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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you assist the House? As you well know, the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), does not have a Question Time slot in the Chamber, so could you arrange for him to be present at Health questions on 11 December? Given his comment over the weekend that the health service under the present Government was worse than it was under the previous Government, it seems that he knows more than the Secretary of State for Health about what is going on in the health service in the real world.

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, there is a good deal of controversy over the fact that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is not having her contract renewed. The next opportunity to question the Member representing the House of Commons Commission will be Tuesday 4 December, and the question that I have tabled may or may not be reached. Given the controversy and the general feeling, which I have expressed previously, that this person is being sacked because she is carrying out her duties too well, will there be an opportunity for that question and related questions to be answered after 3.30 pm? May I make the point to you, the Speaker of the House of Commons, that there is not much opportunity for Members to ask oral questions on such an important and controversial matter? There may be a case for you to consider whether the question should be answered after 3.30 pm.

Mr. Speaker: I am sure that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who answers for the Commission, will consider the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We can be pretty confident that we know the answer to a written question tabled by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), which is due for answer now, because it was given on the "Today" programme this morning. It is about the conversion of a male prison into a female prison, and on the programme we were given the name of the prison that will be converted.

I asked for a statement on the mismanagement of the Prison Service and its inability to cope with a four-year rising trend in the number of women being sent down. That written question has been used as part of a public information strategy by the Prison Service and the Under–Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), who is happily in her place on the Government Front Bench, to put pressure on the judiciary not to send as many women to prison and to change their sentences,

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despite the fact that they are following current sentencing guidelines. Do you agree with me, Mr. Speaker, that that is a wholly improper use of parliamentary procedure?

Mr. Speaker: A parliamentary question should not be revealed until it has been put before the House. I shall look into the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised and come back to him.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not sure whether I misheard the Secretary of State for Defence during Question Time, but when the matter of casualties in Afghanistan was raised, I thought that he said that he would deal with it at a later date. Casualties are of great importance to the House. I waited to seek to intervene on the matter because I believed that the right hon. Gentleman might have dealt with it at a later stage in Question Time. Have you had any notice from him about when he will make an announcement in the House on any casualties that have been suffered in Afghanistan?

Mr. Speaker: That is a matter for the Secretary of State, who has, I am sure, heard the concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that the regulation of the hours and working practices of the House are properly a matter for the House? Did you share my surprise on reading first, the headline on the front page of The Sunday Times, "MPs set to get four-day week with shorter hours", and secondly, that this is a proposal dreamt up by the Leader of the House? Should not such proposals be presented first not to national newspapers, but to the Chamber?

Mr. Speaker: This is a matter for the House—the hon. Gentleman is right about that—but I advise the hon. Gentleman, as a new Member, not to believe everything that he reads in the press.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), Mr. Speaker. Could any response to his remarks about women's prisons take into account the fact that whatever is wrong in women's prisons today, we are not chaining down pregnant women?

Mr. Speaker: Order.

26 Nov 2001 : Column 673

Orders of the Day

Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill

[2nd Allotted Day]

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Considered in Committee.

Clauses 36 and 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 38

Religious hatred offences

3.37 pm

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I beg to move amendment No. 153, in page 19, line 15, leave out "RACIAL OR RELIGIOUS HATRED" and insert "HATRED OFFENCES".

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 154, in page 19, line 18, leave out "religious".

Amendment No. 155, in page 19, line 19, leave out from "Part" to end of line 20 and insert—

'"hatred offences" means hatred against a group of persons or individuals defined by reference to their age, disability, gender, race, religion or sexuality.'

Amendment No. 19, in page 19, line 20, at end insert—

'but shall not include hatred of a belief or lack of belief where such hatred does not extend to the person or persons holding that belief'.

Amendment No. 20, in page 19, line 20, at end insert—

'17B Meaning of religious belief
In this part, "religious belief" means belief in a supernatural being, thing or principle and the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief which are lawful'.

Amendment No. 106, in page 19, line 20, at end insert—

'(3A) In section 18, after subsection (2) insert—
"(5A) No prosecution may be brought under this section solely on the grounds that a person has used words which are expressions of the tenets of any religion or which form part of the rites of any religion.".'.

Amendment No. 156, in page 19, line 21, leave out "racial or religious hatred", and insert "hatred offences".

Amendment No. 157, in page 19, line 35, leave out "religious hatred" and insert "hatred".

Amendment No. 158, in page 19, line 38, leave out "racial or religious hatred" and insert "hatred offences".

Clause 38 stand part.

Clause 39 stand part.

Amendment No. 3, in clause 40, page 20, line 40, leave out "or religious".

Clauses 40 to 42 stand part.

New clause 1—Abolition of common law offence of blasphemy

'1. The following common law offences are hereby abolished:
(a) blasphemy and blasphemous libel;
(b) any distinct offence of disturbing a religious service or religious devotions;

26 Nov 2001 : Column 674

(c) any religious offence of striking a person in a church or churchyard.
2. The following provisions are hereby repealed:
(a) in section 1 of the Criminal Libel Act 1819, the words "and blasphemous libel, or";
(b) in sections 3 and 4 of the Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888 the words "blasphemous or".
3. This provision shall not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland.'.

New clause 4—Consultation

'Part 5 of this Act shall not have effect until the Secretary of State has conducted a consultation exercise on its proposals with the following bodies, and placed a copy of their responses in the Library of the House of Commons—
(a) The Law Society
(b) The Bar Association
(c) The Justices' Clerks
(d) The Districts Judges (Magistrates' Courts)
(e) The Lay Magistracy, and
(f) The Crown Court Judges.'.

New clause 10—Consultation (No. 2.)

'( ) Part 5 of this Act shall not come into force until the Secretary of State has undertaken a review including consultation with the following bodies and representatives, and other bodies which he judges will be affected by the provisions, and he has published the conclusions of that review—
(a) representatives of recognised faith groups;
(b) representatives of the police;
(c) representatives of lawyers, judges and the lay magistracy;
(d) the Commission for Racial Equality.'.

Simon Hughes: I shall speak to amendments Nos. 153 to 158, which are similar in purport. I shall then make specific reference to new clause 10. The crucial question, however, is whether clause 38 is to stand part of the Bill. My view and that of my colleagues is similar to that of the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and his colleagues. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will catch your eye shortly, Sir Alan.

This is the important part of the Bill, which effectively deals with religious hatred. It is entitled "Race and Religion", and it seeks to move the legal protection currently given to those affected by racial hatred into an additional area, that of religious hatred. After making a few general remarks I shall deal briefly with the specifics. I am conscious that the subject is important to the Committee and to the House, and that a wide remit is involved. We have relatively little time to deal with it, however, because we must finish the debate on this part of the Bill by 6.30 pm.

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