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Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that under legislation relating to Northern Ireland there is a provision that is almost word for

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word the same as may be enacted if Part 5 is put on to the statute book and that in 14 years there have been only four prosecutions?

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I am very aware of that. I shall quote directly from the Christian Institute which has said:

    Xwe know about anti-religious sentiment. We deal with cases of individuals who are mistreated because of their beliefs. To silence those who disagree with us we could easily make use of this new law if it is passed. But we do not believe it would be right to do so".

We are moving in dangerous territory. This issue should be left out of the Bill altogether. These provisions touch on such a sensitive area of our national life and they cannot be dealt with properly in the highly pressurised setting of a Bill on terrorism that is being raced through Parliament in time for Christmas. I entirely agree with my noble friend the Shadow Home Secretary, Oliver Letwin, MP, to whom reference has been made by the Attorney-General. The Government's motive is noble, but with respect, their actions are misguided. The House does not need to oppose or to reject Amendment No. 92A; instead I urge your Lordships to support Amendment No. 93 through which we can remove the offence of incitement to religious hatred from this Bill.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I know the hour is late and I sense the mood of the House, but I want to speak to a few points as there is confusion. I respect some of the views that have been expressed and, with respect, I consider some of the views to be misguided.

Does this House believe that such conduct should be prohibited or condoned? I understand, with few exceptions, that the House is of the view that conduct involving the hatred of individuals because of their beliefs is not appropriate and should not be condoned. Therefore, one has to ask whether it is right to outlaw such behaviour as a criminal offence, in what form and when?

I invite noble Lords to pay the closest possible attention to the views that have been expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark who has spoken on his own behalf and on behalf of others. Within the past week he has obtained the views of representative leaders of the British religious communities, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Network of Sikh Organisations, and the National Council of Hindu Temples. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred specifically to the Muslim Council of Britain and to the appendix put in to the Home Affairs Select Committee in another place. In that memorandum the views expressed by the signatories was that at the moment they did not want to see legislation. As I told noble Lords, the Muslim Council of Britain has now changed its view on that. After reflection, having seen the provisions—the paper was written before the Bill was published—it has agreed the statement which I mentioned earlier. That is confirmed in what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark said.

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I also ask noble Lords to pay the closest attention to the words of my noble friend Lord Parekh. The views expressed in his study in relation to multiculturalism in this country deserve, I suggest, the closest possible respect.

I respect the view of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and it is important to note it. He spoke of the need for deepening our culture and cultural inclusiveness. I entirely agree with that. However, sadly, the people whose conduct we want to prevent are not susceptible to that deepening of culture and certainly not in the timescale of which we speak.

Let me deal with specific topics. First, are the ingredients of the offence sufficiently defined? I have been at pains at Second Reading, in Committee and today to identify the ingredients of the offence. They are the same ingredients as existing offences: the offences of incitement to racial hatred. They have not been dreamt up for this Bill. Those ingredients are there and it is important to focus on them. I shook my head at the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. He talked about violent disagreement with the tenets of a religion. As I sought to make clear, the ingredient of the offence is inciting hatred of a group of people not of the religion. That is clear from the provisions of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and other noble Lords shake their heads. Because of the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I had placed in the Printed Paper Office a copy of Part 3 of the Public Order Act 1986, as it would be amended, which identifies what is meant by religious hatred. It is on the face of the Bill. It means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief not to religion. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, was right in relation to that.

Lord Elton: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord tell us how that would bite on the case of the Muslim woman which he cited at the beginning of his speech? From his example, I understood that the hatred was directed at her.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, the hatred is against a group of persons of which she is a part because she is a Muslim. I hope that that helps the noble Lord.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I do not understand noble Lords' amusement. I have obviously said something which I should not have done.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I think that it was a comment on my ability to take in what the noble and learned Lord was saying.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, at least the noble Lord has not been accused of being too young to understand

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what the Bill is about. I suppose that I should be grateful that I was not accused of not being a lawyer. That is the other criticism which has been made.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am not accusing the Attorney-General of anything. However, is not the Muslim woman in the case he cited already adequately protected by existing criminal law, including the protection against harassment legislation which we enacted only recently?

Can the noble and learned Lord also deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that his guidelines will not cover those who have no religious belief?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, let me deal separately with those questions. First, when the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said that no events had occurred since 11th September, I was going to intervene to ask whether he had read the appendix to the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. It sets out incident after incident attributed to events since 11th September. The first state-funded Islamic school, Islamia Primary School, in Brent was forced to close after threatening telephone calls since the incident in the USA on Tuesday 11th September. A school secretary wearing a hijab was abused verbally while out shopping. On Monday 17th September, girls in hijabs were spat on. There are examples after examples. Noble Lords who read the appendix cannot doubt that those events have occurred since 11th September.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, are those incidents not punishable under existing criminal law?

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, perhaps I may pick up on that point. Would not Section 4 of the Public Order Act deal with those very allegations? It states:

    XA person is guilty of an offence if he . . . uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or . . . distributes or displays to another person any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting".

Making those kinds of abusive comments to a woman in the street wearing a veil would be an offence under that section.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, Section 4 of the Public Order Act makes a person guilty of an offence if he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words,

    Xwith intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him . . . by any other person",

or that person is likely to believe that such violence will occur. It is a victim orientated offence.

The reason for proposing the amendment was not because the ingredients of the offence are insufficiently defined. It was for another reason. With respect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, it is not because I have doubts as to what the offence meant but for this reason. In another place, Sir Brian Mawhinney raised the question whether or not it would be possible to find a way of putting a reference

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to legitimate expression of religious belief in the Bill. In this House a similar point was made. The proposal was to help in this respect.

I make two points about the position of the Attorney-General. It is already the position, as it is under a number of Acts of Parliament, that the consent of the Attorney-General, and in Scotland the Lord Advocate, is required for certain offences to be brought. It does not mean that the Attorney-General identifies the ingredients of the offence. That is for the court. Nothing I say could ever make criminal conduct which is not within the words of the statute. The consent—it has been inserted by Parliament on a number of occasions—filters out cases, to prevent them from going to court, where it is not in the public interest for them to be brought to court. It is a question of public interest not an executive decision. I do not say this because of the accusation of youth. But some noble Lords may recall that in 1924 a Labour Government fell because the Attorney-General of the day gave and withdrew a consent for a prosecution which was believed to have been motivated by political considerations. Ever since that day it has been an absolute tenet of faith to successive attorneys-general that the decision as to whether a prosecution takes place—for example, I give consent to explosive substances cases—is given entirely on the basis of public interest not political consideration.

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