Clause 1 - Hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds

Racial and Religious Hatred Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 28 Mehefin 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out from “grounds” to end of line 7.

No. 45, in schedule, page 2, line 12, at end insert

‘where such hatred is racially motivated.’.

New schedule 1—Racial Hatred—

1Part 3 of the Public Order Act 1986 (c. 64) (racial hatred offences) has effect subject to the following amendments.

2Amend section 17 to read as follows—

“(1)In this Part “racial hatred” means hatred against a racial group, of persons defined by reference (whether directly or indirectly) to colour, race, nationality, (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins (“a racial group”).

(2)In this section—

(a)“an indirect reference” means a reference to religion or religious belief or to a person’s membership or presumed membership of a religious group as a pretext for stirring up racial hatred against a racial group;

(b)“religious group” means a group of persons defined by reference to religion or religious belief.”.’.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Amendments Nos. 31 and 45 and new schedule 1 stand in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone). I shall leave amendment No. 1, to which our names have been appended, for the hon. Member for Beaconsfield to discuss.

Right at the start of Committee proceedings, we come to the heart of the Bill and the differences between the Government and Opposition Members. Amendments Nos. 31 and 45 are perhaps probing amendments. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about them. They are much narrower in their compass than new schedule 1, which in essence is what we referred to on Second Reading as the Lester amendment. Amendment No. 45 would clarify that religious hatred would be covered by the Bill if it was racially motivated. However, I shall focus on new schedule 1, which is the meat of our discussions.

The new schedule would introduce a new definition of “racial hatred” in respect of

“persons defined by reference (whether directly or indirectly) to colour, race, nationality, (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins (“a racial group”).”

It then defines “an indirect reference” as a reference to race using religion as a proxy. It refers to a reference to religion

“as a pretext for stirring up racial hatred against a racial group”.

The term “religious group” is widely defined in the final part of the new schedule.

The Minister referred to the somewhat anomalous position whereby some protection is given by existing legislation to Sikhs and Jews but not to other religious groups. The basis of that, as I have always understood it, is that their religions are what are generally described as mono-ethnic religions, and case law has been developed under the Public Order Act 1986 that has allowed those people to be protected from racial hatred. I think that it is commonly accepted that that protection does not go so far as to include proper theological—if I can put it like that—religious hatred   that could be stirred up. The import of the law as it stands is that coverage is given on racial rather than religious grounds.

I have seen some reference to that by the Minister, and I would be grateful if he accepted that that is the Government’s understanding of the law. I have noticed in recent times that most Government comment on this issue says that those people are protected from the stirring up of hatred, but there is no further specification of whether that is religious or racial. Currently, Jews, Sikhs and Muslims are protected if the basis for the attack or discrimination is their ethnicity, rather than their religious beliefs. That is probably the basis on which the leader of the BNP is being prosecuted. To that extent, new schedule 1 constitutes a belt and braces. It would enact through statute what currently exists in case law, but it would put the degree of protection beyond all doubt.

Muslims are currently protected from incitement to racial hatred, not on the basis that they are mono-ethnic—clearly they are not—but so that racists would find no shelter behind the word “Muslim” or “Islam” in the courts. The Minister dealing with the previous Bill that dealt with the matter, the right hon. Member for Salford (Hazel Blears), made the fair point that the words do not have to be racial but can be merely intended to stir up racial hatred, or insulting, threatening or abusive with the likely consequence of inciting racial hatred. There has been so much widespread comment about, and occasional misrepresentation of, the nature of the inequality of treatment that we believe that the amendment is necessary to put the issue beyond reasonable doubt.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda 10:45, 28 Mehefin 2005

As I understand it, the proposal is similar to the Lester amendment. The part that still seems complex, and which introduces a new concept, is the phrase “as a pretext for”. How would one judge whether something was a pretext for racial hatred?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That would be judged on the facts and circumstances presented to the court. As with anything else, the evidence led by the prosecution would be required to demonstrate that the act was racially motivated and abusive, threatening and insulting.

If, for example, I said to the hon. Gentleman that as an Episcopalian he is to be hated because of his view on disestablishment or another theological or doctrinal point, that would clearly be religious or theological. If I were to call him a Church-of-England something—whatever expletive one would want to add—that would take the comment beyond religion. The Church of England is perhaps not the best example, but if someone were called a “Muslim bastard” or something of that sort, the comment would clearly be designed to be abusive, and one could draw from it certain inferences that are not in any way   religious, theological or doctrinal. However, the short answer to the question is that it will depend on the nature of the evidence adduced.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

The hon. Gentleman is making a good point, because the existing law requires all sorts of decisions to be taken by juries within context—the use of the word “insulting”, for instance. Does he agree that if we start worrying too much about the anxiety expressed by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the Bill would go out of the window, along with the Race Relations Act 1976, because it requires juries to make such decisions?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Yes, and in practical terms that is the situation that will pertain.

I hesitated slightly before giving the hon. Member for Rhondda examples because I do not know whether examples are necessarily always the best way of approaching such subjects, and certainly the one relating to the Church of England may have left something to be desired.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

Of necessity, I must disagree with what the hon. Member for Beaconsfield just said, because the new schedule would add another layer of intentionality that would have to be determined. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland advanced a suggestion about calling someone a “Muslim bastard”. By his own terms, is calling someone a “Muslim bastard” objectively and clearly using religion as a proxy for race, or might that not be subjective? It would have to be determined whether it was A or B, and, of course, if anybody were questioned, they would claim that they had meant it as a theological rather than a racial comment. That is the problem with the new schedule.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

There will be other supporting evidence, and one would consider the circumstances in which such a comment was made. For example, was it made on a street at 2 o’clock in the morning when bricks and bottles were being thrown as part of a wider racially motivated incident, or was it perhaps made outside a mosque? The courts would be entitled to consider all the circumstances, and that means exactly that: all the circumstances. They would even be entitled to look at the way in which the person who made the comment was dressed—in full skinhead gear, for example, or with swastikas on their clothing—or whether they were putting up posters that were racially abusive or incited racial abuse.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Llafur, Tooting

If an initial requirement is a pretext for stirring up racial hatred against a racial group, and if the hatred is being stirred up against, for example, a white Muslim, how could that ever be construed as stirring up racial hatred against a racial group?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

There would be other circumstances that would cover that. I do not think that a white Muslim would be covered by those circumstances. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for   Islington, South and Finsbury (Ms Thornberry) asks a question from a sedentary position. If she wishes to intervene on me I shall respond.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Llafur, Islington South and Finsbury

We were talking about whether white Muslims would be covered by the Bill. The hon. Gentleman said that there would be other circumstances. Such as what?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am sorry that I have not followed the hon. Lady’s point. If she wishes to make it at greater length during the debate, I shall certainly try to deal with it. I have also forgotten the point that the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) made. I accept that white Muslims would not be covered by the new schedule, and I am not going to pretend that they would be. There is a question of proportionality here, and framing the legislation so as to cover white Muslims in any way that is not covered by the existing law—abusive, threatening or insulting behaviour—involves a question of balance. We are not in a position to deal with the disproportionate damage that stands to be done by the risks that will be created by the Bill.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Llafur, Tooting

As I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, the current race laws allow those who incite hatred against Muslims, using their religion as a proxy, to be prosecuted. If we accept that, there is a loophole. By using the current race laws, people inciting hatred against white Muslims cannot be prosecuted. If that is so, the hon. Gentleman will accept that his new schedule still does not deal with that mischief and does not close that loophole, so what is the point of it?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Its purpose is to enact in statute the laws that currently exist. By and large, we think that the existing law is adequate. There is also sometimes a case for Parliament to legislate for offences that are already illegal, because of the signals that are sent out. We do that quite often. I am happy to proceed on that basis. However, the hon. Gentleman would need to persuade me that there is a compelling need to act to protect white Muslims. I would argue that there is a compelling need to protect black Muslims.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Llafur, Tooting

You have suggested that legislation often has a symbolic value, even when there is already law to cover the mischief that we are seeking to prevent. If that is the case, do you not think that those white Muslims currently not protected would see Parliament symbolically sending a positive message by bringing them within the protection, rather than simply bringing in a new law which once again excludes them from protection?

