Dr. Evan Harris: We have heard much concern from people of religion, but those on the left, as it were, also have a concern. If I say, as I might well do outside this House, that we should hate Christian fundamentalist homophobic bigotscontentious, but I should be allowed to say itit is clearly intended to stir up hatred against people on the basis of their religious beliefs, and I would be prosecuted. Even if I restricted my remarks to bigotry, which I should not have to do, I would be reckless as to whether other people might blame the bigots for the bigotry, as we blame Nazis for Nazism or communists for communism. The worry is that fair, free speech would be caught under the Bill, and the Minister has never given me any reassurance on that point.
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is right. I hope that I made it clear earlier that this is not just about protecting people with religious beliefs but people with all beliefs. They are entitled to their say. Those of us who have beliefslike the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), I am a Christian and a practising member of the Church of Englandjust have to lump it when people say things that we find offensive. We have grown used to doing so in the period of greater tolerance that developed in the last century, and it worries me that the Government are asking us to take a step backwards on the issue, instead of saying, "Those are our values, and people who live in this country have jolly well got to subscribe to them." Without that, we will move towards the dominance of whichever group makes the loudest noise, is the most insistent and threatens other peoplein subtle waysthe most. That is profoundly undesirable.
My next issue is what constitutes "abusive and insulting". We have touched on the issue already, so I may not need to say too much about it. The fact is that abusive and insulting words and behaviour are different from threatening words and behaviour. If the word "insulting" is put back in the Bill, even remarks that to an ordinary person might appear innocuous but are deeply wounding to a person with a particular religion or belief would be caught. A person could engage in a moderate discourse that nevertheless caused great insultthe examples given earlier included calling into question the divinity of Christ or calling into question whether the Prophet Mohammed's revelations were divinely inspired. Another example is the play "Beshti",
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which was profoundly insulting to Sikhs. It was insulting in its concepts and its implications about the behaviour of priests and elders in gurdwaras, and it is that sort of play that would, logically, be caught by this legislation, even if the Minister thinks that any guidelines that might be enacted would provide protection. "Beshti" is a classic example and that is why the House should not allow the words "abusive and insulting" back into the Bill. By keeping the word "threatening", we latch on to the very things that were identified by the Minister, such as the Norwood case and the poster with the twin towers that said "Muslims out of Britain". That is threatening. The examples that the Minister gave of people attacking women wearing the hijab or calling for people to be thrown out are threatening and would not require the words "abusive and insulting" to be added.
Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman suggests that "Beshti" is a classic example of the sort of play that would be caught under the legislation. However, the existing law against incitement to racial hatred applies to the Sikh faith, so why were the producers of the play not prosecuted? Does not that provide the reassurance that future plays about the Islamic faith would also not be caught under the Bill?
Mr. Grieve: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis. The racial hatred laws do not exist to protect the beliefs, but to protect the racial and ethnic identity of the believer. Hypothetically, "Beshti" could have come under the existing racial hatred laws, but in practical terms it would never have done so. Once we introduce religion into the matter, it is entirely possible that it would do so.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Government intend that the Bill will not restrict free speech and will deter extremists. However, does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill will follow the same route as every piece of political correctness? Ordinary, decent people will be afraid to speak their minds for fear of breaking the law. Resentment will build up and drive them into the hands of the extremistsnasty groups such as the BNPbecause they feel that they have no other way of expressing their reasonable views. People will be encouraged towards the extremists, not deterred from them.
Mr. Grieve: I agree with my hon. Friend that a far better weapon for those of us who wish to see moderation in discourse is ridicule of those who do not, because ridicule is a very powerful weapon. Societal pressure on people to behave in ways that are not offensive to others is a much better course than trying to impose criminal sanctions on people. From that point of view, my hon. Friend is right. There is a danger that some people will become martyrs and resentment will build up, which are entirely undesirable.
Does not the Bill create a new danger that people of a certain religious faith will sit in judgment as jurors over those from another religious
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faith in a situation in which the former's religious faith might call on them to put religious law before the law of the land? Would not that create chaos in the courts?
Mr. Grieve: I do not agree with my hon. Friend on that point. I hope that the legal system is sufficiently robust to deal with such attacks. However, there are clear signs, as we see around Europe, that groupsand not just Muslimsare seeking to invoke special privileges and rights, or demanding consideration and requiring other people to accept that. It isand I can put it no other waya growing fad. Therefore, it is all the more desirable that the House should restate clearly that that is not the way that we believe society should be conducted. If we made special concessions to various groups, it would not facilitate the exchange of ideas that underpins a multi-faith and multicultural society, but would reinforce difference and create the ghettos of the mind that are so inimical to our making sensible progress.
Mrs. Iris Robinson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Christianity has become a target even before this legislation is enacted? For example, we are not allowed to put Christ on Christmas cards, because they should say "Season's Greetings" and we are not allowed to have nativity plays because other faiths might be offended.
Mr. Grieve: As I said earlier, there is a tendency towards a new orthodoxy abroad, but the example the hon. Lady gives would not be the result of this Bill, whatever form it finally takes. I would prefer to keep my remarks on the subject of the Bill.
The issue of recklessness has been touched on and, indeed, it merges into the other two. The Government had a "likely limb" that went much too far, and they have made a concession by withdrawing it. However, while there might be some shred of justification in putting in a test of subjective recklessness if the Bill were confined to threatening behaviour, it would be utterly pernicious if the Government managed to add "insulting and abusive" behaviour. There is no way in which a person who seeks to criticise a faith can be sure that in the process he will not be held to have been reckless as to whether he was invoking hatred for the adherents of that faith. That is one of the fundamental flaws of the Bill and the only way to cure it is to take out recklessness. That leaves an offence of specific intent, which will be amply sufficient in most cases, and I hope that the Government and Members will see clearly that if the offence can be caused by recklessness the climate of uncertainty that will be created will be extremely damaging.
What is the attitude of the hon. Gentleman's party to the statement made by Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National party, filmed secretly by an undercover journalist and broadcast on national television, that he was advising his supporters to focus on religion rather than race? He made a statement; he was not telling them to go out and do anything. Is not that precisely the type of reckless activity that we are trying to avoid?
I hope that the hon. Lady will accept the fact that I do not intend to comment on a matter that is
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uniquely sub judice at present. It would not be proper of me to do so. I should be happy, outside the Chamber, to communicate my views to her, but I shall not do so here in any circumstances.