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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 provisionsthe paper was written before the Bill was publishedit has agreed the statement which I mentioned earlier. That is confirmed in what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark said.
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 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?
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.
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
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 consentit has been inserted by Parliament on a number of occasionsfilters 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 placefor example, I give consent to explosive substances casesis given entirely on the basis of public interest not political consideration.
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