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

Order. Before we proceed further, I remind newer members of the Committee that remarks should be addressed to the Chair.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My answer to the hon. Gentleman is no, because what we have is a very small gap. If he can persuade me that there is a compelling need to   close it, I will certainly consider that, but I would be very surprised if the Government were introducing the measure solely for that purpose.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Llafur, Islington South and Finsbury

Let us suppose that someone shouted “Muslim bastards” at a mixed-race family—the man was white, the woman Pakistani and the children mixed race—all of whom were Muslim. Which of those people would be covered by the new schedule?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

There is mention in the schedule of reference to presumed membership of a religious group as a pretext for stirring up racial hatred against a racial group. It may well be that in the circumstances outlined by the hon. Lady all the people in the group would be covered, because the presumption would clearly be seen to have applied to them all.

If what we are about is tackling the real issue, which is the use of religion as a proxy for racial hatred, and that is the gap to be filled, new schedule 1 is an alternative means of doing so without any of the dangers that exist under the Government’s proposal, which brings with it concerns about curtailing the right to freedom of religious expression. That is essentially what the new schedule is about, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about it.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

New schedule 1 would rewrite the Bill so as to confine it to the use of religious words as a pretext for incitement to racial hatred. It has been loosely termed the Lord Lester amendment, because it surfaced in earlier deliberations. It is slightly unfortunate that the Committee has to consider one of the most critical and important amendments in the first group, before we have had an opportunity to look in detail at the strengths or weaknesses of the Bill as drafted. I fear that there will inevitably be a series of debates that go over the same ground, but there may have been no way of avoiding that.

New schedule 1 has much to commend it, although I will probably reserve my judgment until Report, after we have had an opportunity to look at the Bill in its entirety in greater detail.

The supposition of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) seemed, in a funny way, to hit the nail on the head in suggesting that religions require protection—

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

He is not in the Committee.

Hon. Members:

Tooting.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 11:00, 28 Mehefin 2005

I apologise to the hon. Member for Tooting. I have to tell him that I start from a diametrically different standpoint: I do not think that my religious views require protection. I declare my interest as a churchwarden and a practising member of an Episcopalian church, the Church of England. I do not believe that I require protection against being vilified or from people saying that they consider my religious views horrible and stupid, the fact that I go to church on Sunday ridiculous or the theology of the religion that I practise absurd.

In an increasingly pluralistic society it is of considerable importance to accept that special protection for such religious beliefs should no longer continue. That is why, prior to the election, I said that I would be happy to vote for the abolition of the blasphemy laws, which are obsolete and redundant and protect only the Church of England’s practices. I start from that position. The hon. Member for Tooting made a forceful case that such protection was a good thing, with particular reference to Islam, so I must accept that there is a difference of opinion on the matter.

The Government have said, repeatedly, that the Bill is not intended to protect religious viewpoints. Indeed, we have heard—I was about to say ad nauseam—that the Attorney-General will not allow that to happen, because the use of his reserve powers in order to allow a prosecution to take place will prevent it. The anxiety of many members of the Committee is that it is a dangerous thing to enact law which is of very wide scope in theory but which will be restrictive in practice, but that is what the House is being asked to do. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman to consider carefully whether there are other ways to deal with legitimate anxieties about the current state of discourse in society and whether or not it incites hatred.

The context in which examples are being brought before Parliament about the use of hatred or incitement to hatred seems from my personal experience to lie squarely within the format of an individual’s ethnic identity, which can, of course, include a religious dimension—I shall be interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s experience—and the development of a law on racial hatred acknowledged that. As I am sure he is aware, the defining case, Mandla v. Dowell Lee in 1983, which put Sikhs into the category of a racial minority, described ethnic origins as

“a group which was a segment of the population distinguished from others by a sufficient combination of shared customs, beliefs, traditions and characteristics derived from a common or presumed common past, even if not drawn from what in biological terms was a common racial stock, in that it was that combination which gave them an historically determined social identity in their own eyes, and those outside the group.”

Sikhs were included because they were seen as a tight-knit community usually sharing racial origins. Generally, the overwhelming majority are drawn from a tight-knit ethnic group originating from the Punjab in India who share common religious characteristics, although I have met a German Sikh, who turns up regularly at meetings of the Sikh secretariat, which I have attended in Parliament.

Can the protection that was extended in the Mandla case be used to cover other incidents of attack on religion? As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland rightly said, it can be. The law has already been extended through case law, so that when an attack on somebody’s ethnic identity is masquerading as an attack solely on their religion, but it is clear from its context that it extends to their ethnic identity, a   person may be caught by the law. New schedule 1 would put in statutory form what has already been pronounced by the courts, therefore allowing Parliament to give its stamp of approval and ensuring henceforth that it will be enforced.

The hon. Member for Tooting should consider that carefully. The new schedule is likely to go a long way to meeting the mischief that he has identified, but it is not likely to widen the scope of the legislation into areas in which criminal law has no business.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

I have been sitting here puzzling about the German Sikh to whom the hon. Gentleman referred. I do not know whether he meant that that person was not black and therefore different, because there are obviously thousands of British, Spanish and French Sikhs. I am not sure whether he has lapsed into some casual understanding of a racial identity.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

Perhaps I used my definitions poorly. The Sikh to whom I referred, and with whom I have been on friendly terms for some years, is of German white origin but he lives within a Sikh community, wears a turban and in all respects has merged into the life of the Sikh community in Britain. He may also travel frequently to India—I do not know, but it is possible.

There will always be exceptions, but I do not think that that affects the common sense that underlay the Mandla decision. There are anomalies. As the hon. Member for Tooting has highlighted, Jews and Sikhs appear to have special protection because of the close nexus between their racial, cultural, ethnic and religious identity. However, one exception does not justify extending the law much wider.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Llafur, Tooting

In that case, would the hon. Gentleman consider tabling an amendment to withdraw the current protection for Jews and Sikhs?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

On the question of Jews, certainly not. If I were to do that, I would effectively create a new exception, saying that Jews could not enjoy protection as a race, which manifestly they are. To my mind, that is abundantly clear.

