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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I wish to say two things as a member of the Labour Party, as I have been since the age of 17—technically that was illegal because one was not supposed to join until one was 18—and as a Member of this House since 1977. I support the sentiments of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I shall explain why. I also wish to explain why, if he forces the matter to a Division today, as I hope he does, I shall not be able to vote this time in the Contents Lobby.

Before that I have two points to make. First, it has been said to me by many of those who have joined us recently that there is a convention not to have Divisions in Committee. I know of no such convention and I know of no such custom. It is a habit that in the past three years has been indulged in and it does not apply in any way to what noble Lords each choose to do. I say "each" because this is an important debate which raises matters of conscience and deep attitudes to other human beings.

Secondly—I can assure the Committee that I make no point ad hominem in this respect—if noble Lords look at the Companion, as I am sure they do each night, at paragraph 4.29 on page 60 they will see that it reads as follows. I must read it all or I shall be accused of selection:

Only over the past few years has that provision in the Companion been rather ignored. I put it to your Lordships because it is necessary to do so and because we are in Committee on the Bill, which needs to be debated. Of course, from time to time we all sin against the Companion. On another occasion I shall outline my
 
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own sins, but not tonight. When I first came to this place in 1977, I was sat down for an hour by the much-loved Chief Whip of the day, Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe. She explained that so long as I read the Companion from time to time, things would go well. Indeed, when we observe its provisions, this self-regulating House proves every time that it does not need further instruction from someone sitting on high. While that issue must be left for another day, I say simply that the Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, laid by the Clerks on the Table, to our great benefit, deserves more recognition than it has had over the past two to three years.

I come to the questions raised by the Committee. I support the sentiments expressed in the amendments and I shall set out in headline three or four reasons why. I shall do so because I spoke at Second Reading and the Committee is not the place in which to repeat one's Second Reading speech. But before I do so, let me say that however reformed we become, we do not have the legitimacy of the elected Chamber down the Corridor. That must always be kept in our minds. Different arrangements, customs and procedures apply here because of the importance of the democratic Chamber. But Amendment No. 1 and its allied amendments, moved and spoken to so persuasively by the two noble Lords who have already spoken, answer many of the questions that people like myself and my comrades who have chosen to attend the debate today feel must be answered before we could even think of approving of the Bill as it stands. Currently it is a bad Bill and the Government should reconsider it. As I have said, I shall give merely the headline reasons for why I say that.

I stress that my position is a matter of conscience, and I believe that that conscience is shared by many of my colleagues on these Benches. First, there is the question of separation. The amendments rightly separate the issues of incitement to hatred on racial grounds and incitement to hatred on the grounds of religious belief or lack of religion. Merely to state that makes all the difference. It would be ludicrous to have a provision talking about incitement to hatred by reason of a lack of racial ethnicity or the like.

I am all in favour of keeping in place the provisions of the 1986 Act, which I am sure that Members of the Committee have looked at and which would be amended by this Bill. That Act is available in the Library. I am all in favour of keeping in place a very strong law on incitement to racial hatred. It is an abomination. I take this opportunity to say that, as a secular humanist, I am sure the Committee shares in my disgust at the abominable racist attack recently perpetrated against the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, whom we are soon to welcome into this Chamber. It was a vile attack and it is quite right to maintain an extreme criminal penalty against such behaviour.

My second point is that the Bill goes much further than some people think. As it stands, the Bill goes far beyond incitement to hatred on religious grounds. Incitement involves intention, and the amendments
 
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are right on that point. Incitement is about intending something whereas, as I said at Second Reading—I merely repeat the main point—the Bill extends to insulting words that might be understood by any person, whether reasonable or not—one is tempted to say whether sane or not—to be a criminal liability. I will vote and vote again against such criminal liability being introduced into our law.

I have other criticisms, of course. The Bill refers—as does the 1986 Act—to the "stirring up" of religious and racial hatred. I do not like the phrase "stirring up". In the words of Polonius, it is

I would prefer that it went, but I can live with it if the liability is reduced to incitement.

This leads me to my third point, which is that protection against incitement to religious hatred is what we promised. Everyone on these Benches is committed by the election manifesto to introduce legislation on incitement to religious hatred. We did not say that we were going to introduce legislation which made you liable criminally if you said something which might be understood by any person, no matter who they were, to contain grounds for religious hatred.

