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That has happened in plenty of cases where the decision was changed under public protest. There was a proposal to rename the Christmas festival "Winterval", for the express reason that Christmas might be offensive to Muslims. All the Muslims whom I know find it deeply offensive that Christians are not
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prepared to stand up and say, "This is an ancient festival and part of our national life." Departments are falling over themselves to be seen to celebrate minority religious festivals, often spending thousands of pounds of public money.
Over Christmas, Mr. Paxman could not bring himself to use BCbefore Christand had to resort to something called, "BCE". I wonder whether you know what that means, Mr. Speaker. I understand that it means
It is significant that this place, the other place and GCHQ are exempt from the Bill. Why are we exempt when the Bill is being forced on the rest of the British public? Such are the inroads being made by the politically correct in Britain today that this Chamber will be the only place where genuine freedom of expression will be permitted, thanks not to any modernising by this lot, but to an ancient Act of Parliament dating to 1689the Bill of Rights. If I had made this speech outside this House, I dare say that PC Plod would have called me up and asked me to explain my views.
All hon. Members enjoy special protection, which we are seeking to take away from many of our citizens by imposing draconian legislation. We need to ensure that we are protected as hon. Members and able to speak our minds. There now appears to be so little difference between the parties that often those who have a genuinely held conviction get more interest from the public because although they are saying something that they may not necessarily agree with, they want to hear Members of this House speaking their minds, which is what we were elected to do. I have constituents who are not in the powerful position that we are in and who are living in fear of their lives because they may have said something out of place or at which somebody has taken offence. [Interruption.] It is no good Labour Members tut-tutting. In my constituency somebody working in the NHS was dismissed from her job because she said something that was taken by somebody else to be offensive, although that was not her intention.
I support what my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey said about disability. I hope that the Bill will achieve some of those objectives, but we need to be careful in ensuring that it does not have unforeseen adverse effects on the people of this country.
I was on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which recommended that there should be a human rights commissioner. I am proud that we worked to produce a good report and proud that it was heeded. The commission would otherwise have been an inevitable outcome of our obligation to meet various Europe-imposed duties of equality on age, sexual orientation, religion or belief. The presence of human rights has helped to pull the commission, with all its faultsI am aware of my hon. Friends' concernsout
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of being a minimal pull-together and helped to make it look like a new venture with wider dimensions, involving complex problems with philosophical implications and an opportunity to drive equalities and human rights through a society that is still very unequal.
When we talk about the respect agenda, we are talking about the need to regroup people around the common rights and responsibilities that we all share. The human rights in the European convention on human rights are a reasonable representation of those rights and responsibilities. Save those that we would all want to be absolutelife, freedom from torture, the prohibition on slavery and the right to a fair trial rightsthe rights are conditional. They carry with them internally the rationale for the responsibilities that are required as a result of having them. For instance, in a democratic society the right to respect for the family can be interfered with if there is a necessity to do so in the interests of security, public safety, economic well-being, crime prevention, health, morals or the rights and freedoms of others. Set out in the convention is the concept that rights are available only in so far as they are compatible with corresponding duties or respect. No one can rely on their right to family life in their home if they are using it to blast music at others, perpetually playing it so loud that it is terrifying in itself because the defying of all decencies is so blatant. It will be necessary, in the interests of a democratic society, to protect the rights and freedoms of others by dealing with that.
There is, of course, an overwhelming test of proportionality, but the values implicit in human rights are good, because otherwise, however we do it, we are imposing our own values on the disrespectful person. The validity of those values is contestable. Someone might say, "Who is the judge to decide that my music is too loud?", or "Who is the prosecutor who brings the case to impose his values on me?", or "What right has the neighbour to complain just because she does not like my music?" If we balance people's mutual rights to a private life, taking into account the broader interests of society, we find that we have, at the very least, a rationale for what we impose that is grounded in values that run well with democratic society. Those values are demonstrable and explicable and can become a currency by which we all interact with each other, but they cannot become so if they are not promoted. That cannot be achieved by court cases on narrow legal points. The commission has a duty to drive human rights with the bite of legal powers, but the job of promoting them is a key part of that.
There is much left to do. Good personnel must be appointed. We must equalise the law on equalities, redefine public authorities and ensure that none of the strands is weakened by their unity. There will be another Bill, but I congratulate my Government on this step towards equality, harmony and more respect.
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