When considering ethnic identity, one should remember that the use that has been made of the law in the racial context hitherto has not been to protect people’s religious beliefs. I can think of no instance when criticism of Judaism as a religion has led to a prosecution. For that matter, I cannot think of any instance when criticism of Sikhism, even in strong terms, has led to a prosecution. The law has been used against people who have attacked others because of ethnic identity, which tends to be immutable. That point was made on Second Reading, and I do not want to go over it again.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Llafur, Tooting

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there are Abyssinian Jews from Ethiopia, as well as other people of the Jewish faith who have a different ethnicity? If he accepts that, why not reverse the protection that Jews currently receive under an Act of Parliament?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I do not follow the hon. Gentleman’s argument. It is true that Jews identify themselves as Jews coming from a variety of places in the world, and it is clear that although they identify themselves as Jews and as having a common Jewish heritage, their lives, following the development of their ancestors, have gone in a variety of directions. There are Jews who originate from Russia, Jews who come from Yemen, and Jews who come from Abyssinia. If they were lined up in a room, it would probably be noticeable that they appeared to have at least different racial origins. However, they see and define themselves as having a common ethnic identity.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, in that there are anomalies wherever we go down this road, but the question that the Committee has to consider is whether—I detect this coming from the hon. Gentleman—we are about to create an even worse series of anomalies by extending protection to all religions. As I said to him, I do not think that that is a good idea as an issue of principle. One argument that he has advanced is that, because Jews and Sikhs already appear on paper, if not in practice, to enjoy protection for their religious faith, we should widen that protection, otherwise we would be being unfair to Muslims, Christians, Hindus and anybody else. I do not think that we can get away from the anomalies, but, as I shall explain during the passage of the Bill, extending the protection to cover religious belief is a mistake and—this is the point—unnecessary.

I want to return to the new schedule tabled by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland before I get diverted too far away. The hon. Member for Tooting may disagree, but I think that new schedule 1 would meet most of the occasions on which people say that they are being insulted and that they want protection, and where it is abundantly clear that the motive has nothing to do with their religious beliefs but is about getting at their overall ethnic identity, which often has a perfectly clear racial background.

The point has been well made in debate that 10 years ago terms of abuse against Muslims related to racial identity and origins in the Indian sub-continent or Pakistan, whereas now, attacks are made on their faith. That would be dealt with by new schedule 1. Although it is not perfect, it has many commendable features. It would succeed in dealing with the problem without creating the completely new principle that religion and religious belief should enjoy protection. The reason why religious belief should not enjoy protection is that, in a pluralistic society, we have to learn to put up with other people’s insulting views about our religious beliefs. We will have an opportunity later to consider whether that should extend to “threatening” and “abusive” as well as “insulting”. Those three terms are very different. One interesting question that we may want to consider is whether we are making a mistake in lumping them together. At this stage, I simply say that the new schedule in the name of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, which I have signed and which I suspect will be around throughout the passage of the Bill, has a great deal to commend it.

Amendment No. 1, which I have tabled, would leave out the attempt by the Bill to amend

“provisions relating to offences involving stirring up hatred against persons on racial grounds.”

We are doing two things in the Bill. First, we are introducing the concept of religious hatred. Secondly—and we need to think about this at the same time—we are introducing, for both religion and race, a new test as to the circumstances in which someone can be convicted. I am not sure whether this is the best place to raise that, because under later amendments that I have tabled there will be an opportunity for more detailed scrutiny of the issues involved. This is in many ways the paving amendment for those subsequent ones, although it is being taken separately. At this stage, I shall simply flag up what I shall ask the Committee to consider carefully. We are moving away from the old test, under which someone had to show intent to stir up racial or religious hatred, to a new test, under which someone has to show what I can only describe as the double likelihoods.

I have found that an extremely difficult concept to follow. However, it appears that in order to secure a conviction for religious hatred, all that will need to be shown is that, having regard to all the circumstances, the words are likely to be heard by any person in whom they are likely to stir up racial or religious hatred, and that the person saying them was aware that the words, behaviour or written material might be insulting, threatening or abusive. That is a very low test, which is likely to cause juries considerable difficulty. I hope that, when we come to look in more detail at some of the probing amendments that I have tabled to tease out debate, we can look carefully at the implications of the changes that we are introducing.

I am perfectly well aware of why the Government are seeking to amend the Public Order Act. As I understand it, there has been at least one case in which a conviction was not secured because, a poster having been put up and subsequently taken down, it was impossible to demonstrate under the previous test the likelihood that racial hatred would be stirred up. The Government have attempted to get round that by creating a phrase that features repeatedly in the Bill, and I think it is extremely problematic. I hope that we will have an opportunity for a full debate on the implications flowing from that.

My fear is that we will end up with a test that judges find difficult to put to juries, and that many people will consider to be unfair. A person could make a comment that was racial or religious, particularly religious, that could be made to one audience in one context, but subsequently broadcast to another audience in another context in which it would be likely to stir up racial or religious hatred without ever having had that intent. There is a serious danger that we will be creating bad law. I leave that point to the Minister’s discretion, although I hope that he will respond to it, as it relates to one of the amendments in the current group. I also hope that we will have an opportunity later to return to the matter, as it is an absolutely key element in the legislation, and we must get it right.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Llafur, Leyton and Wanstead 11:15, 28 Mehefin 2005

I have some issues with the amendments. In a sense, they were summed up by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland when, in response to an intervention, he said that the current laws are adequate. I do not think that they are adequate. I do not want to repeat the Second Reading debate, but the loophole in the current laws has been mentioned. There was reference to the court decision that Jews and Sikhs are currently covered by the law, but Christians, Muslims and Hindus are not. That law has been extended by common law, but we all know that common law is changeable. A judge, acting on their own whim or from their own particular viewpoint, can change that law. They could extend it to other groups or, the next day, remove Jews or Sikhs from the provision.

In such circumstances, it is best for Parliament to make its own view clear. After all, we are the premier law-making body and we should not neglect our role in these circumstances. The loophole means that there is enormous potential for incitement to religious hatred. We have seen what that can do in other parts of the world, so the law must be changed to show that it is not acceptable in this country. I do not think that the current laws are adequate, as the hon. Gentleman says. I am surprised that he says that they are acceptable because he has tabled amendments that would change them, including one that would change the blasphemy law. I was going to say that that is a strong Liberal position, but perhaps it is not. Perhaps the Liberals are all over the place on that as they are on so many other issues. It would be interesting to hear about that.

Islamophobia is deep and serious. It is of great concern to many of my Muslim constituents. I suspect that Members with Muslim constituents know that very well. Where it is overt, the law must stand up against it and declare it illegal and unacceptable. There is also the issue of anti-Semitism, which can clearly return, regardless of the current position. There are also religious splits, including those in the Christian religion. One group incites violence against another group. The law should cover that. The law should say that violence against a group is not acceptable.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I point out that he is saying yet again what was said by many on Second Reading. That has absolutely nothing to do with the Bill, which is about incitement to violence. Incitement to violence is a criminal offence; it is a criminal offence today; and it is a criminal offence whether one incites people to violence on the basis of a person’s religion, their race or whatever.

We are talking about incitement to hatred, the only dictionary definition of which is “intense dislike and enmity”. It is not about going out and banging people on the head or putting bricks through their window. I accept that some would argue that if people are saying nasty things about each other it might create the climate in which those things happen, but that is not what we talking about in this Bill. We are talking about preventing people from saying unpleasant things about others.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

Order. I thank the hon. Member for Beaconsfield for that. I was about to remind the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) that he was referring to amendment No. 26, which has not been selected. I was about to rule that we should proceed no further down that road.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Llafur, Leyton and Wanstead

Amendment No. 26 is about blasphemy, and my reference to that was just a passing comment. I was speaking not to that amendment but to those that have been selected.

