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Lord Barnett: First, I confess that I have not read our manifesto. Indeed, I am not sure that I read many of them, even when I finished up in government. Like my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, I have had some experience and hate racial and religious hatred terriblylike, I am sure, everyone on the Committeebut I have great worries about the Bill.
I understand that we do not usually vote on Second Readings, but I hope that we will give the Government time to think again. I would be prepared to do that if my noble friend, for whom I have great regard, tells us that the Government are genuinely proposing to think again. If I do not get that assurance, I would certainly be prepared to vote for these sensible amendments, and I hope that they would be carried. The Government could still then think again. That is an important consideration and it is why, unless I get that offer of serious consideration from my noble friendto whom I offer my sympathies for what happened recentlyI am sorry to say, I will have to vote against the Government.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: The proposal that, if the Government are willing genuinely to think again, the amendments may not be pressed is reasonable. On the other hand, we await the response of the noble Baroness. I am delighted that she is able to be back with us again.
First, there is absolutely no doubt that the Bill is not dependent only on intention. The Home Secretary was asked about that at Second Reading. At first, in reply to a question, he said that intent was crucial, but, when he was taken up on the matter a little later, he pointed out that there was an additional provision in the Bill that did not require intention. Therefore, in my view, it is not strictly speaking an incitement to religious hatred. The amendments would create that.
One difficulty about how the Bill is constructed is that Ministers have said to me and to others that the Bill is about protecting believers, not belief. The problem is that if you insult my beliefs and I am a real believer, you insult me thereby. It is difficult to make that distinction in relation to insult or abuse. It is much easier to make it in relation to threatening language. That is why the word "threatening" is the centrepiece of the amendment.
The Home Office has kindly sent out indications about the guidance that would be given on the Bill if enacted. In reference to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, last time, I notice that the Home Office memorandum states that consultation will be carried out about guidance and so on. It says that among the people who will be consulted are bodies representing the main faith communities. Involved here are communities other than the main faith communitiesthose who are interested can see how the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, described them at Second Reading but I shall not repeat that now. We must remember that people have all kinds of religious
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beliefs. There is an important religious belief that no less an authority than the Prime Minister described as a perversion of Islam. Is it intended to cover and give the protection of the criminal law to that, if the Bill becomes law? If not, why not?
Lord Peston: I am loath to intervene because I want to hear what the Minister has to say, but I have a couple of points to make. I hope that Members of the Committee do not think that I am a creep, but I say to my noble friend Lord Foulkes that I like the way we conduct ourselves in this House. We do not shout at each other; we take it in turn to speak; and, believe it or not, we listen to each other. My basis for comparison is not the other place, about which I know nothing, but academic life, which is very different.
I want to echo three or four points that have been made. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I wish that we had never had this Bill in the first place, but we have it and, therefore, our duty as a revising chamber is to revise it and improve it. There is no doubt about that. I also find it hard to see this matter as party political. I cannot see the connection between this and being a true member of the Labour Party. I have been a member for a long time so, to me, opposing the Bill is not attacking the Labour Party in any way, but that is by the way.
Of the utmost importance is the fact that, for me as a layman, the Bill, which I have great difficulty following in its original form, would become something that I can understand with the amendments. When the amendments are added, I can follow the line of reasoning, which I could not when I first read the Bill. It seems to me that there are only two possibilities: one is that the Bill says what the amendments say, in which case the Government should accept the amendments because it is important that some of us should be able to understand the Bill; alternatively, the Bill does not say what the amendments say, in which case the Government should make the amendments, because the Bill should say what the amendments say.
My final point is on procedure, and here I am very much with the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Barnett. Whether it is a convention, new or old, it seems to me, particularly on a matter of such importance, that the Government should be given a chance to think again. That should be the case when we argue on anything, but certainly on a matter as important as this. If the Minister says that she has listened to the arguments, she really must think again and come back to us. If she does that, the Committee will be satisfied. If the Minister simply says at the end of her speech, "No way"perhaps the Committee will forgive the vernacularwe might as well get the voting over and done with now, as it will put us all out of our misery. This may be the introduction that my noble friend wants, and I very much look forward to hearing her response.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I have tried to resist the temptation to rise too early because I know that this
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debate is extremely important and I wanted the benefit of listening to it. I do not stand before the Committee saying that there is no possibility of change whatever. I shall explain the Government's position.
Along with many speakers in the debate, the Government abhor any form of hatred, whether it is founded on race or religious belief, and I think that that view resonates in this place as it does in the other House. It is right that we have been down this way before in relation to these matters, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was absolutely correct to remind us of the evidence that was put before the Select Committee, the importance of this legislation to people in this country and the need to address the issue. But I am disappointed that a number of noble Lords have said that they do not think this legislation should have been brought before the House now, or that the issue can postponed; it really cannot.
There are, however, clear differences of view. We all agree on the outcome we want to achieve, but the method by which it is achieved is a matter of concern and dispute. Noble Lords know well, because it was eloquently expressed at Second Reading by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and replied to by my noble friend Lord Bassam, that the Government's view is that in order to have parity of treatment between all groups, it would be right and proper to amend this Bill in the way we have proposed, and in the way it has come from the Commons.
But we were listening while the Bill made its way through the Commons and we continue to listen now, both at Second Reading and here in Committee. There are issues which we find difficult. The first and by no means the least is that of truncating the offence to restrict it simply to "threatening". The reason is that a number of substantive offences can be satisfied already with the mere use of threat. We believe that the words "insulting and abusive" add particular importance to this offence. That is because a person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, is guilty of the offence if he intends therebythis is an important qualificationto stir up racial or religious hatred. However, I appreciate that of course it is the religious hatred point on which we rightly concentrate.
I turn now to the issue also rightly highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised by Section 18(5) of the Public Order Act 1986, which refers to a person who is not shown to have intended to stir up racial or religious hatred. He would not be guilty of an offence under the section if he did not intend his words, behaviour or written material to be so, or was not aware that it might be threatening, abusive or insulting.
I understand the concern expressed by many noble Lords about the need to show intention. I understand also that the reason noble Lords say that is because they do not want a flippant and inconsequential aside to be used in a pernicious and destructive way to bring about a criminal conviction. That point has been made very clearly. But we have to approach this matter with
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a degree of calm. My noble friend Lord Parekh was absolutely right to remind us that when the previous legislation went through both Houses, similar concerns were expressed about the chilling effect that such legislation would have on race. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said about the difference between race and religion. One is able clearly to identify the one, but the other is by nature more nebulous and less distinct. Race and religion are quite often imparted at birth and can be essential to identity. We have to understand that.
Concerns have been expressed about self-censorship. People say, "Forget about the legal position, will people behave differently?". Self-censorship was also a matter of concern in relation to racial hatred. The racial incitement offence, which covers nationality, has been in place now for nearly 20 years. It covers the Welsh, the Japanese and those who, like me, were born in Dominica; it covers Australians and the Irishthe noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, is right to remind us of that. But it also covers Jews and Sikhs as well as the colour of a person's skin.
I stand before the Committee as a woman of colour, as someone who was born in another countryI am Dominicanand as a woman of resounding and immovable faith. Those three items define who I am. If you utter words of hatred against me in relation to my race, you can be dealt with; if you utter words of hatred against me in relation to the place from whence I hail, you can be dealt with; if you utter words of hatred against me because of my colour, complexion and hue, I can do something about it. But if you generate hate against me because of my faith, I have no means of redressalthough I would have a means of redress if I were a Jew or a Sikh. That is the position. There is no evidence
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