If it is clear that people have intended to stir up hatred, or behaved recklessly, they will be caught. If people express a strong religious belief, or adopt an attitude of ridicule, they will not be caught, even if they use intemperate language, unless there is clear intention.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): This is an important issue because there was a recent case involving a minister of religion. He was standing in the open air on Christmas day reading the birth record of our Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel of Matthew, as he had done for years. A police officer said to him, "You must stop reading this because it has been objected to," and told the people standing round that they had to move on. I have accepted what has been said by Ministers and spoken about those assurances in speeches that I have made. However, when such a thing happens, we run into great difficulty.
Paul Goggins: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point and I accept that there is sometimes a lack of clarity in the way in which the law is interpreted. I have said in Committee and on the Floor that, when the Bill is enacted, it will be important to draft appropriate guidance for the police and Crown Prosecution Service, in consultation with organisations outside the House, so that there is confidence in how the law will be interpreted.
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): Further to the comments made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson), can my hon. Friend confirm that my constituents would not be caught by the Bill for saying, "There is forgiveness only in the name of Jesus," or, "Mohammed's marriage to a six-year-old was immoral, and a call for the right to marry children is to be condemned as immoral."?
Paul Goggins: I can confirm that to my hon. Friend. I hope that hon. Members throughout the House will take this as an assurance in response to various questions that have been asked of them: people will not be caught by the Bill if they use language about their belief, or other beliefs, even to the point at which the language is abusive and insulting, if they do not intend to stir up hatred.
It has been pointed out by Opposition Members that we have three hours for the debate, so I
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would now like to go through the four areas that are fundamental to my argument. I will of course take interventions at appropriate moments, but if I do not start to make those points now, I will not have even started my speech before the interventions end.
First, I make it clear to the House that we now accept that the religious hatred offences should be separate from the existing racial offences in line with the framework agreed in the other place. The amendments mean that the offences will now form a new part 3A of the Public Order Act 1986, rather than being simply an extension of the racial offences in part 3 of the Act to cover religious hatred. The Government have had to think long and hard about that because we always argued for parity between the racial and religious offences. However, we have come to the view that as long as we can achieve a viable offence of incitement to religious hatred within that format, we should agree to the new framework.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Does the Minister accept that separation is meaningful only if there is a difference? As I read the proposals, there is no difference. What does he see as the difference?
Paul Goggins: There are differences because incitement to racial hatred will still have a likely limb, whereas incitement to religious hatred will have a recklessness limb. This is a serious business. As the Minister in charge of the Bill, I have considered it my responsibility to engage in constructive discussions to determine whether we can achieve the objective of attaining a measure that was a commitment in the Labour party's manifesto at the last election in a way that will calm people's fears and represent a practical way forward. There are differences, but we will achieve our objective of introducing a Bill that tackles incitement to religious hatred and which means something in practice.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I accept that genuine efforts have been made to try to reach consensus, although they have plainly failed. The Minister has decided to stop trying to find absolute parity with racial hatred provisions. In the circumstances, that is a major concession, because the Government placed a huge emphasis on that parity and, indeed, sold it to a large number of communities as such. Having made that concession, why do they not accept the logic of the Lords amendments that the offence of incitement to religious hatred should have a much narrower focus? The amendments that the Government are seeking to overturn would largely turn the Bill back into its original form.
What I said was that we were not seeking absolute parity, because I wanted to make a point about complete intransigence and the failure to engage in dialogue people who hold a different view. There is not absolute parity, but we do not want the offences to be so far apart that the difference between the two is very great indeed, because we would not achieve our objective.
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Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the precincts of Parliament, the police have been deployed in extraordinary numbers to watch and to herd into a corner a peaceful group of Christians who are singing hymns. Is that restriction of people's right to come here and demonstrate peacefully a good or decent advert for our Parliament, or does it foretell the way in which the Bill may be used?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am not aware of the proceedings to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but I trust that they can be safely left to the Serjeant at Arms and the House authorities. I suggest that we make progress with the matter before us.
Paul Goggins: I was just about to indicate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I shall give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) before I press on with my next point.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Wearing three hats as a former president of the National Union of Journalists, as someone who has attended many freedom of information trials in different parts of the world and as the current chairman of an all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism, may I point out that the key provision for working journalists is proposed section 29K? It says that someone is not guilty of an offence if their action
By any measure of plain English, that gives protection to any journalist, any latter-day Voltaire, anyone writing the equivalent of "The Merchant of Venice", and anyone willing to criticise the Koran and the Bible. I hope that the Minister will stick to his guns and that the views of individuals who have caused huge offence to many of my Muslim constituents, who are anxious that the House of Commons should not reject their genuine beliefs and concerns, are not taken into account when we vote tonight.
Paul Goggins: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House were shouting "unless" as he read the provision. They were referring to the end of the provision, which says
The provision would apply if someone understood that their behaviour could stir up religious hatred, yet persisted with that action. I shall come on to that later.
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There is no reason why someone in the pulpit or on the stage of a theatre should be allowed to exploit a loophole in the law. If their intention is genuinely to stir up hatred they, too, should be caught by the law.