For all intents and purposes, the point that the hon. Gentleman just made is a semantic one. Incitement to hatred leads on to violence; that is the real problem. The law must be strengthened to cover not just incitement to violence, but the hatred that leads to it. That is what the Bill is all about. If that is not done, another loophole is created which lets people off because they can argue that they were only discussing religion, even though they were telling people to go out and assault someone. However they may obfuscate, the truth is that they were inciting people to violence and using hatred as a means. Hatred should be covered.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that where that kind of hatred takes place—I shall use the BNP as an example as, unfortunately, in Bradford we have the unpleasantness of having them on the council and they are a nasty bunch—if people mention religion they are not arguing about the theological niceties of whether Islam, for example, is a good or a bad thing, but are using it as a thinly veiled attack on people’s race? They are inciting racial hatred. The schedule deals with that. The Bill is totally unnecessary to deal with the problem the hon. Gentleman describes. First, it is already covered. Secondly, if it is not it certainly would be covered by the new schedule.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Llafur, Leyton and Wanstead

It is not already covered. That is the crux of the matter.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Llafur, Tooting

On the previous point, could the hon. Member for Shipley explain the comments made by the Association of Chief Police Officers when it gave evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee? It gave examples of Bradford and Burnley and other places where the far right were using language that did not allow the police to bring prosecutions and but led to the sort of violence that my hon. Friend describes. What does my hon. Friend think of the comments made by ACPO, which is calling for the loophole to be closed by the Bill?

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Llafur, Leyton and Wanstead

My hon. Friend made that point well. Some well-established and important groups are calling for the loophole to be closed. However, let us get to the crux of the matter: hon. Members have expressed the view that incitement to religious hatred is just a proxy for racial hatred. Sadly, I disagree with that position; it is too rigid. Religious hatred can be a proxy for racial hatred, and in the case of the BNP, it almost certainly is, but it need not be the case. There is racial hatred and religious hatred. While we are legislating here, we should not just cover one as a   proxy for the other. Where incitement can lead to violence, religious and racial hatred should be dealt with separately and together. It would be wrong just to regard religious hatred as a proxy for racial hatred. Each needs to be dealt with in its own right. By saying that one is a proxy for the other, we are limiting the law, and I do not think that is right. People will be acquitted on charges of inciting such hatred, so we will not be dealing with it properly.

I understand the argument that religious hatred is a proxy for racial hatred, but it is not solely, and we should take the opportunity that we have now to deal with it. Many Kosovans here are white Muslims and could be subject to religious hatred. The Bill should cover them, and religious hatred should not just be seen as a proxy for racial hatred.

Philip Daviesrose—

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Llafur, Leyton and Wanstead

I have not finished yet, but I will give way.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

The hon. Gentleman asked, as did the hon. Member for Tooting, whether white Muslims would be covered by the Bill. Can he tell me how many examples there are of cases of white Muslims going before the courts, having been abused, and not securing a conviction? Are we not making an Aunt Sally here for something that does not exist? White Muslims would not be subject to such off-the-cuff abuse if religious hatred is being used as a proxy for racial hatred. How many examples are there of white Muslims, having been subject to abuse, not securing a conviction? I am not aware that such a problem exists.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Llafur, Leyton and Wanstead

The hon. Gentleman has a short memory. Only a few years ago, there was a lot of press coverage stirring up feeling about Kosovan refugees, who were regarded as criminals and the like. One does not need to go back very far to remember that. It was easy for the BNP to pick up on that feeling and say that, because of the Kosovans’ religion, we should have kicked them all out. The law as it exists, even with the amendment, would not cover that.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech; I, too, am never one to let the facts stand in the way of a good rant. If I can take his point about the Kosovars, will he take account of new schedule 1, which defines racial hatred as

“hatred against a racial group, of persons defined by reference (whether directly or indirectly) to colour, race, nationality, (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins (“a racial group”)”?

Does he not accept that a Kosovar would be caught within that definition?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Llafur, Tooting

Not a second generation one.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Llafur, Leyton and Wanstead 11:30, 28 Mehefin 2005

My hon. Friend makes a good point. A second generation Kosovar might not be covered. Underlying it all, and in one of the amendments, is the argument that religious hatred is a proxy for racial hatred. If that went on the statute book and was interpreted in the courts as the primary reason for the   legislation, Kosovans, white Muslims and others would be unlikely to get the protection that they should under the Act. The argument about a proxy for racial hatred, although worthy, is flawed and limiting. I favour the Bill as presently worded.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

I support the main tenet and thrust of the Bill, for the simple reason that was best put by Jonathan Swift when he said that we have just about enough religion in this country to hate one another, but not quite enough to like one another. That is the fundamental problem in this country. Labour Members have a fundamental perception that in many of our communities there is a receding sea of faith—to paraphrase Matthew Arnold—but there is a growing tide of religious hatred, and it is only right and proper that Parliament legislate to help the tide go back down the beach.

I have in the past thought that the Lester amendment was a rather ingenious solution to some of the problems, but the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has convinced me that it is a bad idea. So although at the beginning of his speech I was almost in favour of the new schedule, I am now wholeheartedly opposed to it. I can remember the day—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is grunting to himself with dissatisfaction.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I was not grunting to myself; I was just saying that the hon. Gentleman’s opposing the new schedule is much more satisfying and comforting to me.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

The good news is that the hon. Gentleman likes being in opposition—long may that remain the case.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

The hon. Gentleman must calm down a little.

I used to be a Hackney councillor, for my sins, which must have been many, and I represented a ward that had large Muslim and Hasidic Jewish communities. My worry about the new schedule is that it would dismantle the current protection for Jews, because the Jewish community in this country is not one community, just as the Christian community in this country is not. There are many different brands of Judaism in this country. We tend perhaps to think only of orthodox and liberal, but the Hasidic Jewish community in east London is a specific community.

If the new schedule were agreed, someone could make it clear when making a speech or producing a leaflet in the Leabridge ward in Hackney that they did not want to attack Judaism, which they thought was a fine religion, but they none the less felt that one should hate people who wear Hasidic clothes and ringlets. Because the person had made it clear that they were not doing that as a pretext for racial hatred, they would not fall foul of the law, whereas clearly they should do so.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

The hon. Gentleman’s suggestion is fantasy and cannot bear scrutiny of the wording of the proposal. If what he describes were the case, it would be possible for someone to escape prosecution now on that basis. In fact, the sort of scenario that he suggests could lead squarely to prosecution under the incitement to racial hatred laws. I disagree with him. If he wants to amplify his remarks, I would be interested to hear it, because I simply do not think that what he has said makes any sense at all.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but just as he thinks that I am wrong, I think that he is wrong, not least because there is a legitimate attempt in the new schedule to state an additional reason whereby someone might be caught. I think that, in fact, it provides a pretext whereby people might excuse themselves from the law. That is the danger of the new schedule. It is well intentioned, which is why I originally thought it a good suggestion, but I now consider it a meretricious argument.

