Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I shall be so brief. I hate a caste system, which condemns someone to be a hewer of wood or a drawer of water, that is religious-based. I hate the concept that a widow can be forced to commit suttee. I hate forced marriages. I hate female circumcision. I hate the concept that people should be stoned to death for adultery. I hate that hands should be chopped off because of thieving. I hate that people should be forced to wear burkas so that they cannot be seen. I hate the rantings of Protestant extremists against the evil of sodomy. I hate the Wahhabite system of law. I hate all of those because they are wrong. I also think that it is wrong that I should be criminalised for hating, and encouraging others to hate, something that is held to be religious by a large group of religious people when I know those things to be wrong.

The Attorney-General shakes his head and says, XNo, that's not it". If that is not the point, what is the point? Will I be able to say that I hate a religious doctrine? That is the dilemma that faces us all. Let us leave it to the laws of harassment, sedition and offensive behaviour; let us not pursue these religious lines. The issue is too difficult. Let us also remember that the Pope rescinded the Great Papal Bull Regnens in Excelsis, which absolved all Roman Catholics from loyalty to the United Kingdom, only in 1967, or so the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley—a totally reliable source—told me.

Let us be very careful about making things that I hate illegal to hate.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I shall give one very brief example, which appears in the current edition of the Economist, to demonstrate the dangerous territory that the Bill is entering into. There is apparently a radio station called Premier Christian Radio, against which a complaint was made by the Mysticism and Occult Federation. The Radio Authority, which judges such complaints, found some of the federation's criticisms valid, and it criticised the radio station for referring to other religions as full of superstitions and

10 Dec 2001 : Column 1182

absurdities; for derogatively referring to non-Christian faiths as XBuddhism, Hinduism and rheumatism"; and for publishing an advertisement from a Church promising certain listeners deliverance from Xoccultism".

The Radio Authority is not concerned with religious hatred, it is concerned with good taste and decency. The above example, however, shows how difficult it is, both currently and in the future, to draw a line between hurting feelings and what amounts to inciting hatred. It could well be that, when feelings run high, regardless of the guidance that is issued by the Attorney-General, those who make certain types of statement will be prosecuted, freedom of speech will be suppressed, and the type of situation that we saw when a fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie may well be repeated.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I want briefly to comment on Amendment No. 92A. The fact that the Attorney-General moved the amendment demonstrates that he is not 100 per cent confident that the Bill's current definition is clear to everyone who might be affected by it. It is an indication that, so far, the Bill's definition of the crime in question is not very adequate. I am sure, as has been said more than once, that it is a very difficult issue. The Law Commission examined the issue and concluded that it would be wise to have no provision at all to address it, although it reached that conclusion against the background of a different time and in considering whether the law of blasphemy should be removed from our common law.

I want to put one question to the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General—whose thoughts on the issue must be fairly right, as he said that guidance would have to be available when this emergency Bill receives Royal Assent. I am sure that your Lordships recollect the debates that we have had over the years on various provisions on abortion. The most recent such debate was on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, the scope of which made it possible for the first time to include this type of amendment in a government Bill.

The difference between those who agree with abortion and those who disagree with it is a religious one. Generally, those who disagree with it have the view that human life exists from the time of, or very shortly after, conception. That is in the nature of a religious belief. Those who are against it hold the view that those in favour of abortion are killing babies by the hundred. I think that most people would regard killing babies by the hundred as a fairly hateful matter. Therefore, if I say that those who are in favour of abortion are in fact promoting the killing of babies by the hundred, surely I am inciting hatred against them as a group, as those who perform the abortions are said to be murderers, and those who agree with abortion are said to be supporters of murderers. The example demonstrates that we are seeking to legislate on a rather difficult subject.

10 Dec 2001 : Column 1183

It may be that the Law Commission, having long and very carefully considered the matter, has reached the right conclusion after all. Regardless, it seems that we cannot properly go down this road as quickly as an emergency Bill would seem to require.

Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, I should like to follow up the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, by drawing attention to Amendment No. 92A, which states:

    XThe Attorney General may issue guidance as to conduct in respect of which he will not institute proceedings for an offence . . . or consent to the institution of such proceedings, on the grounds that the conduct consists of the legitimate expression of religious belief".

That is an extraordinary power to confer on an office-holder. The Attorney-General can issue guidance, and presumably he can amend his guidance. If he can issue it, he must be able to say, XI have changed my mind" and revoke it. Therefore, we are effectively saying that the scope of the operation of these provisions depends on the opinion that is formed from time to time by the Attorney-General. That cannot be a proper way in which to legislate. If we wish to express something as being a criminal offence, we should be capable of defining it. It is totally unacceptable, and to my knowledge unprecedented, to allow the definition or scope of provisions of an Act of Parliament to depend on the opinion from time to time of a single officer.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I rise to support Amendments Nos. 93 to 98. As I have consistently made clear, I do not like Part 5 of the Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Neill, put his finger on my primary concern about Amendment No. 92A: the lack of clarity on whether future guidance from the Attorney-General will expand the scope of the provision although we do not agree to expand it.

I am not concerned about specific individuals. As we know, however, British tabloids can drive us to a political frenzy, such as on the issue of dangerous dogs. I can very easily imagine a situation in which, as in the Salman Rushdie case, there is frenzy-driven tabloid propaganda saying that the Attorney-General must immediately take a given course of action. There will be no stopping once we start down such an illiberal road.

I still believe that, if we want to stop attacks on Muslims or any other minority, we shall have to find a better way of defining those groups than by resorting to the label of religion. That is the wrong label. However, we can do that only if we put together all the religious issues—for instance, discrimination, blasphemy and hatred—and perhaps have a special committee of your Lordships' House to examine the matter in detail. After that, we should return to the legislation and deal with it properly. Bad legislation in this respect will be extremely harmful.

6 p.m.

Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neill, and my noble and learned friend Lord

10 Dec 2001 : Column 1184

Mackay of Clashfern seem to have torpedoed completely the palliative Amendment No. 92A, which was intended to persuade your Lordships to go down this route.

I rise as a loyal member of the Church of England in order to try to persuade the right reverend Prelate to have at least a moment of doubt about what he advises us. There are only 24 hours—perhaps a few more; 30 hours—in which an alternative amendment can be tabled. Under ordinary procedure, not only would we have had weeks of discussion between stages so that our positions could have been fully realised, but we would have a full three days in which to carry out further discussions in order to find an alternative palliative amendment.

Therefore, while I agree with the right reverend Prelate that something must be done, that is far from saying that anything will do. I do not believe that this will do and under this procedure I do not see how we can arrive at anything which will do. It follows, does it not, as we have been saying all along, that this is the wrong place for this provision? It should comprise a Bill of its own and not be in this one.

Baroness Richardson of Calow: My Lords, I am well aware that many of our faith community leaders are in favour of the legislation being passed. However, it has been expressed to me on the basis of half a loaf being better than none. It is said that it will go some way towards helping against what they feel to be an injustice; that some parts of the community are protected and that they are not. I am not convinced by that argument. Our faith communities and all religions deserve better than to be put in that negative light. We have consistently said that the events of 11th September and the conflict are not religiously based, so I cannot see the justification for including the provision in an anti-terrorism Bill.

I hope that we shall pass the amendments. The Government are committed to examining religious discrimination, which involves religion and belief. That covers an area wider than simple religious understanding. I hope that we shall have considered reflection of, and be able to put in a more positive light, the role that religions play in our community. We should carefully consider how that can be protected as a force for good within our common life.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page