespect at all in my comments about the noble Lord Lester in Committee. He spent a lifetime dealing with these issues and has made a huge contribution. What I shared with the Committee was that I found it difficult to understand, as I began to think seriously about the Bill, how somebody who had such a reputation could bring forward a proposal that clearly would not work. He is an experienced lawyer and understands these issues as well as, and better than, most. Then the penny droppedhe does understand that the proposal would not work. It is a perfect way for him to be constructive in terms of dealing with the Bill, but he knows full well that it does not take us a single step forward.
Paul Goggins: I do not think that it is disgraceful, as the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position. Lord Lester had a hand in much of our anti-racism legislation, for which I respect him[Interruption.]
There are two reasons why I cannot accept the Lester amendment. The first is that it is already covered by existing legislation, under which it is not necessary for
11 Jul 2005 : Column 649
racist language to be used for an offence of incitement to race hatred to be proved. The language used can be religious, and the case can be made now if it can be demonstrated that such language was accompanied by racist intent.
Dr. Evan Harris: Does the Minister therefore accept that if the British National party uses the word "Muslims" instead of "Pakis", as, sadly, it has done in the past, it could be successfully prosecuted under current law? Muslims are not therefore uncovered in that respect by the current law.
Paul Goggins: I do not accept that because I do not accept that there is a direct read-across between race and faith. There may be for Jews and Sikhsin fact, there isbut there is not for Muslims. A Muslim could be Asian, African or white British.
The Lester amendment and the view of those who support it are based on the false assumption that the Government are interested only in stopping the BNP making comments about Muslims that are a proxy for racial comments. Our intention is broader: we want to give the same protection that is given to Jews and Sikhs to all religious groups. We think that that is the right thing to do, which is why we have brought this legislation back for the third time. We think it right for people to be able to live free from fear. We think it important to stop extremists undermining the tremendous work that has gone on within, across and between faith communities as we have tried to build the community cohesion that we need.
It is also important for us to prevent the exploitation of those who feel frustrated from time to time and who may be open to the influence of extremists. We have drawn a line in the sand. We think it wrong to incite hatred on the ground of religious belief. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) spoke of 40 years' experience, and of all the doom and gloom and promises of negative impacts that have been heard during that time. None of that has happened; we have had very successful legislation, and I think that the same will be true of this Bill.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|