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Simon Hughes: I am grateful to the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) and his colleagues for their collaboration. We have often been able to reach a common view in both Houses, and that view has prevailed in considerable parts of the Bill. I am sorry that the Home Secretary's frequent courtesy and friendliness when we have seen him and his ministerial colleagues to discuss the Bill and to put our point of view has not always been reflected in the tone that he has adopted publicly.
I hold no grudge about the fact that the Home Secretary may have a different view. I understand his national political responsibility, and he is perfectly right to introduce in Parliament a Bill to deal with terrorism. The Liberal Democrats have unequivocally said that we accepted that there should be such a Bill and that we would support it, and we accepted that it should be emergency legislation. We have never veered from that view, but we have had some disagreements about the Bill's content.
Simon Hughes: We have disagreed about the content because we have also kept to two other very straightforward positions. First, the provisions of a Bill that proceeds through an emergency process, without proper scrutiny and in double-quick time, should return for scrutiny at a later datea perfectly normal constitutional principle. Secondly, we believe that a Bill that was intended to deal with terrorism and related activities should be limited to terrorism and related activities, and many of our amendments have been intended to deal with that issue specifically.
I want to make a point about the deliberations of the past day or so. Although the Government have no majority in the country, they clearly have a majority in the House. [Interruption.] No, they have no majority in the country. Indeed, no party has a majority in the country, and the Government achieved a considerably lower vote than most Governments since the war, so we should have no arrogance from the Government. [Interruption.]
Simon Hughes: The Government also have no numerical majority in the House of Lords, but this Government of all Governments cannot complain if they are defeated in the House of Lords because that is the House that Tony, Jack, David and Derry built. This is their House of Lords and their creation. If they wanted a different one, they could have created it.
Liberal Democrats regret the fact that the Government did not accept our argument about judicial review. We do not believe that it was necessary to derogate from the European convention on human rights and we were sad that there was a proposal to allow for European third-pillar issues to be debated on the basis of secondary legislation. However, we clearly acknowledge that the Government have made considerable concessions, and for each and every one of those we are grateful and are clear in our minds that they were wise moves that were taken on the basis of evidence and argument.
Three issues remain. The first relates to the incitement to religious hatred provision. The proposition that I put to the Government yesterday and before remains absolutely clear. Liberal Democrats believe, like the Scottish Parliament believes, that there should be legislation on religious discrimination. We believe that, if the Government want to legislate, they can find the time to do so. We shall, indeed, collaborate with other parties and faith groups to seek to persuade the Government to find the time to legislate properly.
Finally, we believe that we were right to press the argument that the powers of the police and the authorities that were so widely drafted in the original Government proposals were much wider than was necessary to deal with the current emergency.
We are consoled in our view by the fact that people from both the other major parties often supported us. We assure the Government that, like them, we are willing to co-operate and we assure the House and the country that we accept that this Bill, improved and amended, should pass into law tonight. However, we shall keep up our arguments when we believe that the law needs to be changed hereafter.
Disagreement must not be misrepresented. It is the place for Parliament to express disagreements and Liberal Democrats are proud of the position that we have taken. We shall continue to argue our case.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): I have no religious beliefs, but it is shameful that people in our country are subject to abuse and assault because of their religious beliefs and are subject to discrimination in jobs, housing and education because of their religious beliefs. I have long believed that we should outlaw such discrimination. I strongly supported the Government's proposal to do that, even though it was included in a Bill that relates to terrorism.
I am sorry that the House of Lords voted that proposal down, but the problems remain. Tomorrow morning and tomorrow evening, as they take children to and from school, Muslim women will be abused and assaulted because they cover their heads because of their religious beliefs.
I have listened to the arguments against the inclusion of such a proposal in a clause in the Bill. I have noticed that many of the provision's opponents have said that they want such legislation, but not in this form or at this time. The problems that it was supposed to address remain. I hope that the Home Secretary and the rest of the Cabinet will recognise that and shortly introduce a Bill that includes proposals to outlaw incitement to religious hatred and religious discrimination, because we owe it to the people who are suffering those outrages at the moment.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): I rather disagree with the general tone of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, but I congratulate the Home Secretary on agreeing with the Lords in amendment No. 23, on incitement to religious hatred.
We are all fanatically and fiercely opposed to hatred in all its forms. Indeed, if there were no such thing as hatred, we might not need a House of Commons at all. It is the resistance to expressions of hatred and violence that gives us our very role as Members of Parliament. Hatred is a hydra-headed monster: one can chop off one of its heads and two might grow in its place.
The issue facing us has been properly expressed in the House of Lords. The Lords said that part 5 has an unobvious but deep and devastating implication for freedom of speech. I do not believe that this House has had a proper chance to analyse that proposition, but if it is true, and we are the custodians of freedom of speech, it is right that we pay the appropriate amount of attention
If it is true that the Bill has implications for freedom of speech, of course it may be that we still need to embrace curtailments because of terrorism, but the argument in this place has consisted of some people saying that anybody who says that there is anything at all wrong with the Bill is forgetting about 11 September. The beautiful 35-year- old daughter of my friend Padraig McHugh lost her life on 11 September, so if I say that the Bill is manky in parts, let no one tell me that I am forgetting about 11 Septemberno way.
Some people have said that those of us who are opposed to some parts of the Bill have set civil liberties too high and the threats too low. Every item in the Bill needs to be considered by reference to whether it lowers the probability of events such as those on 11 September. Unlike many of my colleagues who have opposed the Bill and said that they are also opposed to the military action taken by the Government, I have been strongly in support of the military action.
It is right, however, that this Billdrafted too hastily, thought of too quickly and imposed without sufficient debate, particularly in this placebe simplified, and I am pleased that the Lords have done a job that should have been done here. I hope that in future, the timetable for any legislation of this sort will allow proper scrutiny to be conducted in this Chamber, instead of expecting it to go up the road where the Lords have the luxury of detailed debate, which we have been denied. I hope that we get legislation through to curtail hatred and make sure that we do so in a way that maximises the opportunity for freedom of speech.