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Again, the hon. Gentleman will have his own opinions, but the concept of "threatening, abusive and insulting" is understood and interpreted by the courts. It would be bizarre in the extreme if for this offence, and this offence only, we referred only to threatening behaviour and did not use the words "abusive and insulting". What would the courts make of that in relation to this legislation and, I might say, all other public order legislation?
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Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): I thank the Minister for giving way again. He keeps referring to the guidance as a reassurance to the House, but Ministers come and go, and guidance can change within the constraints of what Parliament has set down in legislation. Does he understand that the concern here in the House is to ensure that the legislation is as tightly drawn as possible so that no guidance can lead to people being self-censored or restricted in how they can make their comments?
Paul Goggins: I return to a comment made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he introduced the Bill on Second Reading. He remarked then that the legislation is narrowly focused. I would argue that, as we consider the amendments, we have a Bill that is still more narrowly focused. I am on record as saying on several occasions this afternoon that I regard it as a personal responsibility to ensure that the guidance reflects the legislation that we pass. There is a wider issue of public confidence, and it is important that we retain the public confidence in relation to this legislation as we move forward.
David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I thank the Minister for giving way. When the BBC broadcast the scandalous and disgusting "Jerry Springer The Opera", Christians right across the United Kingdom were understandably and obviously outraged. If there ever was a repeat of such a production, would the legislation cover it with respect to the offence given to evangelical Christians?
Paul Goggins: No, this offence would not be relevant to the particular instance that the hon. Gentleman cites. The Jerry Springer example would not be covered by the legislation. [Hon. Members: "Why not?"] Well, it is a rather interesting dichotomy that Opposition Members pose for us. I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) and then to my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham).
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op):
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is being generous in giving way to Members on both sides of the House. I have expressed in discussions with him concerns over some of the wording and I accept some things that he has been taking forward today. In particular, he has just specifically referred to the fact that existing legislation extends to Sikhs and Jews. What assessment has he made of some criticism of this Bill in relation to the
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impact that wording such as much of that to which he has just referred has had on those communities and the potential for people to discuss things freely?
As a Christian, I would like to criticise other religions and I believe that the Bill will not prevent me from doing so. Has the Minister made any assessment over the period in which that legislation has been in place of the removal of freedom to discuss those religions? Specifically, what assessment follows for the other religions that will be included herefor example, the Christian and Muslim faiths?
Paul Goggins: The assessment from both the Jewish community and the Sikh community is that the incitement to racial hatred legislation has been beneficial. That gives us confidence to extend that cover to people of all faiths and none.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): While the guidance is important in terms of avoiding frivolous complaints and pointless investigations, the Minister does need to rely on it to support the Bill. Is it not the case that every single piece of legislation enacted by this Parliament to deal with issues relating to discrimination and incitement to hatred has confronted entirely the same debate that we are hearing this afternoon? We will have to rely on the judgment of the court and the common sense of the jury in listening to the evidence and reaching a conclusion. He is right in pursuing the legislation, as we can rely on the legislation drafted and the common sense of the courts to distinguish between those matters that should not be pursued and those that should.
Stewart Hosie: Can I bring the Minister back to the issue of recklessness and the Danish cartoons? Should the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed or similar be deemed to be abusive or threatening and their publication reckless, would a warrant for the arrest of the publisher be issued if they were published in a Scottish newspaper distributed in England? If sothis is a very serious questionwhy do the Government's amendments not include the Lords amendment that would allow a search warrant to be issued in Scotland to search for publications that would be placed in the court thereafter?
Paul Goggins: The legislation that we are discussing does not apply to Scotland, and several amendments have had to be made because of that technical issue. Members on both sides of the House have posed various scenarios in the course of this debate and others. Ultimately, it will not be for a Minister to interpret whether, in specific circumstances, an offence has been committed. It will be for the police to investigate and for the Crown Prosecution Service to consider the evidence, and reference will be made to the Attorney-General to consider whether a prosecution can take place.
We are also seeking to amend the likely limb of the racial hatred offence along the lines originally proposed in the Bill. Given that the provision was only ever intended to make clear that it must be likely rather than proven that material is likely to be seen by someone in whom hatred is likely to be stirred up, and that it is now restricted to the racial offence only, I hope that Members on both sides of the House will accept the proposition.
The Government have made an honest attempt to find common ground with those who have been critical of us. The amendments provide reassurance and the means to introduce a measure that would be one more weapon in the armoury against those extremists who peddle hatred. I commend them to the House.
Mr. Grieve: The Bill has had a long passage through Parliament and, in its later stages, after the Lords substantially amended it, the Government made a genuine attempt to see whether a compromise could be achieved. I would not wish this moment to pass without putting on record my thanks to the Home Secretary and the Minister for the spirit in which those discussions took place. They were constructive, and a credit to all the parties who participated, but ultimately that compromise has proved elusive.
The reason for that is that the Government appear to have got themselves off to a completely wrong start. Through their decision, which was due, I think, to the pressure of various interest groups, to offer an identical Bill in relation to incitement to religious hatred as in relation to incitement to racial hatred, they got completely tangled up, because, in fact, the two issues are entirely different. Race is immutable in its characteristics. Religion, however, is a matter of belief in exactly the same way as politics and political views. The attempt to run the two together is the main reason why the Government got themselves into such a mess.
The House of Lords made a valiant effort to get the Government out of their mess. The Bill that it returned to us might contain some small details that could do with attentionthe Minister mentioned the extent to which it might apply to Scotland: he does not want thatbut its architecture is probably the best that could be on offer. Its key components reduce the offence to a narrow scope and concentrate on the issue of threatening behaviour, which I suspect every Member would agree is unacceptable in any discourse. The trouble is that the Government seek to reverse that. They have told the House that they are paying attention to what the House of Lords has done, but the end product of the Government's amendments is jolly close to the original Bill.
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