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John Bercow: Will my hon. Friend allow me to intervene in what is supposed to be a debate?

Mrs. Dorries: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Bob Spink indicated assent.

John Bercow: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. [Hon. Members: "Ladies first?"] My hon. Friend said that the United Kingdom is a Christian country. May I simply put to him in all courtesy that neither the enjoyment of religious belief nor the status of that belief in society depends in any way on discriminating against, repressing or vilifying someone of a different religious faith or a different sexual orientation? If my hon. Friend cannot grasp that, he has a bit of learning to do.

Bob Spink: My hon. Friend makes his point eloquently, of course. He should wait until we are in Committee to bring forward all those points and to argue his case. His views and mine are as reconcilable as those of homosexual rights activists and the six major religions.

Chris Bryant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bob Spink: No. The hon. Gentleman has just walked back into the Chamber, so I will desist. [Hon. Members: "Give way."] Other Members wish to speak.
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Under the Bill, the commission may help to take away the right of religions to insist that their teaching staff can uphold basic ethical teachings of their faith. Surely those religions should retain that right. The commission must enforce regulation 33 of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. Those regulations contain exceptions for religious groups, but gay rights groups loathe those exceptions and will litigate for the narrowest possible interpretation of them.

Clause 28 empowers the proposed new commission to provide legal assistance for an individual case. That will be paid for by our constituents who, frankly, can think of better uses for their hard-earned money than promoting gay rights at the expense of our Christian traditions. Let me make it absolutely clear: this Government Bill will be a recruiting sergeant for nasty fundamentalism and extremist groups.

Several hon. Members rose—

Bob Spink: Clause 80 empowers the Secretary of State to legislate by statutory instrument for sexual orientation discrimination outside the workplace—for instance, in goods and services. The result will be laws that mirror the religious discrimination provisions in part 2, but what protection will there be? Will the Government allow exceptions for religious groups? There is no surprise, as the line taken by Stonewall is that exceptions will not be allowed. Of course, Angela Mason, the former director of Stonewall, which is a homosexual pressure group, now leads on this issue in the Department of Trade and Industry. I shall wait to see what the Government do on that one.

The Christian Institute said:

It calls for

Several hon. Members rose—

Bob Spink: If they are not included, a church could be sued over its stance on sexual morality, and a Catholic newspaper could be sued for refusing to carry a gay rights advert attacking the Vatican's teaching on homosexuality.

Several hon. Members rose—

Bob Spink: The Bill outlaws harassment by public authorities— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has indicated on several occasions that he is not going to give way, and that he wishes to continue with his speech.

Bob Spink: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Many Members want to speak in this debate. Some of them may be disappointed, which is the main reason why I am not giving way.

I am delighted that the Government will not press for the creation of a religious harassment offence, which represented a threat to free speech comparable to that
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contained in the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. The Equality Bill outlaws harassment by public authorities. Such harassment is defined as violating a person's dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for a person. None of this sounds very nice and I would not advocate it, but to try to make it illegal is quite another thing. A person may feel that a council has created a hostile environment for him merely by using a church as a polling station. Indeed, this example was suggested by a Minister—Lady Scotland.

Many local authority-owned places are used for street preaching and the free expression of contentious views on religion, as Lord Lyell, the former Attorney-General, pointed out. He took the view that we need to fear not just court cases, but

He surely has a point. We all know of stories—we have heard them again today—of politically correct officials banning Christmas and Christmas lights, and withdrawing support for Christian charities. Local authorities may refuse to fund Christian hostels that say grace at meal times because of the threat posed by the harassment clause. Earlier this year, I raised in this House one such case on behalf of the very good people of Thundersley congregational church, in my constituency.

The simple fact is that there is too much legislation in this place. Few, if any, MPs were asked for this Bill during the last election, and there was a good reason why. We have better things to do with our time in this House—things that people actually want and need, and which will help to develop a better and more tolerant society that respects human rights and individual freedoms. The Bill as drafted could boost extremist groups. It could drive society against sensible and good human rights, and against the respect for the individual and the tolerance that we broadly enjoy now by common consent, as a result of our traditions and Christian heritage. Let us not put all that at risk through the badly thought-out clauses in this rambling and patchwork Bill, which is steeped in PC and will become a charter for lawyers, even though it is based on some good intentions and has some good parts.

7.13 pm

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): [Interruption.] Follow that indeed. As I recall, it was Conservative Members who, in arguing that there was too much legislation, managed to prevent us for a long time from getting legislation to ban some of the worst excesses of those using large fireworks and bangers. I find it hard to know how to respond to the last contribution; it is tempting to do so, but it would be much too entertaining.

One point that does need challenging, however, is the      continual repetition of the phrase "political correctness". My favourite phrase of the afternoon was, "The politically correct march of an increasingly barmy Britain." As a student I was taught that one needs to be able to define one's terms before scattering them all over the place. Opposition Members should define the phrase "politically correct" before scattering it around like a swearword. To do so is ridiculous and is the refuge of the ignorant and unthinking.
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The very estimable hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) made an excellent speech, but I was disappointed when she, too, fell into using such language. Members who do so should be very sure of their ground. After a good start and a not bad ending,   the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) hit a purple patch that included a large number of examples of "political correctness". I remember vividly that when I lived in Haringey, black bin liners and children singing "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" were banned. That seemed very odd, because I still had black bin liners and I knew of many children who were still singing that nursery rhyme in nurseries. So before people start scattering such terms around, they should be sure of their ground.

Meg Hillier: My hon. Friend talks about defining terms. What would she say to a lady in my constituency who told me,

Is that political correctness or human rights?

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