|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Blunkett: Religious discrimination is a different matter, and it does not relate directly to the issues that we have been debating, which are public reassurance and calm in our communities following the hatred and associated dangers arising from the events of 11 September. Those tensions could have been extremely dangerous, and we
People are entirely entitled to their views on this matter, but including religion with race seemed to us to be a perfectly reasonable measure, associated as it is with the aggravated offence, which has been extremely successfulalmost 22,000 such cases have been considered, and there have been 4,000 prosecutions.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): May I put a very straight point to the right hon. Gentleman? The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has on occasion said that the Pope is the anti-Christ and the whore of Babylon. Would that be illegal under this Bill? As a follower of His Holiness, I do not think that it ought to be illegal, because people should be allowed to say what they want.
Mr. Blunkett: The argument is not whether people should be allowed to say what they want but whether the intention, and the likely effect, of their comments is to stir up racial hatred. [Interruption.] Both the intent and the consequences will be the basis on which the Attorney-General will make a judgment on any individual case. The great strength of our democracy is that we can debate, and people can say what they believe, but another strength, represented by race hate legislation, is that we can prevent people from using that democracy to develop hate into attacks on other people.
I have paid careful attention to the column inches devoted to this matter. It is interesting that the very people who, in the weeks immediately after 11 September, wanted us to take action against particular, vocal individuals on the grounds that they were developing hatred, are now so strongly opposed to us including religion in laws to prevent that hatred becoming effective.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): The whole House supports the stated intention behind the religious hatred clause, but if it is partly to afford to other religions the protection currently given to the Christian faith by the blasphemy laws, surely another way around the problem is simply to get rid of the blasphemy laws.
Mr. Blunkett: There is an interesting debate to be had about the blasphemy lawsI said so to the Joint Committee on Human Rightswhich apply only to the Church of England. However, this is not about religion or the blasphemy laws; it is about public order and whether we are taking the right steps to ensure that we broaden the definition in relation to hate and the aggravated offence. An amendment will undoubtedly be tabled on Wednesday, which we shall be able to debate; we will reflect on what was said back in 1998.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): As the Home Secretary may have noticed, I have kept quiet until now. Why is it necessary to extend the powers of Ministry of Defence police to cover any act in any part of the country, not just those involving terrorism?
Mr. Blunkett: They are to be used in specific circumstances. It is important to distinguish the MOD services that we are talking about from the military police; I read one article that clearly implied that we were talking about military police moving around with guns in their hands. We are not. I want to make it clear that any use of weaponry would be entirely under the provisions of the authorisation requested by police services in the normal way. We are talking about circumstances in which MOD services would be brought in, either on the request of the local police or where there was judged to be a definable emergency, and only for that period. It is right and proper that in the police reform legislation that we will introduce next year, we ensure that the normal powers for police complaints will be available; if there is any action under the measures by people acting in a certain way, there is no doubt that individuals will have normal protection.
Norman Baker: I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that clarification. Why will the powers that he proposes to give the authorities require all communications data to be kept and the authorities to have access to them not simply for the purpose of safeguarding national security, which people will understand, but for the purpose of the prevention and detection of crime, which could be any crime whatsoever? Why are the powers so sweeping and far-reaching?
Mr. Blunkett: Because it has become abundantly clear that it is impossible to distinguish the issues when one cannot separate out crime and terrorist funding, crime and terrorist organisation, and crime used to fund terrorist acts. That is why there is a provision allowing data already held by the service providers to be held under the voluntary code that we intend to put in place.
We thank, as I did on 15 October, the service providers for their co-operation, which we expect to continue. We are providing a reserve power only against people who undercut or damage the reputation and work of others by refusing to take part and co-operate with the code.
Sir Teddy Taylor: Clause 109(3) states that references to the treaty on European Union include references as amended by the treaty of Nice. As I understand it, the treaty of Nice has not yet been approved by all member states, and is unlikely to be approved by member states. Is it right to put into our law a provision amended by the treaty of Nice, when that treaty has not been approved by each member state?
Mr. Blunkett: I believe that the hon. Gentleman would be strongly in favour of our approving what we consider appropriate. The treaty of Nice and the Tampere European Council took forward provisions that were expected to be carried through in the usual way, after detailed scrutiny and an affirmative resolution. They included the 1995 and 1996 conventions on extradition, as well as laws updated in 2000 on mutual legal assistance. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was against the 1995 and 1996 provisions, but such measures are precisely the sort that will be carried through.
The provisions relating to arrest warrants, which have caused such interesting debate in Europe, not least when I was discussing them last Friday, will be carried through, subject to the agreement of the House, in the Extradition Bill, rather than in the measure before us. The Bill also contains provisions dealing with the manifests carried by carriers, to introduce the protections that we seek.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Bill provide the country with the power to defend itself, and provisions to monitor and scrutinise how that power is used, to ensure that Parliament is not ignored and can hold the Executive to account for the actions that they take, and to ensure that our security and intelligence services are used effectively.
I am aware of reports in the broadcast and print media of people abusing our intelligence and security services. On the basis of their performance 10 or 20 years ago, one or two commentators have called those services useless. They are not useless. Over the past few days, together with the Customs service, they have proved that by picking up those who threaten our lives in the United Kingdom from Ireland. We owe those services a debt of gratitude. Members of the police and security services, for instance, who approach vehicles that are about to explode in order to save the lives of others do not deserve the opprobrium of those who simply write columns and who have never in their lives taken the responsibility for making a decision, apart from what they would buy from Sainsbury's.
Let me put the matter simply, as though we were dealing with someone who has been invited into our homesomeone who is not a member of our family, but who accepts our hospitality. Let us suppose we find that, in our home, they are undertaking actions that are unacceptable to us. In normal circumstances we would ask them to leave, but that might immediately put their life at risk. We would surely want to take steps in our home to ensure that we and our family were secure. Using the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and the powers that we are setting out in the Bill, we endeavour to do precisely that, while of course protecting the civil liberties gained over many years in our nation and including the power to set aside even the limited requirement of detaining people on a limited basis should it prove that the threat that emerged on 11 September diminishes or disappears. I would be the first to come back to this House and ask for us to drop that power, but I am the first this afternoon to ask that, in the circumstances, we agree to it.