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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I ask your Lordships to consider whether it is acceptable that the Attorney-Generalthere is nothing personal about thisshould issue guidance as to the conduct in respect of which he will not institute proceedings or consent to the institution of proceedings as proposed by this amendment. I am concerned only with Amendment No. 92A. Is there any precedent for this situationa foretaste of the discretion which is exercised by the Attorney-General and which is owed to the whole of Parliament and not to a party? Is there any precedent for that?
Is this not a plain pre-emption of the issue which your Lordships are about to consider as to whether Clause 39 should stand part? If it does not stand part, this amendment is otiose and in the air. We have not yet considered whether Clause 39 should be included in the Bill. If, in your Lordships' opinionI do not
If it is not acceptable that Clause 39 stand part, the Attorney-General should have no discretionary power to administer the unacceptable. In a sense this pre-empts the situation and is an ingenious Xfudge" for want of requisite particularity on the face of the statute. It is a departure from the manner in which I have always understood that legislation is and should be presented. The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, wrote in The Times today:
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I support the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I voted for the Bill at Second Reading. I believe that governments are entitled to be given support in the kind of circumstances which prevailed. I do not in any way resile from the support I gave the Government then.
Over the weekend suggestions were made about the Home Secretary. He was described as bullying and scaremongering and was accused of driving on some sort of illiberal and authoritarian agenda. Anyone who knows the Home SecretaryI have known him since our days together in local government in two different northern citiesknows that those descriptions are as implausible as they are offensive. He argues, and I agree with him, that,
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, mentioned the article which appeared this morning under the name of my noble friend Lord Rees-Mogg. In that article my noble friend also argued that the Bill is effectively hybrid because it contains so much, and that it is not really about emergency legislation or necessary in the circumstances in which we find ourselves today. I believe that there is a compelling case, therefore, for a separate measure to deal with this sensitive question, one with which I believe the Attorney-General dealt with great sensitivity from the Dispatch Box earlier on. It is precisely because he showed such sensitivity that he recognisesI think we all dothat wise deliberation and reflection are necessary here.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, was right when he said that no emergency issues are at stake. The Attorney-General spoke of the young woman in Manchester. All noble Lords would agree with him that the kind of remarks made to her were
By contrast, the painstaking approach, which I saw at first hand in Liverpool, of ecumenism, where first the denominations of the Christian faith work together and subsequently the great faiths have painstakingly worked together in promoting religious toleration and co-existence, seems to me to be a better and longer-term way to proceed. Legislation on religious hatred may simply be used as an excuse to stifle perfectly proper debate about, for instance, forced marriage or female circumcision. Surely, those have to be regarded as legitimate areas for discussion and debate. They are odious practices and words such as Xdiversity" or Xpluralism" become misnomers when used to defend them.
The Home Secretary spoke yesterday about norms of acceptability. If Clause 5 were to be enacted, would he be free any longer to speak in such terms, let alone the rest of us? Earlier today he was accused of offensive remarks because of what he said yesterday. Are we really to force our politicians and other commentators into a form of Trappism because they ask whether arranged marriages are acceptable or whether British citizens should be able to communicate in English?
Our best prospect is to move as Australians and those in the United States have done to the fostering of common civic values, while accepting diversity in religious belief; diversity of dietary codes or the celebration through food, dress or music of an individual's mixed origins. As John Casey wrote in the Daily Telegraph on 4th October 2001, this legislation fails to grasp that,
The genuine fears and concerns that have been expressed by the Muslim community and the numerous letters which many of us have received from a variety of Christian denominations, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, indicate that we should tread very carefully in this area. Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, was right to say that we should not proceed in haste. The people who are expressing the very fears I have mentioned are the same people the legislation is supposed to protect.
Among Catholics there has been much debate about the toleration of the right of minority faiths to attack Catholicism in Catholic states. In Britain the state once forbade attacks on the established Church, but also persecuted Catholics for not being members of the state Church. That led to James II introducing a more tolerant rule, with the Declaration of Indulgence. Happily, we have come a long way since those days. I would mention in parenthesis that just 40 years ago the Second Vatican Council's declaration on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, occasioned a change of emphasis with its re-affirmation, as one Bishop put it in January 1998, at a meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, that while error may have no rights, those in error certainly do have rights, including the right not to be unjustly coerced.
I turn to my last point. I am sorry to have detained your Lordships. If we are to encourage greater religious and racial tolerance in our society, it will be done through proactive laws which celebrate citizenship, not through reactive laws which demonstrate a failure to appreciate the true nature of religious belief.
Two years ago, while giving the Roscoe lecture at Liverpool John Moores UniversityI declare an interest, as I hold a chair thereJack Straw, the then Home Secretary, said that new Britons do not come together as do new Americans to celebrate the bestowing of citizenship. He said:
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, there may be three main reasons to support the group of amendments, Amendments Nos. 93 to 98, which seeks to remove Clauses 39 to 43 from the Bill. I do not find them convincing.
First, there are those of your Lordships who do not believe that incitement to religious hatred should be outlawed because they feel that religious belief should not be given that kind of protection. I do not agree with that position. For many citizens of this country, their religious belief is one of the most precious things that they possess. That is particularly true for some minority groups which fear that their culture, including their religion, is under threat today.
There are those who do not wish the legislation to go forward because of its damaging effect on freedom of speech; those who feel that the ridicule and criticism of one's own or another faith would be hampered; and those who suspect that the legitimate evangelism of any of the faiths would be constrained. Those are real fears which have been expressed in the House today, but they can be overcome.
It should be recalled that in this legislation we are dealing with hatred. We are not dealing with humour, comedy or even strident criticism. Nor are we dealing with the unfortunate, the accidental or the arguably deliberate misinterpretation of another faith. Words spoken in sincerity by one faith community need not
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, need have no fear; a modern day Wesley would not have incitement to religious hatred among his armoury, any more than did his illustrious ancestor. Amendment No. 92A standing in the name of the Minister addresses that anxiety. The amendment makes the Bill much easier to support.
Secondly, there are those of your Lordships who feel that the proposed legislation would have their full support if it was separated from the anti-terrorism Bill. It certainly can be argued that the incitement to religious hatred did not commence on September 11th and is not contained by its aftermath. The members of the Inner City Religious Council of all faiths have been arguing for just such legislation for a decade or more.
Nevertheless, since September 11th there are those who have not been slow to stoke up faith tensions for their own reasons. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, at Second Reading suggested that supposed religious hatred is in fact racially motivated and that our existing laws are therefore sufficient. I fear that some racist groups are now more sophisticated than noble Lords might surmise. In my capacity as co-chair of the Interfaith Network for the UK I have received reports of white racist groups seeking meetings with Sikhs or Hindus, using the message:
For those reasons, I believe that the proposed legislation can legitimately be found in a Bill dealing with anti-terrorism. But even if I did not believe that, I would agree with the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, at Second Reading that the legislation is better found here than nowhere.
I cannot follow the noble Lords who, like the noble Lord, Lord Lester, support the proposed legislation but not in the Bill. We should grasp this opportunity for much needed reform which has been illuminated more clearly since September 11th.
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