The other argument that Opposition Members have failed to understand is that we are talking not only about Islam, but about other religions. It is not that I wish to see religion protected: I may not be a churchwarden, but I have been a priest in the Church of England and I, too, would like the blasphemy laws to be repealed. I do not see the Bill as an extension of the blasphemy laws. However, I urge Opposition Members to acknowledge that many of us on this side of the fence believe attacks on Irish Catholicism, which have occurred in many major cities on the mainland as well as in Northern Ireland, are inappropriate when they are used as a means of trying to incite religious hatred. I do not accept the argument that, by introducing this Bill, we are simply extending the blasphemy laws.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that most people outside Parliament will feel that their freedom to speak out on religion—to express their genuine religious views—will be impeded by the Bill? Whatever the motives behind it, that is what they feel. If they feel that their freedom of speech is being undermined, it will lead to more religious and racial hatred. Allowing people to speak freely and making it well known that they can do so will do more good than harm.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

If the hon. Gentleman were right, surely the introduction of racial hatred provisions in the Public Order Act would have incited more people to racial hatred. That has not been the case. If it had been, presumably the hon. Gentleman would be arguing for repeal of that piece of the law too. I take it from his studied silence that he is not.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

If the hon. Gentleman is inviting me to intervene, I shall do so. He says that there is no particular issue, but support for the BNP is at record levels in this country at the moment, so everything in the garden is not as rosy as he describes. There is an awful lot of underlying hatred and even decent people who would never dream of voting for the BNP have done so, because they feel that they are not allowed to   express their legitimate views and that voting for the BNP is now the only way to do so. The BNP has undergone a renaissance under this Government. Allowing people to speak freely is the best way to undermine such objectionable groups. The hon. Gentleman fails to recognise that religion is very different from race. Religion is what we choose to be, and race is what we are.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his lengthy speech. Perhaps he will catch your eye later, Mr. O’Hara.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

Order. I was conscious that it was a lengthy intervention, but it was a rounded point, which I allowed the hon. Gentleman to complete.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

I accept your telling off, Mr. O’Hara.

The hon. Gentleman made several mistakes in his argument, not least in his understanding of the reason for the rise of the BNP in this country. On Second Reading, several Opposition Members seemed to have a skewed and different understanding of that rise to those of us on the Labour Benches. To attribute it to the Public Order Act, to people feeling that they are not able to express or incite people to racial hatred and, therefore, to the Government is almost a deliberate misconstruction of the politics of the past few years.

Mr. Grieverose—

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I am slightly anxious that we are moving in a direction that is not connected to the amendments.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

The hon. Gentleman, who claims he has great independence of thought, is becoming unfair. That was not what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said and it is not possible to give his comments that construction. What is true is that if people have the perception that they cannot express opinions, not about people’s racial identity in order to incite them to racial hatred, but particularly about other’s religious beliefs, we are in danger of creating a climate that foments hostility rather than allowing it to be discussed sensibly in a public forum. That is the issue that the Committee has to consider.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, by virtue of his great seniority in the House, can express the point with more delicacy than his hon. Friend the Member for Shipley. My point—

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) is now chuntering as well.

The hon. Members for Beaconsfield and for Shipley are arguing that the rise in racial hatred is partly because of the introduction of the incitement to racial hatred laws, and that if we were to introduce the concept of incitement to religious hatred, it would increase, rather than diminish, the level of religious hatred in the land.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

I will reply to the original intervention and then give way to the hon. Lady.

I disagree with both hon. Gentlemen, because the tide of religious hatred in this country is already rising, and far from introducing a law that prevents people from expressing their views about other religious beliefs, the Bill seeks to prevent the rise of religious hatred. It would be difficult for those who have legitimately argued as they have not to end up saying, in effect, that it is okay for people to hold views of religious hatred, to seek to perpetuate them and to incite others to such religious hatred.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Without amendment, the Bill may have the opposite effect to that which the hon. Gentleman wants. Much religious hatred is preached from the pulpit or its equivalent in different religions. Therefore, incitement to religious hatred is part of religion itself.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

I am not sure that the hon. Lady carried the Committee with her in her idea that the vast majority of religious hatred stems from religion. My belief is that religion does not incite people to religious hatred; it is a perversion of religion that incites people to religious hatred.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

It depends on the religion.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

As I think the hon. Gentleman points out, that is a belief in itself, and might therefore be a religion. Therefore, people who might start hating me may get into trouble.

Moving swiftly on, the Bill should not be a protection for religion of itself, but people should be allowed to enjoy freedom to worship and to share a religion with other people. That freedom is not enjoyed equally by all the different religious communities in this country. The one doubt that I have, which we will come to in later amendments, is how one proves the intent of the person.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

How am I prevented from enjoying my freedom to worship as a Christian by someone in a hall half a mile away denouncing me and the other worshippers of my church as horrible people with nasty beliefs, whom right-thinking people should dislike? That does not prevent me—does it?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

Horrible and nasty are not the most contumelious words to introduce to the argument. There is a question of proper degree in the language that is used. In addition, a sustained campaign is quite different from a brief comment.

The hon. Gentleman might make a better point if he were to use the example of worshipping in a mosque, because the relationship of Anglicanism and the Church of England to the state creates a very different context from that of other religious communities in terms of power. That is why I say that all religious communities do not enjoy the same degree of freedom to worship, to hold their faith and to associate in their faith. At the moment, one of the few protections for   religious buildings—and therefore the freedom to worship—and for graves and cemeteries, is provided by the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860, which is in a pretty parlous state. I urge the Minister to consider at some point whether we might not repeal or reform that Act, so that we can give greater protection for Jewish cemeteries or mosques, for instance.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley 11:45, 28 Mehefin 2005

The point about the new schedule is that it achieves all the things that people on both sides of the argument would like, and deals with the problem that everyone highlights, but does not stop people speaking freely.

I have no idea what experience other people have of such things, but in Bradford, there is always racial and religious tension bubbling under the surface, and we must acknowledge that. Everyone in the area does their utmost to try to maintain a decent racial and religious community. I say to Government Members that this Bill is likely to make the situation worse, not better. The new schedule would underpin the provisions on racial hatred. All the problems that I am aware of, particularly with nasty organisations such as the BNP, relate to people’s race and not to their religion. I am not aware of this particular problem of religious—

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

Order. I was about to congratulate the hon. Gentleman in my earlier reference to him on his skill in reading my body language. However, he is not reading my body language now; his intervention is becoming rather lengthy.

Hon. Members:

It is a speech.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

I stand corrected; I thought that it was an intervention. I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

I will take that as a ticking off for my earlier intervention being too long.

The Bill will make things worse, not better. The point that I was trying to make, which the hon. Member for Rhondda was—

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Llafur, Islington South and Finsbury

The hon. Gentleman states that the Bill will make matters worse, and yet begins his remarks by stating that, in Bradford, there is racial and religious tension. He accepts that there may be two different types of tension and yet accuses a Bill that is attempting to deal with that issue of making the matter worse. There is a central contradiction in his ideas.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. The point that I was trying to make was that the problem is a racial not a religious one. If hon. Members will allow me to continue, I will try to make the matter clear. The problem in Bradford, particularly with the British National party, is a racial, not a religious one. I am not aware that the British National party has ever made any comment about people’s religion or its merits; any attack that it makes on religion is a thinly veiled attack on race.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Llafur, Tooting

May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads the evidence given to the House of Lords Select Committee on this issue, which included examples of the British National party and other far-right groups using their websites and magazines to incite hatred against the followers of certain religions? Will the hon. Gentleman also consider the fact that senior police officers—members of the Association of Chief Police Officers—said in evidence to that Select Committee that they were not able to use the current race laws under the Public Order Act and as amended by common law to charge those who incited hatred against the followers of certain religions?

