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4.15 pm

I happen to be an observant Jew, but if I were to declare myself an atheist, people who may wish to hate me, apart from any personal dislike of me—

David Winnick (Walsall, North): There would not be many of those, would there?

Mr. Kaufman: Practically none, but one cannot rule out the possibility. Anybody who wished to hate me would still look at me as a Jew. I have experienced anti-semitism in this very Chamber. Alec Douglas-Home, when he was Foreign Secretary and there was a controversy about war in the middle east, said that I was more loyal to Israel than I was to England—something that I do not think could be said about me today. During a heated debate, a Conservative Member for Eastbourne, Sir Charles Taylor, told me to get back to Jerusalem. Whether or not I want to be a Jew, I am a Jew, and because of that, I can be hated as a Jew. My hon. Friends—and many more people outside the Chamber—who are Muslim or Hindu or of other minority faiths can have humanist views but they will be hated outside the House, by those who are inclined to hate them, as Muslims, Hindus or members of minority faiths.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth): Is not my right hon. Friend confusing ethnicity, in relation to which incitement to hatred is already forbidden in law, with a belief system or religion? It seems to me that it is possible to be a white European Muslim or an Asian Muslim. Jewishness is different, and many people are of Jewish faith and Jewish ethnicity.

Mr. Kaufman: That is the last thing I am doing. After the number of years that I have lived, I am pretty clear about my ethnicity and my religion. I am British; I was born in this country. Heaven only knows what blood goes into the final mix that makes me up. I am not talking about ethnicity. I talked about ethnicity in 1986, when I tried without success to persuade the then Conservative Government to introduce an offence of racial harassment, and in 1994, when I tried again and a later Conservative Government refused.

I know that my hon. Friend's intervention is well intentioned, but there is no confusion in my mind about ethnicity versus religion. I am talking about religion, not ethnicity. Over the years, when I was at school and at other times, I have been the object of anti-semitism, although happily it does not happen very much now. My ethnicity was never the reason for that anti-semitism because my ethnicity is British; my religion was the reason for it.

I ask the Home Secretary under no circumstances to be persuaded to withdraw the measure from the Bill, because it is well overdue. We should legislate against incitement to religious hatred in the same way as this Government, as soon as they came to office, legislated against racial harassment—very belatedly indeed.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) rose

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) rose

Mr. Kaufman: I will certainly give way to both hon. Gentlemen, but I shall continue my argument for a moment.

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When I intervened on the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and said that the provision was especially relevant to a package of legislation after 11 September, I did so advisedly. A lady in my constituency, whom I will not name as I do not have permission to do so, is a Muslim and is active in Muslim causes in my constituency; she has always taken part in a great many community causes. She is the equivalent of an orthodox Jew; she veils part of her face and will not shake people's hands, but she is an active member of the wider community. On 12 September, she went into a shop in central Manchester, but was turned out and told that she would not be served because she was a Muslim. It is intolerable that people should be subject to that kind of hatred without any recourse whatever to the law.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Kaufman: I shall do so in a minute.

Before I represented Manchester, Gorton, I was a candidate for the Ardwick constituency. The Conservative party distributed a leaflet among Muslim constituents saying that I was a Zionist—not to arouse ethnic or racial hatred against me, but to arouse religious hatred; they were trying to persuade Muslims that it was not a good idea to vote for a Jew. The Muslims had a much broader vision than the Conservative party in the Ardwick constituency.

There ought not to be religious hatred in this country, but the fact is that it exists, and we must acknowledge that. The aftermath of 11 September has made that much clearer, but has also meant that it has to be dealt with. Over the years, the Jewish community has witnessed people like David Irving talking about holocaust denial. As Billy Wilder said,

We have had to deal not only with that but with Jewish cemeteries being desecrated—not because of Jewish ethnicity but because people wish to arouse hatred of Jews. In my constituency and those of a number of hon. Members, we have had to deal with attacks on mosques, which are religious buildings. The Eileen Grove mosque in my constituency was firebombed.

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): As a fellow Greater Manchester MP, my right hon. Friend will know that the British National party has been active in Burnley which, thankfully, we held at the election. The BNP is concentrating on dividing communities by playing on Islamophobia; it is arousing religious hatred among Sikhs and the indigenous white population against the Muslim population, thus using people's religion, not their culture. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that?

Mr. Kaufman: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point on which I can elaborate. Such is the bigotry, evil and ignorance of people who arouse religious hatred that they have attacked Sikhs because they wear turbans. They think that they are Muslims; so lacking are they in their understanding of Muslims that they believe all Muslims wear turbans. As a result, Sikhs have been victims of religious hatred. The hon. Member for

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Southwark, North and Bermondsey said that we needed a definition and a much clearer law. Heaven only knows—and the hon. Gentleman made the point inadvertently—our laws against racial hatred are far from oppressive. Indeed, they are rarely used, which is why I asked my right hon. Friend, when he made a statement foreshadowing the Bill, to make sure that the Attorney-General was in charge, because the Crown Prosecution Service cannot be relied on. We have got what I asked for from my right hon. Friend—and, heaven knows, the Attorney-General will not bring random, gratuitous, frivolous prosecutions; there is no doubt whatever about that.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Kaufman: I will give way to all those who want to intervene when I have finished this paragraph, as it were.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said that the provision would catch comedians. I do not want to get comedians, but I ask the House to consider the matter carefully. Although it would be doing Bernard Manning far too much credit to prosecute him, let us remember the sort of things that he has been saying and doing, including creating a situation in which black people listening to him have to laugh at his jokes for fear of not joining in the joke. Even comedians ought not to believe that they can incite religious and racial hatred and get away with it.

My right hon. Friend is right to limit the provision to the remit of the Attorney-General. Because of that, and because of the good sense of juries—shown, for example, in the Ponting case—we need not fear that militant atheists or humanists will be sent to jail for saying that they are not believers or for disagreeing with believers.

Mr. Gerrard: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. May I return to the story that he told about the woman who was turned out of a shop? She was discriminated against on the basis of her religion, but is it not true that the Bill would not deal with that?

Mr. Kaufman: If my hon. Friend is suggesting that the legislation ought to be wider, perhaps he has a point. Let us get the Bill on the statute book; then we can look at the possibility of widening it. The fact that my hon. Friend believes that the Bill is inadequate, rather than too oppressive, is an argument for passing it and building on it.

Dr. Harris: As a non-religious, secular, ethnic Jew, I have been listening carefully to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). He said that my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) had a mañana approach to the matter, but that is not the case. A plea for an equality Act with a general hate crime measure was in our manifesto. My hon. Friend has said that we want to consider that as soon as possible, outwith emergency legislation.

Homophobic hate crimes have been occurring for decades and have affected the majority of people who identify themselves as homosexual. There has been no protection. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman will find that he voted against a provision allowing for a

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homophobic hate crime during consideration of the Crime and Disorder Bill in 1998, and that he did so with his Government, who said that they would introduce such a measure soon. Such things do not happen unless the relevant measures are introduced all together, in a considered way. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to reflect on that approach.

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