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Mark Pritchard accordingly presented a Bill to end the trade in endangered animals on the internet; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 12 May, and to be printed [Bill 122].
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance as a defender of Back-Bench interests. How can I glean from the Home Office how it spent £32 million of taxpayers' money on renovating a building yet refused to answer one parliamentary question and two freedom of information requests?
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When a matter of such constitutional importance is to be debated is it normal for people to call unnecessary votes?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I draw the attention of the House to the fact that all four Lords amendments are to be debated together. Mr. Speaker's selection shows that a number of Opposition and Back-Bench amendments have been grouped with Government propositions. Members will wish to know that if the questions on the Lords amendments have to be put under the programme motion Standing Order No. 83F does not allow the Speaker discretion to call propositions other than those moved by the Government.
Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 4 and amendments (i) to (iii), (xxiii), (iv) to (vi), (xxiv), (vii) to (ix), (xxv), (x) to (xii), (xxvi), (xiii) to (xv), (xxvii) and (xvi) to (xxii) thereto.
Paul Goggins: This promises to be yet another interesting and wide-ranging debate on an important issue. In moving the motions in the name of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary let me make it clear to the House that the Government support Lords amendments Nos. 1 and 3, but not Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 4.
The Bill was last debated in the House on 11 July 2005, on Report and Third Reading. A number of hon. Members expressed concerns, not so much about the Government's policy aims, but about what they feared would be unintended consequences in relation to the freedom of expression. The Bill passed with a substantial majority, but further debate and Divisions in the other place resulted in substantial changes being made.
The Lords amendments make four significant alterations. They separate the religious hatred offences from the racial hatred offences. They remove what was known as the "likely limb", so that only intentional behaviour will be caught. They insert a wide-ranging freedom of expression provision and remove the words "abusive and insulting" from the offence, so that only threatening speech and behaviour will be caught. Those
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changes considerably reduce the scope of the Bill, to the extent that, in our view, it would be virtually impossible to bring a successful prosecution.
Paul Goggins: It is important that we adopt a measured and constructive tone in the debate. That is certainly what I intend to do and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members on both sides of the House will realise by the end of my introductory remarks that the Government are firmly committed to the freedom of expression and that we will fulfil the promise that we made in earlier debates that, if it was possible to find words that would include a commitment to freedom of expression in the Bill, we would do so, and I will come to that in a few moments.
Although the Government were clearly disappointed that their lordships decided to take such an approach, one thing at least is now clear: there is now a consensus that an offence of incitement to religious hatred should be placed on the statute book. The Government have listened, as we said we would, to the widely and deeply held concerns that have been expressed. I fully accept that those views are sincerely and very strongly held both by hon. Members and people outside the House.
In the search for common ground, we have given careful thought to the way that the Bill is framed and taken into consideration a wide range of opinion. As a result, a number of those who actively opposed the Bill as originally drafted have indicated their acceptance of the Government's proposals. We believe that the amendments that we have tabled for consideration today strike the right balance and it may help the House if I set out our approach to them.
Paul Goggins: No, I do not accept that position. Our proposals will give us a Bill that deals with not only incitement to religious hatred, but the kind of assurances sought by those who have raised their genuinely and honestly held, strong beliefs with me as the Minister outside the House and during debates.
Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP):
Can the Minister explain whether if at a Christian open-air meeting reference were made to there being only one true God and to Jesus Christ, his son, being the only intermediator between God and man for the forgiveness of sins, that most basic and fundamental cornerstone of the Christian faith would be viewed as incitement to religious hatred?
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Paul Goggins: The hon. Lady asks a serious question about a serious subject and my answer to her is absolutely not. That would not be covered by the offence. It would not have been covered even as the Bill was originally drafted and it certainly will not be covered if the Government amendments are accepted because they make it absolutely clear that an individual must have the intention of stirring up hatred, or stir up hatred by acting recklessly through their behaviour or use of words.
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