Schedule - Hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds

Racial and Religious Hatred Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:30 pm ar 28 Mehefin 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 12:30, 28 Mehefin 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in schedule, page 2, line 10, leave out second ‘hatred’ and insert ‘intense dislike or enmity’.

Perhaps the atmosphere in the Committee may be lightened as we come to amendments that I fully concede are probing in nature. They are designed to tease out what we are seeking to criminalise and the definitions. We have used the expression “hatred” in our debate this morning. It is clear from some of the contributions—I made this point earlier—that the use of the word “hatred” is remarkably loose. Some used it to imply that one wants to do something unpleasant, violent or criminal to the person who inspires that hatred. I hope that this amendment will provide an opportunity to debate the meaning of “hatred”.

As far as I am aware, “hatred” is undefined in law. The only two terms with any force in the Oxford English dictionary, which is the correct place to look in the absence of a legal definition, are “intense dislike” and “enmity”. I therefore sought to amend line 10 so as to specify that the religious hatred that we are talking about is the intense dislike of someone else or a group of people on the grounds of their religious belief. I did it quite deliberately, because most people would think that there was a difference between hatred and intense dislike. The fact that the OED does not see such a distinction is quite telling about what we are debating.

Why is it wrong to encourage people to dislike someone else intensely because of their religious belief? On the whole we should avoid intensely disliking anybody, although that is my personal view and I probably depart from it occasionally. There are a number of people in politics in this country whom I dislike intensely. I cannot escape it. I may intensely dislike them for a variety of reasons, but I must   concede that from time to time I may have an intense dislike of one or two political figures. I certainly have an intense dislike of some foreign politicians.

Most of us may take the view that we are entitled—indeed, it is almost a collective requirement—to dislike some historical figures intensely, because we think that they were monsters. We dislike their views and we dislike what they did. However, why should one not be entitled to dislike intensely and to encourage others to dislike intensely the Satanist group, for instance, that decides to set itself up in one’s village and seeks a change in the criminal law to legalise paedophilia? I simply put that out as a suggestion. If we pass this Bill in its present form, expression of hatred, which is no more than intense dislike of such people, will be caught by its operation. The Committee must think about that seriously.

I do not want to widen the scope of the debate too much, or I will be straying into discussions that we will have on other amendments, but I hope that we can spend a moment asking ourselves what we mean by hatred. Will the Minister say that I am wrong in suggesting that it is no more than intense dislike? In which case, what does it mean?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Llafur, Rhondda

The hon. Gentleman talks of intense dislike. His argument is that the Oxford English dictionary maintains that hatred is intense dislike or enmity, but he has left out of his analysis the word “enmity”, which seems to me to take us rather further than just intense dislike. The only use of the word “enmity” that I remember is in the King James version of the Bible, which says that there shall be enmity between the serpent and Eve. The hon. Gentleman may now choose to use that as another argument against Satanists, but my point is that enmity takes us further. It is about sustained and not necessarily violent but certainly aggressive hatred.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is right about that. Leaving aside this debate, if someone asked me whether there had been a state of sustained amity or enmity between the Conservative and Labour parties over the past half-century, what would the answer be? It would have to be that there had been a sustained state of enmity, because we are in competition with each other. Although there may be areas on which there is a meeting of views, we have different philosophical outlooks and viewpoints and intense disagreements over policy.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

It is well established in Parliament that everyone is supposed to have enmity for the Liberal Democrats, although at the moment I find myself in a state of great amity with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland; indeed, that amity has grown over the successive periods that we have spent in Committee together. The reason why I did not touch on enmity much is that I did not think that it took us much further, but I note the point made by the hon. Member for Rhondda.

