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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I am sure that, like me, all noble Lords are grateful for my noble friend's elucidation of the position. However, would she agree that the Bill as it now stands fully, completely and wholly fulfils the manifesto commitment that the Labour Party made, and that to go further on incitement would risk gold-plating or lead-plating that commitment?
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the Minister said that she hoped that the Government could resolve this matter and table amendments at Third Reading. Would she accept that, with regard to the Companion to the Standing Orders, that would be undesirable, and that therefore a far better plan, if this matter is to be finally settled in your Lordships' House rather than in another place, would be to recommit the Billand the schedule in particular?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we do not believe that that would be the most felicitous way in which to proceed. I predicate any comments that I make on the fact that we would have to have the House's assent; but if the House were to assent to Third Reading being the most appropriate time to dispose of this matter we would be able to dispose of these remaining issues expeditiously.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her exposition of what she is hoping to achieve, but we are right up against it in terms of time. Is there any way we could extend the time between Report and Third Reading? It would be terrible if the
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Government put down amendments the night, or a day or two, before Third Reading, because some of us would want to spend a lot of time considering the wording and the implications of those amendments.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we understand that view. Of course the date upon which Third Reading is fixed is a matter for the business managers, but we would hope, by the time this matter came to be debated, that we would have an opportunity to consider those amendments so we could have a proper discussion. We are in the hands of the business managers, but I am sure that there are those who will be sensitive to the position in which we find ourselves.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I have a question that is not in any way meant to be hostile. In the days when I was in government, the business managers did not allow Bills to come before the House at any stage until policy had been sorted out. Why was it not possible to sort out the policy before deciding the date on which these matters were to be considered?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we are sorting out the policy now. Let us look at where we are. The Government have put forward a number of propositions with which this House has comprehensively disagreed. There are two ways in which we can deal with that. We could say, "Very well. This House has spoken. We will do no more. The matter will go back to the Commons. The Commonswhich, after all, has a mandate as the elected House and the voice of the peoplewill decide".
This is an issue of such sensitivity that there is a desire to accommodate and seek to compromise, to find a middle way. I had understood that those in this House, discharging their duty with such propriety and care as always, would, if possible, prefer to find a way through this rather difficult situation. There may be others who would rather enter into the usual fray.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, before the Minister finally sits down, and with the leave of the House, is she convinced that the Third Reading procedure, which puts so many constraints on discussion, is the right way to proceed in view of what she has just so rightly said about the importance of trying to settle the matter in this House? It does not seem quite certain to me.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, before the Minister sits downthat pleasant fiction that we all adoptI have five points. First, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of WirralI nearly said "my noble friend", because he and I are at one in the way we approach these mattersand I have to account to our respective tribes and those beyond them for any negotiations that take place. Secondly, I have confidence in the wisdom and enlightenment of the Home Secretary personally
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in his ability to produce a consensus for a Bill of which we can all be proud. I emphasise that not to disparage anyone else, but simply to say that about him.
Thirdly, we do need more time, because the Government have not yet shown us the colour of their money. Fourthly, the reason my lawyers talk about "without prejudice" negotiations is that it does prejudice negotiations if one talks about them in public. Indeed, when the Minister was speaking, there were one or two things she said I thought might prejudice negotiations, but in fact I do not think they will.
Lastly, if we can reach an agreement, it should be done before Third Reading by way of negotiation. Then, on Third Reading, provided that the House is content with the bargain that has been struck, we can send the Bill to the other place and avoid such ghastlinesses as ping-pong and the Parliament Act. I therefore entirely agree with the way the Government suggest that the negotiations should proceed. In the end this will save parliamentary time and produce a better Bill.
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, before the Minster sits down I would like to thank her for her statement and for the widespread consultation she has initiated and which she has indicated will continue.
We on these Benches have some sympathy with the Government's position that there is a closer relationship between racial hatred and religious hatred than many people recognise. They are both issues of identity; they are not simply matters of choice. Nevertheless, as we arguedparticularly on Second Readingmore robust exchange is allowed about religion than is appropriate to the subject of people's racial heritage and background. I am glad that the Government are going to keep those elements separate.
Unfortunately, the amendment tabled in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and myself was not properly debated in Committee. It overlapped substantially with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, but we kept in the words "abusing" and "insulting". I will therefore look with particular care at what the Government eventually come up with in this matter.
Clearly, we are all united about having adequate provision for freedom of expression at all times. We on these Benches are particularly concerned about the likelihood limb. We will carefully scrutinise what the Government come up with. I hope that the Government will respond to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and that we can get an agreement and a compromise on this matter before Third Reading.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I do not propose to suggest that the Minister has not yet finally sat down. Her intervention was by leave of the House to respond to the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, for information, which she acceded to. The matter is now open and any noble Lord who wishes to may make a contribution.
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The proposal to continue negotiations in the hope of reaching a settlement and then bringing that forward to Third Reading is perfectly appropriate. I welcome that as a way forward. It is far preferable to seeking confrontation with the other place. I have never found that attractive except in the most exceptional circumstances.
I am anxious about a matter that I have raised on several occasions and which so far the Minister has not addressed. That is now further focused by the Government's proposal to have an offence concerned with the glorification of terror. My understandingthough I may be subject to correctionis that that generally takes place in the context of some religious faith or doctrine. Terror is glorified through the application of that doctrine to the circumstances in which we are now placed. If that is correct there is a dangerunless the language is very accuratethat the Bill in its previous form would cast the protection of criminal law round the glorification of terror in the context of religious belief. This matter needs to be dealt with carefully if the two matters that I have referred to are not to be confused and the relationship between them damaged.
The other point that I wish to make, because it has been raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, relates to the relationship between race and religion. I am one of those who think that there are substantial differences between the two and I see no reason why religion should be dealt with separately from race, so long as it is dealt with appropriately. One thing that needs to be said about religion is that it may inculcate practices that are themselves hateful. That may well be a matter of judgment, but it certainly is possible; whereas one would not expect that to be a consequence of race by itself. So there is room for considerable difference between the two, and merely separating them in the Bill does not seem to pose any problem in dealing appropriately with religion as well as with race.
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