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

I thank the hon. Gentleman and suggest that he reads new schedule 1. It would deal with what he is talking about. Religious attacks are made as a thinly veiled attack on people’s race, and that is exactly what the new schedule would address.

I return to the point that I was trying to make and that the hon. Member for Rhondda was misrepresenting—I am sure unintentionally, as I was obviously speaking with a forked tongue. I was not suggesting that free speech includes people saying things that incite hatred, and we all agree that that is covered by new schedule 1 or existing legislation. My point was that people who hold legitimate views and intelligently criticise other people’s religious beliefs will feel that they can no longer speak out. If we get into a situation in which people feel that they cannot speak out on important issues that they feel strongly about—not hatred, but legitimate views—the problem will go underground and they will feel that they have no other option than to vote for extreme parties that make the problem worse. Allowing people to speak freely helps to solve some of the problems that Labour Members have highlighted.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

Clearly, I had misunderstood precisely what the hon. Gentleman was trying to argue. When it comes to religious hatred, surely some degree of self-censorship is good. Following his argument, and as we have had clear indications from the Government about when the law would not be used in relation to confessions of religious faith and so on, would he condemn those who have fudged the issue by suggesting that the Bill would compromise free speech?

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I accept that the Government have insisted time after time that people will not be prosecuted for airing legitimate views. However, some may feel that they cannot air those views because, whatever the Government’s assurances, they will end up in trouble. A lot of people who have legitimate views think that they cannot air them because of the political correctness that is blighting the country, and that the Bill is further evidence that their free speech is being undermined. In places such as Bradford, with a nasty bunch of thugs like the BNP breathing down people’s necks, some perfectly decent people will feel that they have no other way of expressing their views than by doing something that they would prefer not to and voting for an extremist party.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Llafur, Islington South and Finsbury

Given the hon. Gentleman’s dire warning about what might happen if the Bill were passed and people misunderstood its purpose, does he accept that it would be his duty to represent correctly to the people of Bradford what it actually means?

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

I will obviously try to represent to people what the Bill means, but I am afraid that I am as unclear as most people in the country about what it means in terms of what a religion is and what hatred is. If we have a clear Bill that I could tell people about, I would be more than happy to do that. At the moment, it is a complete dog’s breakfast, and I have no idea what is covered and what is not. I hope that the hon. Lady will help us in making a decent piece of legislation that everybody agrees with.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Llafur, Leyton and Wanstead

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s argument about limiting free speech and creating a backlash. Does he not accept that the House has limited all sorts of free speech, and that we think that it has been right to do so? I give him the example of paedophilia. Does he think that there has been a backlash as a result of our limiting that?

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South

Order. I advise the hon. Gentleman not to respond to that particular example.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Ceidwadwyr, Shipley

What I am concerned about is people being prevented from giving legitimate views freely because of legislation such as the Bill. I know that it was reported twice in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus that the Minister said that the Bill would have stopped the riots in Bradford. The Home Secretary corrected that, for which I was grateful. The point that I hope that people will accept is that, on the ground, where we deal day in, day out, with the British National party and where it has built up its support to a level that worries me and many other people, this well meaning legislation could actually make things worse. New schedule 1 deals in a legitimate way with the problem that has been rightly identified, but without undermining free speech or creating the feeling that free speech is being undermined, and without making problems and tensions in cities such as Bradford worse than they are now.

Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Llafur, Leicester South

As my hon. Friends have pointed out, the amendments are based on a fundamental misconception, which is that racial hatred and religious hatred are fundamentally and always the same. Clearly, that is not always the case. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda gave a telling example of a white Muslim family and a particularly telling example of a mixed-race family. I want to give an example from real life.

In my constituency, as in many others, there are in close proximity different places of worship for different faiths. In very close proximity, there is a synagogue, a Sikh gurdwara and a mosque. Under the existing legislation preventing racial hatred, those who attend the synagogue or the gurdwara have some protection from those who wish to attack them, or to preach hatred against them. Those who attend the mosque, as has been acknowledged, do not enjoy such protection. We have heard the telling examples of the   mixed-race family and the Muslim family, but the fact is that those who attend the mosque come from a wide variety of different racial backgrounds. There are those who are Kosovan, Bangladeshi, Somali, Pakistani, Indian, from the indigenous community or north African; it is a very mixed group of attendees.

If the amendments were accepted, and the promotion of racial hatred were to be seen only as a proxy for religious hatred, it would be possible for those who promoted hatred against the attendees of that mosque to use the defence that the attacks that they were making were not racial in nature. They would need only to point to the variety of people who attended and argue that their attacks were not in any way related to the race of those who attended—they were from such a diverse background. Heaven forbid that it should happen, but it is possible to envisage such promotion of hatred against the attendees of such a mosque and for that defence to be used. There is a very real distinction between the promotion of racial hatred and the promotion of religious hatred. The Bill seeks to remove the anomaly that enables those who promote Islamophobia—

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I am listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman, and I agree with him that there is a grey interface between race and religion, as well as distinct areas. However, is not the problem that, as we are setting out on the road of extending the law to inciting hatred of religious belief, we might just as easily have a law saying that it is criminal to incite hatred of people on the grounds of their political beliefs? Once one gets into belief systems, there is no reason to distinguish religion from any other belief.

Photo of Peter Soulsby Peter Soulsby Llafur, Leicester South

I invite Conservative Members to look very closely at what the British National party does and says, and the way in which it uses groups who are identified by their religion as figures of hate and promotes hate against them. That is very different from political views. It is very different from other expressions of opinion or other associations that people may have. Religion is used as a target for the promotion of hate, and the Bill sets out to end that.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Llafur, Knowsley South 12:00, 28 Mehefin 2005

Before I call the Minister, may I make an observation from the Chair? That was a very thoughtful speech; the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) had clearly been listening to the flow of argument. That demonstrated to me the difficulty I have in the Chair: there has been robust intervention, and from interventions grow other interventions. Sometimes, that has interrupted the flow of debate and introduced an amount of turbulence. I just make that observation and ask members of the Committee to consider it.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The debate has been a little like a football match in which many of the goals are scored in the first quarter of an hour. Not unsurprisingly, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said in his opening comments that the amendments took us to the heart of the Bill, and he is right. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield said that this would be the key debate,   and we shall no doubt keep returning to it, because in a piece of legislation that consists of two clauses and a schedule, it will be difficult to get far from the heart of the debate in any of our discussions.

Clearly, I shall be urging the Committee to resist each and all the amendments, because together they would frustrate the Government’s purpose in introducing the legislation in the first place. The proposals would prevent the extension from incitement to hatred on the grounds of race to include faith as well. It would remove, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield pointed out, many of the new provisions that we are making in relation to the likely limb. I shall come back to that in this speech and in the Committee’s later deliberations. Crucially, the amendments would replace what we are proposing with a provision that would mean that someone would be caught by the offence if they were using religious language or imagery as a pretext for racial hatred. I shall return to that in some detail shortly.

