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Paul Goggins: The straightforward answer is that, if there was an intention to stir up hatred—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] It is the factual answer to the question. If there was an intention to stir up hatred or someone was reckless about the impact of their behaviour—
 
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Mr. Grieve: Will the Under-Secretary give way?

Paul Goggins: I shall not give way until I have given my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) as full an answer as possible. The measure relates to the intention or the reckless behaviour of an individual.

Someone who was intent on stirring up hatred could use a quotation from the Koran or the Bible. In that case, the words could be caught. However, if they were used as an expression of faith or as part of a debate about faith, they would not.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): No one doubts the Under-Secretary's good intentions. However, does he realise that, notwithstanding the Bill's legal language, ordinary religious people might be inhibited from engaging in traditional religious disputation for fear of being caught in the Bill's ambit? That is a genuine danger.

Paul Goggins: I do not believe that they should or would be caught. However, I accept that I have a responsibility, in drawing up the guidance for the way in which the measure is to be enacted, to ensure that people have confidence and know what they can and cannot do. The ordinary practice of religion, even in an outward-going manner and using vivid language, should be permitted.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Will the Under-Secretary give way?

Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman always participates in such debates and I shall therefore give way to him.

Dr. Lewis: Is it not obvious, from the Under-Secretary's difficulties on the "Today" programme this morning and in the House this afternoon, that specific examples cause him immense difficulty in explaining how the Bill would catch any case that should be caught but is not covered by existing legislation? Why is the Bill being introduced? Is it because the Government would have liked several cases to be brought to court but that could not happen? If so, how many such cases have there been? If the number is significant, why does the Under-Secretary find it so difficult to give examples that people find acceptable?

Paul Goggins: Over a period of time, we have received representations from the police and religious leaders that we take seriously. I emphasise that current legislation on incitement to religious hatred protects Jews and Sikhs. We have always sought to ensure that there is parity in the law so those who follow other faiths—including Christians, Hindus, Muslims and people of no faith at all—are also covered.

Several hon. Members rose—

Paul Goggins: I shall take one further intervention—

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Will the Minister give way?
 
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Paul Goggins: In a moment. I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer), then I want to make some progress. However, I shall certainly give way to the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) before the end of my speech.

5.30 pm

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): The Conservatives need to decide whether the proposals would have no effect at all, or whether they would affect a vast number of people. They cannot have it both ways. I offer the House the example—I have known several concrete examples such as this—of a person who says, "All Muslims are, by definition, terrorists." Such statements have led the organisation Christian Voice to urge that British-born Muslims should be encouraged to leave the country, which is a policy adopted only by the British National party. Does my hon. Friend not agree that people of any faith in Britain deserve protection from this kind of mass abuse?

Paul Goggins: I agree strongly with my hon. Friend that people of all faiths and none should have equal protection under the law, and that is what we are seeking to provide.

An amendment has been tabled that would remove intent and recklessness from the freedom of expression clause. That would create a dangerous loophole that could, for example, allow someone to use abusive words about religious practices with the intention of stirring up hatred against people, without being caught by the legislation. We want to make it clear that, in a free and open society, robust discussion and debate must be allowed, but no one should be able to escape prosecution if they intend to stir up hatred against people.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): Will the Minister give way?

Paul Goggins: Possibly in a moment. I want to make some further progress.

I shall turn to the issue of "threatening, abusive and insulting". The Government have made it clear throughout that to have only "threatening" as the threshold for the offence would not capture the type of behaviour that we are seeking to outlaw. We have of course taken a serious look at our position on this issue, particularly in the light of the deep concerns expressed in the other place. However, our clear conclusion is that nothing less than the reinstatement of "abusive and insulting" will make the offence viable.

The racial offence has contained the words "threatening, abusive and insulting" for 20 years without creating any difficulty of interpretation. It is, for instance, an offence to use abusive and insulting words or behaviour to stir up hatred against Sikhs, and it would simply not be right for there to be a lower level of protection for Muslims, Christians and members of other faith groups.

Mr. Grieve: Will the Minister give way?

Paul Goggins: I shall give way shortly, but I want to make progress on this point. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that he will have an opportunity to intervene on me before I finish.
 
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Lord Lester made it clear in his speech on Third Reading in the other place that reinstating "abusive and insulting" would ensure that the offence was compatible with other public order legislation. The term "threatening, abusive and insulting" is an established legal concept that the courts are more than familiar with interpreting. To exclude any element of it would leave the courts unclear about Parliament's intentions. What is more, the words "abusive and insulting" are included in the freedom of expression clause relating to religion and religious practices. We have therefore made it clear that the terms used in relation to the offence relate to the stirring up of hatred against people, not against belief.

John Bercow: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; he has been extremely generous. He will know that I am a devotee of parliamentary scrutiny, and, like the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher), I am very concerned about the promise of guidance, which the House will not have the opportunity to scrutinise, being produced later, in contrast to provisions in the Bill or in secondary legislation that we could scrutinise before the Bill's passage. Given that there is no question of a requirement for great investigation, research or analysis, will the Minister tell the House what he will learn later to enable him and his officials to produce the guidance after the passage of the Bill that he cannot furnish us with now?

Paul Goggins: The answer is that we cannot furnish the guidance until we have the legislation. That is a simple point, and one that I have pursued as a Back Bencher and as a Minister. It is impossible to produce guidance until the legislation is in place.

Several hon. Members rose—

Paul Goggins: I promised the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) that he could come back at least once more. If he wishes, I shall give way.

Mr. Grieve: May I take the Minister back to the question involving "insulting"? He says—I think it is the Government's position—that "insulting" will not matter because there has to be an intention to stir up hatred against the person on the basis of religion, but how will we distinguish the insult, which might be made recklessly against the individual practitioner, when someone is seeking legitimately to incite hatred against the religious practice? That is the central issue that the Government must grapple with. I have to tell the Minister that, at the moment, he seems completely to have failed to do that.


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