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Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of recklessness, will he consider this point? Recklessness is in truth the curse of this legislation and if it were removed most Members would be able to accept the measure. The problem is not that the legislation is unclear, but that it is too blisteringly clear, in that the examples that have been given recentlythe cartoons of the Prophetwould undoubtedly be caught under the recklessness provisions. It could not possibly be argued that those who produced them were not reckless as to the fact that some people were likely to have religious hatred stirred within them. Does not that underline the fact that whereas we have always inhibited our freedom of speech to deal with race and racial matters, for 300 years we have turned our face against protecting faith by legislation because we cannot protect faith without protecting bigotry?
Mr. Grieve: I agree entirely with the hon. and learned Gentleman. I add only that it is precisely because we did not provide that protection that our society has been able to evolve as it has, towards something of which everyone in the House can be proud in terms of the maintenance of freedom, moderation and liberty, which are capable of being ruthlessly undermined by the proposals if we get the measure wrong.
Mr. Grieve: Indeed. When our Lord drove the moneychangers from the temple he would probably have been arrested under the public order Acts and served with an ASBO, but after that illustration I shall not try to look more closely into such issues. My hon. Friend is right: religious belief has sometimes been promoted in turbulent fashion, which is not to say that we should necessarily allow it to continue too turbulently but we should ensure that our historic traditions of robust discourse are maintained.
For those reasons, although there will be limited scope to vote, when the time comes we shall vote against the Government's motions to disagree with Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 4. We shall invite other Members to join us, and we very much hope that those who have considered and taken part in the debate will realise that we are not trying to cut off the Government's feet; it is simply that they have got it wrong.
It is for the House to send out a simple message. The Government can have their legislation. They can put it on the statute book in the form that the Lords have
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wisely altered and it can then go forward, but we should get away from the dead end on which we shall embark if we are not careful.
Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): I speak as a declared and unashamed unbeliever. I have argued in this place for the repeal of the ridiculous blasphemy law, which goes far beyond what we are proposing today yet covers only the established Church. I have argued and voted in this place against the extension of religious schools and, where they exist, to require them to take pupils from other faiths and of no faith at all.
I was brought up always to respect the religious beliefs, or unbeliefs, of others as part of a tolerant and understanding society. That is why I support what the Minister has been saying, accepting some of the improvements made in the House of Lords but rejecting some of their proposals that would be damaging.
I do not believe that anyone should be allowed to incite hatred against someone else because of that person's religion, partly because it is wrong in principle, but also because incitement has consequences. Incitement leads to people being abused and assaulted due to their religious belief. When I say that, I am told that if people are abused and assaulted action can be taken against the offenders and they can be prosecuted, but before a prosecution can take place someone has to suffer the spitting, abuse and assault. I want to prevent people from being assaulted and abused.
I do not believe that anyoneRowan Atkinson or anyone elseneeds the right to incite hatred against someone because of their religion. He has apparently said that we should look at things from the point of view of the comedian. Other people in the world are just as important as comedians. Muslim women who have been assaulted, abused and spat on for wearing the hijab are as important to me as Rowan Atkinson, for all his sense of humour.
I do not believe that anyone's conscience, whatever their religious belief, requires them to attack the religious belief of anyone else. Cannot they be satisfied with their own religion? Furthermore, people of religious belief have the right not to be incited againstif that is a proper piece of English. We have to give people the right to be protected against such incitement. The Government's proposals would make that incitement a crime and there would be two effects: first, reducing incitement would reduce the consequences of incitement, and secondly, and much more important, there would be a clear declaration in law that such incitement is wrong.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) was present many years ago when the House passed a law that made incitement to racial hatred an
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offence. As a consequence, there has been a great reduction in incitement to racial hatred. Loose, abusive and vile language against people of different races has been much reduced, because there was a demonstrable declaratory effect when that incitement was outlawed. To extend that principle to outlaw incitement to hatred of people due to their religious belief would have the same effect and we would have a better society. I see no reason why people who cleave to their religious beliefor people such as me who cleave to none and are proud of itshould be inhibited in saying what we think in promoting our beliefs. But no one needs the rightthe rightto incite hatred against someone else because of their religious belief.
Mr. Carmichael : I shall attempt to emulate the brevity of the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), but I am afraid that I would seek to follow little else in his speech. He still seems stuck in the same problem as the one that the Government have been stuck with throughout the proceedings on the Billtrying to create some sort of equivalence between the treatment of people according to their race with that according to their religion. Those are very different aspects and they must be treated very differently.
I wish to associate myself with the remarks about the Minister made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). The debates have often been difficult and emotive, as we have heard today, and I want to place on the record my appreciation of the Minister for the fact that he has been unfailingly courteous to those who have opposed him throughout the proceedings on the Bill.
The Liberal Democrats invite the House not to agree with the Government's motions to disagree with the other place. The arguments about the Bill in its broadest sense have been well rehearsed, and I do not intend to repeat them. However, by saying that there will not be a huge number of prosecutions under the legislation, the Minister does not bring any great comfort to the House. I seem to recall that the same arguments were advanced with regard to demonstrations in Parliament square, but in excess of 28 people have been arrested on allegations of breaching that legislation merely a few months after it came into force. Such reassurance does not address our concern that there will be a fundamental chilling of the freedom of expression.
In our view, the Bill is very much improved by the amendments that have been made in the other place, and we very much regret that the Government again seek to change it in two ways. First, they want to expand the state of mind involved from merely making the crime one of intent by including recklessness. That is our most fundamental objection, and I will expand on that later. Secondly, the expansion to include conduct that is covered by abusive or insulting words or behaviour is also exceptionally worrying and very wrong. In fact, we find the combination of both those elements fundamentally obnoxious. If the crime were merely one of intent, I could probably live with the extension to include abusive and insulting behaviour.
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