I remind the Committee that our motive in introducing the legislation is to extend provisions to incitement to religious hatred because it is the right thing to do. We do not run away from that at any point in our deliberations; we think that it is the right thing to do. We want to create a society in which people, whatever their religious background or beliefs, can live free from fear. We do not want minorities to be allowed to stir up hatred against them. Legislation on its own does not create community cohesion, so this legislation must be seen alongside the many other initiatives and activities that government, local and national, take to try to build up community cohesion. I believe that it provides a measure that would be effective and declaratory in making it clear that such behaviour is intolerable and will be dealt with.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda emphasised among the many interesting and thoughtful comments that he made the point that the legislation is about protecting the believer, not the belief. It is not an extended blasphemy law. It is about giving protection to people who may otherwise be vulnerable to the kind of hatred that some would want to stir up. We want to ensure that there is consistency in the legislation.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I realise that this is a complicated subject, so I hope that I have not intervened too early. I hope that the Minister will, in the course of his explanation, touch on the interface between this Bill and the provisions of the Public Order Act, particularly in the light, for instance, of the case of Hammond. Sometimes, when listening to the Minister, I get the impression that we are talking not about people insulting others in the street by saying that their religion is horrible—it is clear that public order Acts have developed to deal with that—but about people telling an audience that they should dislike others. I hope that the Minister will excuse my saying that we seem so often to get into very loose concepts, yet the Bill is not about people saying outrageous things to others, but about people in their public discourse saying that a group should be disliked.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I welcome an intervention by the hon. Gentleman at any stage in my speech, and I will refer specifically to the Hammond case shortly. As I was saying, we seek to ensure that there is consistency in the legislation between Jews and Sikhs and other religious groups, and to close the gap in the law to which we have been alerted by faith leaders and the police. The hon. Gentleman has a point in emphasising that other legislation might apply in certain circumstances. I do not run away from that, because it was this Government who introduced some of the legislation. We have introduced a range of offences that can be religiously aggravated—for example, criminal damage. In certain circumstances, that might be the offence that should be prosecuted. Incitement to violence and murder is another, more serious offence and might also be the appropriate one in certain circumstances. What we seek to do in the Bill is to plug a gap between those offences. It may not be a huge gap, but it is none the less a gap, and we seek to fill it by extending the provisions on incitement to racial hatred that are on the statute book.

I turn to the so-called Lester amendment, although it is not the Lester amendment in this House, because here it has been tabled by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and others. When I first went through the Bill in detail as I was preparing for Second Reading and I saw the representations and the amendment that Lord Lester tabled, I was puzzled at how someone so experienced, knowledgeable and respected on both sides of both Houses of Parliament could have proposed a measure that simply would not work in practice. Finally, the penny dropped: he understands precisely that it would not work in practice and that is why he makes the proposal. In the end, Lord Lester, along with other right hon. and hon. Members, opposes the Bill, but he wants to be constructive in his opposition, so he proposes an amendment that appears to improve the Bill but actually adds nothing to the existing legislation.

The current law does not require it to be proved that the words were racial for an offence to be proved. Racial words do not have to be used. The words, in that sense, are irrelevant. It is the tone and nature of the words and the purpose lying behind them that are relevant. Someone using religious language could be guilty of a race-hate crime now if it was proved that their real intention was racial rather than religious. That point was made by my hon. Friends the Members for Tooting, for Islington, South and Finsbury and for Leicester, South. These things are not interchangeable in the way suggested. Lord Lester found a brilliant way to be constructive. He proposed something that appeared to demonstrate good, well argued, rational common sense on his side, but which would actually change nothing at all and would simply make explicit in the Bill something that is implicit in the current legislation.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

The Minister makes a valid point. Lord Lester’s amendment is designed to put in statutory form what has already been developed in case law, and to deal with—if I may use the expression—attacks on people’s ethnic identity, race included, through the   medium of religion. The Minister will have to answer one question, however. Most of the examples given of the sort of people who need protection are, in our view, those who need protection on racial grounds. If the Government are saying something much wider than that about the religious discourse in this country, I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity in Committee to explain what he is trying to achieve. It may be a legitimate goal, but some of us have great anxieties about why one cannot intensely dislike someone on the basis of their religious beliefs. I think that people are fully entitled to do just that.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I will come shortly to the evidence that has been presented to us that there is a gap in the law and that, on occasion, people—malicious groups and individuals—incite hatred on the grounds of religious belief. They often do that as a way of getting round the existing legislation, and our proposals are designed to deal with that.

I return to the definition of race and whether the so-called Lester amendment in which religion is seen as a proxy for race works in practice. Under section 17 of the Public Order Act 1986, a racial group means a group of persons defined by reference to

“race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), and ethnic or national origins”.

In the Mandla case, which was mentioned earlier, the House of Lords held that Jews and Sikhs are a group defined by reference to their ethnic origins. The situation is therefore clear so far as Jews and Sikhs are concerned. However, I draw the Committee’s attention to a ruling by an employment law tribunal in the case of Malik v. Bartram Personnel Group, which held that Muslims are not defined by reference to their ethnic origins and are not a racial group—a clear example of an employment tribunal making a clear judgement. I see the hon. Gentleman leaping to his feet.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I am, because the Minister is right. Of course, we will be addressing that issue in the forthcoming discrimination legislation, which I suspect commands widespread support. If discrimination on the grounds of religion, except in the various exceptions dealing with religious organisations, is to be prohibited, that will be another powerful tool in ensuring that people do not suffer as a result of their religious beliefs even if they are hated for having them. It is a good reason why we should not be implementing this Bill.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

We will come to those issues, and we may once again oppose each other from our respective Front Benches. My point is that although we have the read-across between Jews and Sikhs and faith and race, we do not currently have that same read-across in our law in relation to Muslims. The point was amply made by a number of my hon. Friends who asked various questions this morning about situations, including in mixed-race families, in which the racial connection to a religious group is unclear. That read-across, which Lord Lester and others suggest is possible, is frankly not possible.

This all comes down to the question of whether we accept that there are people in our society who seek to stir up hatred on the grounds of religious belief. Do such people exist? My argument is that they do. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda referred on a couple of occasions to evidence submitted by the Association of Chief Police Officers to the House of Lords during its consideration. If the Committee will permit me, I will read a short portion:

“We believe we have examples of literature that is being produced and publicised on websites and being distributed, which has been designed to avoid the law on racial discrimination and racial incitement by directing it purely at the Muslim faith and Muslim groups... We believe that it is put together in such a way to specifically stay just outside the law.”

That is compelling evidence, not from a bunch of amateurs but from the people who lead our police service. Their considered judgment based on day-in, day-out policing on our streets and in our neighbourhoods is that there is a gap in the law.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield invited us to share his view of going to church on Sunday. That is something that I do too, although it is a different church in a different part of the country. The situation for most people who worship in the kind of Christian church that he described is a world away from what is happening in some of our urban centres and the tensions that the hon. Member for Shipley was generous enough to acknowledge. In considering the Bill, we have to take account of the differences in our towns and cities.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland talked about the anomaly in the law covering Jews and Sikhs compared with other groups. He invited me to speculate on which strand of the offence is in play when it relates to Jews and Sikhs. Is it race? Is it faith? Frankly, there is no simple, straightforward answer: the two become indistinguishable. However, an all-out attack on a synagogue could not be described as a pretext or a proxy, using religion as a way of getting at that particular religious group. It is impossible to determine whether that is religious or racial. One cannot argue that one matters less than the other; they are both important. The Bill seeks to extend that cover for other faiths and religious groups.

