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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I do not want to delay the House and I do not want to disagree with the Home Secretary just when he is coming around to agreeing with me. However, I believe that the clause is out of place not merely in the Bill but in any legislation. Perhaps I may respond to a point which arises from what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson.
The followers of bin Laden are undoubtedly acting as they do out of a religious belief. I have heard a number of Ministers who could be held to be guilty of causing religious hatred of the followers of bin Laden because of what they do. Those followers say that they do what they do because of their religion . That immediately goes to the definition of a religion.
What is an expression of non-belief? What is an expression of irreligious belief? Are they different? What of cults? Are they protected? Would we think it right to be protecting the local chapter of a Haitian voodoo group? I believe that we are rapidly getting ourselves into a great muddle. It is a great muddle into which we do not need to get.
We can escape all those difficulties simply and easily without requiring any of these definitions; without requiring any discussion of whether a fringe comedian at the Edinburgh Festival could infringe the law; without relying on the whim of successive Attorneys-General to tell us what the law is. We should return to the common sense use of prosecuting for the use of insulting words or behaviour whereby a breach of the peace may be caused.
If we were to increase the penalties for such behaviour to, say, seven years, we would have the perfectly flexible and useable weapon; that is, if a comedian went beyond the bounds of good taste or if someone in a pub among his friends of similar quirky beliefs was insulting about people who would never hear what was said, it could all be ignored. But if a hooligan of some kind went into a place where there were members of a religious group and chose to insult them and stir up hatred against them, we could proceed easily and simply with law that has been used for years and is well understood.
Lord Parekh: My Lords, I am afraid that mine will be a slightly dissenting voice because I have the feeling that many noble Lords are already persuaded by the amendments. However, that is the other side to the story and I hope that your Lordships will allow me to say it.
In the debate on the issue there are four important questions. First, should there be an offence of incitement to hatred? I believe that the answer is yes. Secondly, should incitement to religious hatred be an offence? The answer seems to me to be yes. Thirdly, as no definition of religious hatred is ever perfect, do we have it just about right? The answer seems to me to be broadly yes. Fourthly, are we right to make it part of an anti-terrorism Bill? Again, in my humble view, the answer seems to me to be yes.
Perhaps I may briefly explain those views. Our democracy is based on the principles of rational debate and dialogue. Obviously, it is incompatible with intimidating and aggressive utterances. That has become
We must also bear in mind that almost all forms of racial hatred grow out of religious hatred. For centuries, for example, Jews were attacked on religious grounds. Their religion was condemned and they were accused of deicide. It was argued that they were therefore objects of legitimate hatred. That kind of evil way of thinking created a climate whose consequences were exploited by the Nazis in the 1930s. The same was true of the Hindus whose so-called animalistic religion was condemned and whose people were declared legitimate objects of hatred.
In your Lordships' House and elsewhere it is sometimes said that this clause relating incitement to religious hatred, is a sop to Muslims, that it singles them out for special treatment and may even prove counter-productive. I do not see the clause in that way at all. The clause protects no one and no particular community; it protects only our democratic system by banning utterances that are likely to poison relations between different communities. Such inciteful utterances may come from Muslims, as in the past they have tended to do, and so they will face the full rigour of the law. If they come from other groups, those groups, in turn, will receive the full rigour of the law.
Sometimes it is said that the Bill will curtail freedom of expression. Again, I do not see why. The Bill is clearly directed to stop certain kinds of behaviournot utterances. It deals with utterances only in so far as they are action-oriented.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, for giving way. Am I right in thinking that in the Joint Committee on Human Rights he made clear in his questions to the Home Secretary that his position is that the Salman Rushdie novel, The Satanic Verses, should have been prosecuted as a criminal offence? I ask the question because the noble Lord says that this Bill would not threaten free speech. Am I right in saying that that is his position?
Lord Parekh: My Lords, I shall come to that point in support of my argument. The Home Secretary made the matter clear in his evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. In answer to a question of mine he said that the Bill would not have stopped Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. He also said that those utterances that are designed to demean, offend or degrade others are left completely untouched by the provisions of the Bill. In other words, the Bill is concerned with only those utterances that are likely to lead to certain forms of hatred and that are likely to precipitate action against certain groups of people. Therefore, I believe that the Government's intentions are broadly liberal and that any court dealing with the matter would want to take into account the kind of evidence that the Home Secretary gave to the Joint Committee.
Many noble Lords have asked why Part 5 should be included in a Bill dealing with terrorism. I may be totally naive, but I like to believe that the connection is absolutely clear. Terrorism springs from hatred. Of all forms of hatred, religious hatred is the worst because it breeds fanaticism and justifies itself in the name of no less a personage than the Almighty. We have seen that in the Middle East and elsewhere. Religious hatred needs to be stopped or at least discouraged. Hence I see Part 5 as part of a campaign against terrorism in general.
Questions have also been raised about what constitutes a religion or a religious group. Similar questions were raised in the mid-1970s when we were talking about incitement to racial hatred. After all, if race and ethnicity have not proved difficult to define, I do not see why religion should pose a problem. In short, the Bill is directed against religious groups and not against religions. It defines hatred in fairly narrow and tight terms and as far as I can see it has safeguards against indiscriminate use of the provisions of the Bill. Therefore, I am inclined to support the Bill and to reject the amendments.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I shall be brief. I have a few points to add to the debate and I want to speak to Amendment No. 93 standing in my name. The prospect of a new law on religious hatred has attracted criticism from a wide range of groups. The Home Secretary is most concerned to protect Muslims with a new offence, yet Muslims are divided on it. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has already said, in a memorandum to the Home Affairs Select Committee in November, several Muslim groups have expressed grave reservations about the prospects of such an offence. Some of them may have been persuaded by the Home Secretary and the current wording of the Bill, but others have not. Given time, consultation and careful drafting, their fears may be allayed, but as it stands this new offence is still a cause of grave concern to many Muslims, let alone Christians and those of other faiths or no faith.
The Home Secretary has one rather eccentric success in that he has managed to unite atheists and religious believers with comedians and journalists who have come together to condemn this new offence because of the potential effect on freedom of speech. While we all deplore religious hatred, this is not the way in which to deal with it. Many religious people have a real concern that the new religious incitement offence will cause more harm than good. Instead of protecting them, they fear that the new law could be turned against them. Religious people should be free to argue passionately in support of their beliefs as should those with no faith. Free speech and robust debate that pose no danger to anyone risk being caught by the new offence.
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