I certainly accept that hatred as defined is a state of hostility. Enmity conveys that, but it does not convey the translation of that hostility into violent acts. It does not say that, and we need to bear that in mind. I think that there is universal agreement in Committee that we may think that someone is horrible, but if we are to live in a civil society we cannot punch them in the face, daub their house, throw a brick through their window or—this is something that we can return to—abuse them in the street. The Public Order Act already prohibits that. That is my point and it is why we must be careful. We are putting together a package, and unless we are clear about the constituent ingredients of that package, we shall end up with legislation that everyone says will do one thing although what we have written down is quite different. I hope that we may have an opportunity to tease that out in debate, so I look forward to the Minister’s answer on the definitional point.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Llafur, Tooting

The hon. Gentleman has in the last 30 seconds dealt with some of what my intervention is about. The amendment is not about religion—we can deal with that later—but about hatred. Does he agree, first, that there is jurisprudence in respect of the definition of hatred as a result of the Public Order Act 1986? Secondly, if there was an issue in the particular circumstances of a case, it would be for the judge, in his or her summing-up to the jury if it was a jury case, to go through definitions and what the jury must take from the circumstances of the case.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

The hon. Gentleman is right. At the same time, we have not sought to give a definition. There is another issue that we must consider, and this brings us back to the point, which I think we have acknowledged, that race and religion are different. If race and religion were the same, we would not need this legislation, because one would be rolled into the other, picking up what the hon. Member for Leicester, South said. We have to be careful because otherwise we will be seeking to apply a rule that might make perfect sense in the context of race but not in another context. There is universality about the view that seeking to hate people on the grounds of their race has an inbuilt irrationality to it. The philosophical justification for the Race Relations Act 1976 was the undoubted truth that to hate somebody on the grounds of their racial origin is monstrous. The racial origin of a person defines nothing about their character or anything else about them. However, religion is a belief system, which is a different issue. That is one of the reasons why I am not sure that the court definitions of hatred in the racial context are necessarily correct in relation to religious belief—although they may be; that is something that we can discuss. That has ended my peroration on that.

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

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield made it clear that this is a probing amendment, and it is proper that the Committee should consider it in that way. He does the Committee a service in tabling it, because it strikes at the heart of some of the concerns   that have been expressed outside this place and within it about what might be caught by the Act, if only by the law of unintended consequences.

The incitement to “intense dislike” would set alarm bells ringing for a lot of people. It is done in many pulpits in many faiths in many parts of the country, and is a consequence of strongly held political beliefs. Although I would not, as a Liberal, want to suggest that anybody should dislike anybody else—an essential tenet of liberalism is that everyone should get on and should be nice; we like niceness—I would not be so nasty as to suggest that people do not have the right to incite such intense dislike.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield is also correct in taking us to the Oxford English dictionary, because in the absence of any judicial definition to the contrary, that would be the first point of reference. I can think of a number of examples from my professional experience when that was exactly what was done. To take the point made by the hon. Member for Tooting, a judge summing up for a jury would be quite likely to turn to the dictionary definition in the first instance, and ask the jury to apply their own experience and common sense to the case. If the threshold is as low as “intense dislike” might suggest, the Government should put something in the Bill to make it clear that it is more than that. It is the absence of any clear reference to protection of theological or doctrinal expression of what would constitute religious hatred that causes me and a number of other hon. Members substantial concern about the Bill. For the life of me, I cannot see why the Government do not include such protection.

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

I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield has done the Committee a service by tabling the probing amendment, which has enabled us to have what I hope will be an informative and helpful discussion about precisely what the word “hatred” means. We do not define it in the Bill because we shall leave it to the courts to determine over time. That is the important point.

I do not quibble with the hon. Gentleman’s going to the Oxford English dictionary for the meaning of the word as defined there—“intense dislike” and “enmity”—but the point is that, over time, the strength and understanding of words in common usage can appear to be one thing, while the courts have a different understanding of them as they relate to the law.

I emphasise that the test of hatred is very high indeed. Let me demonstrate that by reference to other words which, on the face of it, might sound more powerful. We might leap to the conclusion that those words would be seen as more serious by the court but, in fact, they are not. For example, “contempt” might appear to be more powerful than “intense dislike” but it is not understood by the court to be so.