We have heard compelling arguments from my hon. Friends that there is no read-across for Muslims and other religious groups. A Muslim can be Asian, African, British and of many other ethnic backgrounds. The hon. Member for Shipley repeated points that he made on Second Reading. He said that I had said that the disturbances in Bradford and other northern towns and cities were caused by—

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s local newspaper is highly reputable, but it did not quite capture the accuracy of my remarks. I said that among other pressures, such as criminality and other racist attitudes, the police had advised us that the absence of the proposed offence played into the mix that created the run-up to the disturbances not just in Bradford but   in other northern towns. Let me draw his attention to the comments made to the House of Lords by Martin Baines, race relations officer with West Yorkshire police. Referring to anti-Muslim literature, he said:

“that kind of very insidious material was widespread throughout the city. It did create a climate of fear...I think that it did significantly impact upon the situation.”

I know that the reports in the Bradford newspaper attributed comments to me that I did not make. I simply want to assure the hon. Member for Shipley and the good people of the area whom he represents and those across Bradford more widely that I did not say that the absence of the proposed offence was the only cause, but I am advised that it played into the mix. That is one reason why we must close the loophole and introduce the new offence.

Finally, I turn to the likely limb. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield said rightly that we would return to the issue later, although I hope that Committee members will all have received a letter from me—I see one hon. Gentleman shaking his head, and another nodding, so we will ensure that in time for the fuller debate everybody has the letter. It is a letter that I promised to write following some informal discussions, and it sets out the changes that we seek to make to the second strand of the offence—the so-called likely limb.

As the Public Order Act stands, it is necessary to prove either that someone intended to stir up racial hatred or—the second strand—having regard to all the circumstances, racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby. We want to change the second limb, but we do not do so to lower the threshold—I want to scotch that idea right from the start. The test, in terms of levels of feeling and the high level of hatred, will still exist, and religious belief will also be involved.

We are aiming not to lower the threshold but to deal with an issue to which the hon. Member for Beaconsfield referred: that it could be argued that under the current law the point to be proved is whether somebody saw the material that was likely to stir up hatred. We want to change that slightly, because we do not see why somebody should get away with the insidious offence just because the police arrived first and took down the poster or just because the first person to see it and rip it down was a decent law-abiding person who would never be incited to hatred by such material. We seek not to lower the test but to ensure that those who are guilty, regardless of whoever actually saw the material that they produced, can be prosecuted.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

We will, I am sure, have the opportunity to debate the matter further. It is not so much that I think that the test will be lowered, but that it will be put into a slightly mechanistic form. That might have some unintended consequences, because rather than looking at the entirety of the surrounding circumstances, it will be possible to fall foul of the legislation in a way in which the Minister would probably not wish. However, I shall leave that debate until we look at the tweaking of the wording.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I, too, will leave my argument until then, because we do not want to keep repeating the arguments over and over again. However, I want to place on record at this stage that we do not seek to lower the test. We seek to clarify the law so that all those who break the law in that way can be captured.

I will stretch the patience of the Committee by saying that the Public Order Act still insists, even where the likely limb is the one that is being pursued, that there is some degree of intention behind the action—a person must have intended to use threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, or at least must have been aware that their behaviour might have had that impact. Those are quite closely argued and crucial technical points to which we will return. At this point, I just want to reassure the Committee that we do not seek to reduce the threshold or to make the test weaker.

In conclusion, I pay tribute to Lord Lester and others for their good intentions, and for their efforts to be constructive and to improve the Bill. I do not deny any of that. My simple argument is that their proposal emphasises something that is covered in existing legislation. It does not take us further forward, and leaves us with the anomaly under which Jews and Sikhs are covered and other religious groups are not. We have compelling evidence that there is a gap in the law, and we seek to close it. I therefore urge hon. Members to resist the amendments.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

Before I defer to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, who tabled the amendment, I should say that I am grateful to the Minister for his comments, but that he will not be entirely surprised that I remain unconvinced by his arguments. The arguments against Lord Lester’s amendment—I have listened to them carefully—do not seem to be justified. The Government must come clean—I hope that they will do so during the debate—on what they are trying to achieve.

First, we are discussing the fact that a religious dimension has been introduced into race relations in the UK, which is being exploited by extremists. I accept that, because I have seen it with my own eyes. I have responsibility for diversity on behalf of my party; I have travelled round the country, and I can see how that has happened. The merit of Lord Lester’s amendment is that it would put the matter into statute and expresses Parliament’s will rather than just leaving it to case law to try to address the problem.

Secondly, I accept that perhaps the Government have come to the conclusion that the diversity of religious beliefs in our country is now such that it is essential to try to instil a climate of moderation, and to place restrictions on freedom of speech to enable that to happen. However, if that is the case, the Government have not explained it to the wider public in that way—perhaps because if they had done so, it would have been viewed as fairly controversial.

As I said in my intervention on the hon. Member for Leicester, South, there is little distinction, philosophically, between a person’s religious and political beliefs, but we are fully entitled to hate the BNP or Mr. Griffin—indeed, many people have used   those very words during debate in the House. Apparently, however, religion has become of such importance that we have got to focus on it. I regret that, because, although I am open to persuasion and will continue listening throughout our debates in Committee and in the House, I believe that that is a controversial step. Lord Lester’s amendment may not be 100 per cent. perfect—nothing that we do in the House is 100 per cent. certain to achieve its intended result—but it would go a long way to curing a specific mischief, which I accept exists, in relation to race and religion mixed together, without treading on the balance between freedom and restrictions on freedom in our society, about which I have some anxiety.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I appreciate that what we propose is a controversial step, as can be deduced from our debates. I intervened on the hon. Gentleman because I do not want to hide from the fact that the proposal places a limit—that people should not be allowed to incite hatred in others because of their religious belief. It is a limit that the Joint Committee on Human Rights thought was proportionate and in keeping with the European convention on human rights. There is a limit, but it is entirely justified.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I accept the Minister’s point. It is perfectly reasonable to come before Parliament and express that point of view. As I said, I want to tease out in our debates why we should apply that limit to religion but not, for instance, to political views. That strikes me as surprising. We speak in the context of mainstream religious views. One of the great mercies of living in this country is that the mainstream religions here have long traditions of tolerance and of inclining people to be moderate in their speech, although some sects within those religions and some adherents do not share that view.

Some Muslim imams say things that make my hair stand on end and some fundamentalist Christian preachers do exactly the same, but unless what they say is an incitement to commit a criminal offence, seeking to curb that may be dangerous and, further, there is no way of distinguishing what constitutes a religion, as we will discuss later. Some people’s religious beliefs are, frankly, so horrible that people are fully entitled to dislike not only the belief but the people who have the astonishing unpleasantness of holding them, provided that that is within the ambit of the criminal law and does not offend it, and it does not discriminate against those holding such beliefs, which we should not do.

There is a fundamental tension between sincerely held views on both sides. If the Government’s intention is to deal with the specific problem, Lord Lester’s amendment would go a long way towards doing so. I leave it to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland to decide what to do with the amendment; I suspect that in any event we will return to it at a later stage.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

We have had an interesting debate, although it has perhaps generated more heat than light. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield summed up   the position; I could not dispute it. Having said earlier that less is more, I place on record my approval of the succinct way in which he put the argument.

I remain suspicious of the proposal, because if the Government’s case is as strong as they would have us believe, why do they keep overselling the Bill? Even the Minister sought to extend the terms of reference to discrimination, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said when he pulled the Minister up on the point. The argument will be developed during our debates on other amendments and, as the hon. Gentleman said, we hope to return to the issue on Report, when it might be considered more fully in the context of the entire Committee proceedings, as opposed to it coming front-loaded to us today. Accordingly, I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.