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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I thank my noble friend for drawing the attention of the Whips certainly not to the content of his speech but to the advice in the Companion on timing for interventions. If everyone who feels passionately on either side speaks at great length, beyond the guidance in the Companion, we may have a problem.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I shall keep well within the constraints of the Companion. I wish to make one point, in supplement to the extremely able and eloquent case advanced by the two noble Lords whose names are on the amendment.
I speak about the possible chilling effect of the legislation. Sympathetic though I am in some respects to the intentions behind the proposed new law, I believe that it could easily have a rebound effect and create more resentment than enlightenment on the part of the public. I shall add just this: we in this House and in the other place have legislated a deluge of new law over the past few years, including 14,000 pages last year. Without question, there is in the country a combination of bemusement and resentment about the quantity and complexity of that law.
I shall detain noble Lords with one short example of how new law can be seriously misconstrued and in the process create antipathies that it certainly was not intended to create. My daughter has just enrolled her two and a half year-old son in a nursery, where she was asked to sign a disclaimer against what she was told was the current law of the land, which will allow those
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who run the nursery to pick up the two and a half year-old if he falls down and hurts himself. Without that signature and that disclaimer, the staff of the nursery maintained that they would be acting unlawfully. In fact, they are wrongbut I put it to you that this new law is a classic of the sort that will be misrepresented in the public bars the length and breadth of England. Far from achieving the meritorious purposes behind it, it will stand in danger of achieving a chilling effect that will in turn create resentments that currently do not exist, exacerbate tensions that do exist and hence, in toto, be counter-productive.
Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: I do not deny that the Bill has a good purpose, but I should feel much happier if the amendments spoken to so eloquently by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Lester, were carried. The sort of thing that I wish to be able to say, or to quote, is a remark made some nine centuries ago by Frederick II, stupor mundi, by most estimates the most intelligent Holy Roman Emperor, at least of the Middle Ages. He said:
I wish to be able to say that, even if I do not agree with it and even if I do not recognise or acknowledge the source. For that reason, I support with enthusiasm the amendments that have been proposed.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am a little perplexed, because I am used to Committee stages with to-ing and fro-ing, interruptions and questions being askedso this comes amiss to me. I accept the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, and I shall read the Companion regularly each night from now on; I am sure that my sleep will be better as a result. I should love to have intervened during the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, but my colleagues tell me that that is not done in this place. It would be a much better debate if
It seems that the people who are motivated to get upalthough we do not catch the Speaker's eyeare those who disagree with the Government. I can understand that, because everyone assumes that the Government are pushing the Bill on and the only way we can stop them is for all of us who are against it to get up and say so. I think that all of those who think that the Government are right ought to say so more often, not just on this Bill but at Question Time and other occasions. The Government are not always wrong. They are very often right, and we should say so.
I found it strange when the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, said today that the Government had brought party politics into something like this. The noble Baroness with the lovely Irish nameI was going to say, "the lovely Baroness with the Irish
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name"which I promise to learn to pronounce, mentioned party politics. Well, of course party politics comes into all this. We are pulling wool over our eyes if we do not accept that.
A number of people have said that legislation does not change minds, so why should we bother? Legislation changes the framework in which we work. It can make sure that the kind of appalling things that happenthey do happeninvolving incitement to religious hatred are less likely to.
Then we have had a number of statementsagain and again, today and at Second Readingsuch as that made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, who said that Christians demonstrating outside were looking for assurances that they could preach the gospel. There is nothing in the Bill that will stop people preaching the gospel. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that it would reduce freedom of expression, and that was said again today. People can keep on asserting that the Bill will do that, but there is nothing in it that will. It is a misunderstanding of the Bill.
I will give you a clue as to why people are misunderstanding it. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is here, because again and again people have referred to the legislation in Australia as if it was exactly the same as the legislation that we are considering. It is not. In Australia, the legislation says that it outlaws activities that lead to serious contempt towards or ridicule of a religious group. We are not talking about ridicule. If we did have "ridicule" in the Bill, Rowan Atkinson would be right. It is not in the Bill, however.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I am grateful to my noble friend. We will get back to a little more of what he likes. I happen to have made a certain study of the Australian legislation in the state of Victoria. Will my noble friend accept that those who do not particularly like the exact formula of the legislation have concluded that legislation of this kind is the sort of thing that small groups of religious zealots, of all kinds, have been waiting for in order to stop arguing among themselves and start litigating? That is the problem.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I understand that, but in Victoria it was a religious vilification law. We are talking about incitement to hatred. "Hatred" is very strong, and incitement is a specific action, which is also very strong.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I do. That is a key point of the amendment. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for giving me the opportunity to say that there is a lot of merit in the amendment. When it was proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, however, we got all the
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arguments of two weeks agoall sorts of argumentsrecycled, instead of going into the specifics of "intent". We should look at that.
I will of course support the Government today. We will have many opportunitieson Report and Third Reading and when it goes back to the House of Commonsfor the Government to consider the amendment. I hope that, given time, they will do that. However, I also think that we have to answer some of the points that have been made. I feel strongly about one point. People say that religion is a matter of choice and race is not. Of course that is true; I do not argue about that. However, that implies that if someone is inciting hatred against you because of your religion you have the option of withdrawing from that religion. That is the implication of what is being said, and I think that people ought to understand that. There is also a contradiction in the whole argument whereby some people say that the legislation is unnecessary, but the same people say that it inhibits freedom of speech. This is the third time that we have considered this legislation.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: It is the fourth. Different arguments were put against it previously. The Government are getting nearer and nearer to exactly what they ought to be doing, and they deserve our support tonight.
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