These amendments fulfil the Labour Party manifesto in a manner which is strictly correct. The Bill goes much further—it is an extreme Bill—and that is why the Government have lost the argument in both Houses so far. As noble Lords will know if they read the debate, brave comrades in the other place made a staggeringly good case against the Bill on that ground. Our manifesto commitment states:

Incitement requires intention to incite. It is perfectly easy for the prosecution to prove it—although some people may say, "It is terribly difficult to do so"—because that is what lawyers are paid for.

We should not legislate for this vast area of criminal liability as it stands in the Bill. People everywhere—from actors to commentators to Muslims of my acquaintance—regard it as quite extraordinary that the Government should introduce a Bill with this width of criminal liability. No doubt some noble Lords will say such people are all middle class and intellectuals. Maybe they are, but it does not alter the fact that some Muslim circles are not pleased with the extent of the Bill.

Whether knowingly or not, Ministers, the Mayor of London and various other people have inaccurately sold the Bill as though it deals with incitement to religious hatred and no more. But it goes much further than that, and that is why the paper in the Library, giving a Keeling schedule of how it would read if inserted into the 1986 Act, is so important. I hope noble Lords have read that and will not mistake the effect that the Bill would have over a very wide area.

Finally, merely as a comment, I have not received the paper from the noble Baroness or my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, to whom I wrote, but of course it is right that there are problems about
 
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human rights. You do not have to be an expert—you do not need lawyers in these matters—because all noble Lords can read the European Convention on Human Rights. If they do not then see the problem, I suggest they read it again.

4 pm

I urge the Ministers to look favourably on the amendments. There are those of us who cannot vote in conscience for the Bill as it stands and those who will not vote against the Whip tonight. It is much to my regret that this is a matter for the Whips; it should not be. It is a fundamental issue of human decency, standards and human rights.

The reasons why I cannot vote for the amendments are these. If we pass the amendments—I am sure that they will be passed, if put to a Division, and I hope that the mover has the courage to do so—the complaint will be made in another place that that creates a different Bill, and that it is not right to make such a vast amendment to the Bill—I am doing my best to make a case I do not believe in—at one blow. That is important. This is a revising Chamber, and it may be that making such a vast amendment to the Bill in Committee might be criticised as showing a lack of manners towards the other place. We must somehow ease the Bill's passage from error into light by the gradual pressure of our arguments and by having the Government look at it again.

There is a Minister who has shown what brave and courageous Ministers can do—someone with whom I have often disagreed—the right honourable Member for Hull West and Hessle, Mr Alan Johnson. He was given a brief to settle the pensions problems in the public sector, to save £13 million, if I apprehend rightly, and avoid a strike. He triumphed in doing so, because he was a bold Minister. Ministers here should go back to whomever they speak to and say, "You really must confine this Bill to our manifesto commitment".

Everyone knows that the Bill goes further. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is a talented product of King's College, Cambridge, someone than whom you could hope for no better in this discussion. He knows perfectly well that the Bill goes beyond incitement and that there are problems concerning freedom of speech. I do not need to repeat them in Committee, because I assume that noble Lords will have read the debates here and in the other place.

The Government must be asked to revise this and to come back to the Chamber with a Bill that is confined to incitement to racial hatred, which is what the manifesto promised. For their part, having been around the track so many times, the Government now face the fact that they cannot get their Bill through as it stands, except by heavy whipping. That is most unfortunate. It is no way to put this Bill on the statute book. I want the Government to come back on Report, for those of us on these Benches who will not vote tonight, much though I welcome an expression of the House's view, for those who are not under a Whip on the matter.
 
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For that reason, although you may want a constitutional crisis about something else, it would be the nonsense of all time to have one about this Bill. When the Minister comes to answer, I hope that she will take account of such a view from her own Benches, not through some antique disposition on a struggle more worthy of the 17th century before the Glorious Revolution, but as a practical matter of how the Government might proceed.

I wrote to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor but have not had a reply. I sent a copy to the Minister, but I quite understand why she has not replied. She has been in all sorts of difficulties in the past few weeks, and we are happy to see her return safely to the Chamber.

When the Government come to answer, please will they offer talks? They cannot just go on for ever taking the people behind them for granted. They have discussed it with the Tories; they have discussed it with the Liberals; I should like a bit of discussion now and then, as would a lot of my noble comrades. The Government must discuss confining the Bill, as the amendments would, to the manifesto commitment.

I spoke early in the debate because, having been here for 29 years, I thought that for once I could intervene early and explain a decision that is not merely personal to myself but is shared by many of my friends on these Benches.


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