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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot make that promise to the noble Lord, but I can certainly tell him that we energetically look at what other partners are doing. I have to say that we ourselves are seen as a resource of some excellence.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, there is one child in particular on whom the double-seated restraint was used. That matter is being investigated. That child certainly died. That restraint method has been removed.
"( ) Nothing in Part 3A of that Act (inserted by the Schedule to this Act) is to be read or given effect in a way which prevents or restricts expressions of dislike of
(a) any religion, or
(b) any person's lack of religious belief."
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this speech will be shorter and less rumbustious than the two previous speeches that I have made on this issue. I see the Leader of the Opposition nodding contentedly. I encourage noble Lords opposite not to spend too much time examining the exact effect of my amendments, because they are probing amendments.
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Noble Lords will recall that the House agreed a number of amendments in Committee on 25 October which fundamentally changed the structure and the content of the Bill, including the introduction of a new freedom of expression exemption. In response to those amendments, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, generously and helpfully said that she would consider the issue further. The purpose of these amendments, therefore, is to find out the current status of the Government's consideration of the Bill.
First, will the Minister explain to the House at what specific areas of the Bill the Government are looking? Secondly, with whom are the Government discussing these issues? Finally, when does she expect the Government to be able to return to the House with concrete proposals on the way forward? I hope the Minister might feel able to give the House a response to these questions early in the debate. I beg to move.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, with the House's agreement, it may be convenient if at this stage I respond to my noble friend to apprise the House of where we are collectively on these issues. Indeed, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for tabling these amendments.
The noble Lord has, I know, been a keen supporter of the Government's intentions in introducing the Bill to Parliament. He has spoken eloquently about legislation in this area both at Second Reading and in Committee. Noble Lords will know that there are strong feelings on all sides in relation to how we should move forward. The noble Lord has been kind enough to indicate that these are probing amendments, and they provide me with a valuable opportunity to update your Lordships on the progress we have made so far.
In Committee strong concern was expressed about freedom of expression. Those concerns led noble Lords to vote substantially in favour of the amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Lester, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, and the noble Lord, Lord Plant. As I indicated then, I wanted to take stock of our position and look for ways in which that deep concern could be addressed without substantially undermining the Government's stated policy aim of legislating to outlaw incitement to religious hatred, which I continue to believe is fundamentally correct.
We have considered the issues further, and I have had a number of discussions both with those who support the Government's intentions in this area and those who have deep reservations about how the legislation might operate in practice. Those discussions have been ongoing on all sides of the House. I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate that squaring this particular circle is in no way easy. If it were, I am sure that others far wiser than I would have done it a long time ago.
The time between Committee and today has not been sufficient for the Government to come to a definite resolution of the matters in dispute. There are further discussions to be had, both with the Opposition and with noble Lords on these Benches.
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Therefore we are unfortunately not in a position to table government amendments for the House to consider on Report. I am, however, continuing to look at how we might make headway and perhaps achieve a level of consensus. I can give your Lordships a personal assurance that we will do all we can to achieve such a consensus, as I am sure your Lordships would wish.
Four main areas of the Bill have changed as a result of the amendment that was made in Committee. I shall briefly set out our view in relation to each of these. I want to make clear that nothing is set in stone at this stage. In considering how to take the Bill forward, we will look at how our proposals can be adjusted to provide the reassurance that so many of your Lordships have indicated is required. If we are able to achieve that, we will look to table government amendments at a later stage. I hope that that will be at Third Reading.
The amendment that was made in Committee restructured the Bill so that the religious offence is entirely separate from the racial offence. There are difficulties with providing consistency between that and the existing racial offence, since it suggestsmore than we acceptthat religion and race are completely separate issues. I accept, however, that the House has clearly signalled its preference for the new framework. We are prepared to consider whether the new structure should remain.
The amendment also removed the words "abusive" and "insulting" from the offence, leaving only "threatening words or behaviour" capable of prosecution. As I indicated in Committee, we have real difficulties with that change. If we confine the offence relating to religion to cases in which threatening language has been used, we would limit it to a very narrow range of behaviour. In the sort of cases that have been dealt with under the racial offence, it is clear that campaigns used to stir up hatred use a range of words, some of which may be threatening but are not necessarily so. Abusive and insulting words can also be used, and they can have just as devastating an effect on the communities concerned. Therefore, limiting the offence only to threatening words and behaviour would make it far too difficult to get to the sort of material that is used to incite hatred and would severely curtail the ability of the Crown Prosecution Service to bring to justice those responsible. We have to bear in mind that those who seek to take advantage of the provisions will want to craft what they say very keenly to avoid being subject to any restraint provided by us through the law.
The most important amendment to the Bill is, I respectfully suggest, to the freedom of expression protection included at paragraph 29J to the schedule. My noble friend's amendment would remove that provision and replace it with something far more tightly drawn. That issue is at the heart of concerns raised by most of those who spoke in Committee. The wording currently contained in the Bill would cause us
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some difficulties in providing a workable offence for prosecutors. However, I believe that it should be possible to include something that goes some way towards that type of wording, which would be sufficiently sound and robust in defending the freedom of speech concerns raised both inside and outside Parliament. That is something that we shall continue to consider and discuss with noble Lords, with a view to coming up with a form of words that I hope will be acceptable to all.
Lastly, there is the issue of whether intent should be the only threshold for bringing forward prosecution of these offences. Your Lordships will know that that is also being looked at in the context of the Terrorism Bill currently being considered in the other place. While the wording that was used in what is known as the "likely limb" is obviously considered to be too loose by a number of noble Lords in respect of the Bill's offence, we shall want to see whether there is a form of words that will enable prosecutions to be brought without having the unintended consequences feared by many. We understand that that is a difficult road to walk, but we intend to see how best it can be done. If we are successful in doing that, we would hope to be in a position to table amendments at Third Reading, subject to the House's agreement.
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