“Ridicule” is also a lower-order word than “hatred”. That is important when we bear in mind all the debates and press articles that have questioned whether the lampooning of religion would be caught by the legislation. It would not, because “ridicule”   would not be caught by this legislation. People will be free to tell the jokes that they choose to tell; Stephen Fry and others will be able to continue to do their sketches about religious humour and will not be caught by this legislation, because “ridicule” is of a lower order than “hatred” when it comes to the court’s understanding.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 12:45, 28 Mehefin 2005

I raise a question about that, because it seems to me that ridicule is a well established political tool for denigrating one’s opponents to the point at which people come to hate them. One has only to listen to Goebbels’ speeches during the second world war to realise that many of them were exercises in denigration; they were intended to make his audience laugh and to revile and hate the objects of the ridicule and the jokes that he made. I am therefore not completely persuaded that ridicule must per se be excluded; anything that leads to hatred—ridicule or otherwise—must be caught.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for persuading me completely that I am right. He made the compelling point that ridicule can lead to hatred and hatred can then lead to violence. They are three separate stages. Violence is not caught by this legislation, but it is caught by other legislation. Ridicule is not caught by this new offence because it is of a lower order than hatred. Hatred stands in the middle, and that is what we seek to deal with. The hon. Gentleman made a compelling case about the relationship of one to the other. Ridicule could indeed pave the way for hatred, and hatred could then pave the way for violence. However, we seek to lay down the mark and to say that it is wrong for people to incite hatred on the grounds of other people’s religious belief.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I am unpersuaded by that argument. Let us take the play, “Behtzi”, for example. That play undoubtedly had elements that were deeply hostile to the practice of the Sikh faith, because it sought to show that there was hypocrisy, and sexual abuse in the Gurdwara—and all done in a way that might incline people to laugh at bits of it. Disentangling all that from creating a general climate of hatred is an exercise in which I, as a judge or a juror, would be happier not to have to engage. It is insufficient simply to make a blanket statement that we need not worry that ridicule has anything to do with the matter. The Attorney-General may in his selective approach to the matter be able to find a way through, but I am not sure that that is a very good basis on which to enact law.

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

The most important point made by the hon. Gentleman was in relation to the play, “Behtzi”. The most compelling argument against those who say that this legislation would catch all kinds of artistic presentation and comedy is that “Behtzi” was not caught by the existing legislation, which provides protection for Sikhs. That should offer massive reassurance that the test is very high.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

It does not, because it is undesirable that we should end up with a situation in which, in the context of religion, such matters are left to the discretion of the Attorney-General. I am not therefore particularly reassured.

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

But it is not simply left to the Attorney-General; the Attorney-General is included as an additional stage for this particular offence, whereas that is not the case for others. The incident must still be reported and subject to a police investigation, and the Crown Prosecution Service will still have to decide whether both the evidential test and the public interest test are satisfied. The Attorney-General will then see whether everything is in place—if it is not he will throw it out—and the case will go before judge and jury. It is a huge process; it is not just left to the Attorney-General to determine these things.

The best evidence that hatred is both understood and a high test is the fact that it has operated as a test for nearly 24 years as an incitement to hatred on the grounds of race. The courts have understood the level of test that is required. If it had been a lower test, some of the sharper things that have been said about people from other European countries—France, for example—may have been caught. More seriously, some of the things that have been said about the Japanese in the context of the conduct of that nation during the second world war would have been caught, but none of it has been because the test of hatred is a very high test indeed. I contend that it has worked well as a test and the courts understand it.

We will need very clear and effective guidance on law enforcement for the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to explain how the measure will be implemented in practice and we will discuss those matters later. The courts have a good record on the issue; they understand hatred and how the test applies in these cases. I am confident that when the provisions that currently apply to race hatred are extended to religious hatred, the courts will continue to show a good, sound knowledge of the hatred test.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. I apologise to him for having intervened so much. He has certainly provided a degree of reassurance about how the courts and the Attorney-General are likely to apply the test. However, I cannot get away from my underlying concern that, when we move from race to religion, the issues surrounding the definition clause of hatred start to bring into stark reality the extent to which it restricts people’s right to communicate their thoughts to others on matters of legitimate concern. This is a probing amendment, which I shall not press now, although I may table amendments at a later stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes to One o’clock till Wednesday 29 June at half-past Four o’clock.