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Mr. Hogg: I shall be brief. I listened with great interest to the last debate. The flaw in the discussions in the House is not the distinction between racial hatred and religious hatred. I do not think that there is a distinction worth making there. The error lies in the concept of what should be made illegal.
I am the first to acknowledge that stirring up hatred is a thoroughly bad thing to do. It is quite wrong and immoral, but that does not mean that it should be illegal. When one is determining what is or is not to be made illegal, one must consider the consequences. The question that I ask myself is not whether what someone is doing is immoral or offensive, but whether it is disruptive to the state. I come to the conclusion that it becomes disruptive to the state only if the consequence of the emotion that has been whipped up is to cause serious peril to the state. That is why, in the course of a series of interventions on my hon. Friends and others, I have tried to associate the concept of hatred with conduct likely to cause violence or other criminal activity. I should like the House to stand back and to consider the definition of hatred, and to say that only that which is likely to cause illegal acts and violence to those who are being criticised should be rendered illegal. The fact that one may cause other people to be held in a state of hatred, moral contempt or whatever should not make the act illegal, albeit that I am the first to concede that it is immoral to do it.
I hope that those in the other place will consider the definition of hatred, whether in the context of religious or racial hatred, so as only to outlawby which I mean to render criminally unlawfulthose things that are likely to result in acts of violence or criminal activities.
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Dr. Tony Wright: My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) spoke powerfully about the need to do something. That is always a powerful call, and no one who has taken part in the debate has dissented from the proposition that there is an issue that needs to be tackled.
Our task when we turn to legislation is to decide whether the issue is being tackled in the most appropriate way. It probably would have been much better for the Government to introduce a separate piece of religious hatred legislation, not to piggy-back it on the top of existing racial hatred legislation. That is the source of much of the difficulty that we have experienced. That is why we have worried about the absence of a definition of religion or of hatred and about the fusion of issues of belief and believers.
It is not good enough simply to say that we should do something because certain people are under serious attack or pressure, because there is a line that it would be very dangerous to crossthe line that says, "You cannot properly and legitimately attack religious belief systems." It is fundamental to our kind of society that we are able to attack religious belief systems as we can attack political belief systems, cultural belief systems, and all other types of belief systems. Perhaps the Government said, as part of their conversation with the communities that came to them, "We want to do everything that we can to protect you, but you in turn must understand that it is part of this society that people are able legitimately to attack religious belief systems." Those things that are hateful should be hated; we should not be too squeamish about that.
I would caution those who have suggested that the events of the past few days contribute decisively to the arguments about the Bill. One could make the argument on both sides. One could argue that it is even more necessary to preserve the right to attack religious bigotry in all its forms, given that people use religion as a cloak for all kinds of extremism. It would be just as possible to argue that because whole communities may be victimised because of what has happened, we need to give them extra protection. Both arguments could be made, but it is not sensible at this moment to deploy either of them. We should try to keep our heads and get the balance right.
New clause 4, which I tabled, was, for some reason, not called. Perhaps I missed the moment. It meant that I was deprived of the opportunity of telling my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that I intended to withdraw it. However, I was going to withdraw it on the basis that I am a gullible chap, he is a gentle and persuasive Minister and I therefore keep believing everything that he tells me.
My hon. Friend told me on Second Reading that he would table an amendment that would deal with our concerns and provide the appropriate balance. I was therefore disappointed when I discovered today that he had not done that. He has now told me that he will re-examine the matter and that my amendment was too weak. By implication, he wants a stronger amendment. He must therefore be prepared to consider the next stage and return with an amendment that covers our concerns and finds the correct balance. In that spirit, had I been given the opportunity, I would have withdrawn the amendment.
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No one could impugn the good faith and intentions of either the Under-Secretary, who is an amiable and genuine chap, or the Government. However, not only the road to hell but that to legislative chaos is paved with good intentions. If there were time and it were in order, I could cite the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and many other knee-jerk reaction Bills, which you and I, Mr. Speaker, have seen pass through the House and that subsequently either passed into oblivion or caused danger.
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) made a powerful speech. I am sure that he did not mean to imply that, if the Bill had been enacted four years ago, the events of last Thursday would not have happened, but it is important that people read his speech and my comments on it in that context because a careless listening or reading could give the wrong impression.
I was moved by the testimony of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer). I am delightedI am sure we all arethat she so thoroughly beat off the nasty challenge of the BNP. Her words deserve wide circulation and careful study because if we stand for anything in this place, it is freedom of thought and expression, unfettered freedom of speech and, of course, proper constraints and sanctions against those who do what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) described: encourage people to violence and evil. They must be dealt with. No hon. Member would disagree with that.
However, the Bill is not the way to achieve that. I was unable to take part in the Second Reading debate because I was still fighting the general election. However, I received petitions, containing many hundreds of signatures, and many dozens of letters from churches and chapels in my constituency. They were from ordinary, decent people, who have as high a regard for their Muslim friends and neighbours as the hon. Member for Keighley and I do. I remind hon. Members, 10 years to the day after Srebrenica, that I was one of the few who spoke out against those appalling atrocities in Bosnia. However, my constituents do not believe that the Bill is the way to help their Muslim friends and neighbours.
My constituents are also concerned about the inhibitions that the Bill might place on them in proclaiming their beliefs and faith fearlessly and openly. We want a society where people can proclaim and defend their beliefs and, yes, attack those of others if they feel that they are wrong. We want a truly tolerant and free society. I am sure that the Government and the Under-Secretary want that. However, the Bill, which the Under-Secretary clearly took through the Committee with great good humour, is not the way to achieve that. I shall vote against the Bill without any qualms or inhibitions. I hope very much that, when it comes back from the other place, it will have been significantly improved, and that the points raised in new clause 4 and the other amendments that have been rejected, withdrawn or not moved tonight will have been inserted into it so that it becomes workable and manageable. In its present state, it manifestly is not.
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Chris Bryant: The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said on the last day in Committee something that rang a bell for me. He said that the Bill walked on eggshells. He was almost right. It certainly walks a tightrope between trying to maintain freedom of speech and trying to ensure that everyone in this land has an equal opportunity to express and enjoy their religion without suffering the fear that my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) described. That is why Labour Members' advocacy of the Bill has sometimes been cautious, rather than aggressive or over-assertive. Those who have argued against elements of the Bill, although they have expressed serious and important concerns, have also perhaps overstated them.
I support the Bill for the simple reason that, at present, a legal anomaly leaves a growing part of this country unprotected and uncertain of its relationship to society at a time when there is growing disaffection among many young Muslim people. I also support the Bill because of the potential for growing hostility towards people in this land who seem to be different by virtue of their race or their religion. It is important for the state to take action in these circumstances, even if that action is merely declaratory, as my right hon. Friend said earlier.
We shall need to do certain things in the near future to ensure that this legislation works effectively. For example, there should be greater protection under the law for places of worship, especially for Jewish and Muslim cemeteries. We should not rely on ancient legislation such as the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 in that regard. We should enact proper legislation to ensure that such protection exists for all religions. I also happen to agree with the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) that we should abolish the blasphemy law, and if I thought for an instant that this legislation would result in an advancement of that law, I should not be able to vote for it. There are other hate crimes in this land, some of which are perpetrated by people who hold very strong religious views, and I hope that the Equality Bill will give us an opportunity to deal with those crimes as well.
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