House of Commons
|Session 2005 - 06|
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Standing Committee Debates
Racial and Religious Hatred Bill
Racial and Religious Hatred Bill
Column Number: 39
Standing Committee E
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
†Mr. Edward OHara, Mr. David Amess†Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)
†Campbell, Mr. Alan (Tynemouth) (Lab)
†Carmichael, Mr. Alistair (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
†Cohen, Harry (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)
†Davies, Philip (Shipley) (Con)
†Featherstone, Lynne (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD)
†Goggins, Paul (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
†Grieve, Mr. Dominic (Beaconsfield) (Con)
†Khan, Mr. Sadiq (Tooting) (Lab)
†Mahmood, Mr. Khalid (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
†Malik, Mr. Shahid (Dewsbury) (Lab)
†Prisk, Mr. Mark (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
†Soulsby, Sir Peter (Leicester, South) (Lab)
†Streeter, Mr. Gary (South-West Devon) (Con)
†Thornberry, Ms Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
†Walker, Mr. Charles (Broxbourne) (Con)
Colin Lee, Libby Preston, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Column Number: 41
Wednesday 29 June 2005
[Mr. Edward OHara in the Chair]
Hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 3, in schedule, page 2, line 10, leave out a group of.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 4, in schedule, page 2, line 11, leave out first religious.
No. 6, in schedule, page 2, line 11, leave out first religious and insert religion or.
No. 5, in schedule, page 2, line 11, leave out second religious.
No. 7, in schedule, page 2, line 11, leave out second religious and insert religion or.
No. 24, in schedule, page 2, line 12, at end insert
No. 25, in schedule, page 2, line 12, at end insert
Mr. Grieve: I concede at the outset that these are probing amendments. I am unlikely to press any to a vote. Indeed, it would be rash of me to attempt to do so. Each one will, I hope, highlight areas that I urge the Committee to consider carefully. If I may, I will take the Committee briefly through what each amendment is designed to highlight. I should then like to develop
Amendment No. 3 seeks to delete the reference in the meaning of religious hatred to
When we are talking of a racial group most people would acknowledge that it would be rather unusual to have a single person constituting a race. I want to raise the question of whether that same issue applies to religion. We know that religion, in so far as we have definitions in charity law, is defined as recognition of a deity and organised worship of the deity. That is about the best definition that has ever been supplied. Certainly it does not appear to be an activity that requires a group to carry it out.
Recently a Satanist in the Royal Navy was authorised to use a cupboard on board one of the frigates to store his religious paraphernalia and conduct his worship in solitary form. He was clearly worshiping a deity. Indeed, the Royal Navy, presumably applying as best it could the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 and after scrutiny by the captain and chaplain of the vessel concerned, decided that this Satanist, who believed in such things as vengeance as a legitimate part of religion, should be allowed to carry out his worship.
In seriousness, I ask whether it is right simply to convert the concept of a racial group into the concept of a religious group, or whether we are, as a result of doing that, denying the protection of the Bill to people who may have individual religious beliefs that they practise routinely as part of worship. That is not merely a fanciful consideration. The evidence is pretty overwhelming that the degree of pluralism that exists now in British society means that people may believe in all sorts of things and have wholly individual beliefs that might not be shared by others. Nevertheless, does that constitute a religion? I should be grateful to hear from the Minister the Governments view and that of their legal advisers. If we continue to use the word group in a religious context, we may be excluding certain people.
The next few amendment seek to play around with the issue of what constitutes a religious belief. The origin of my concern is the explanatory notes on the Bill, which make it clear from the use of the words
that the Government intend the Bill to cover not only people who incite others to hatred against people with other religious views, and therefore a belief in another deity, but those who incite others to hatred of groups that essentially have no religious belief. What does that mean, to have no religious belief? It is an important question that the Committee must consider. Are we talking about incitement against secularists, atheists or agnostics, or about incitement to hatred of individuals who hold views that are incompatible with the religious belief of the group that is being incited to hatred?
I give the Minister an example: the case of Hammond. Mr. Hammond was prosecuted under the Public Order Act 1986 because he put up a banner
The Bill as drafted is sufficiently loose to encompass any viewpoint that might be incompatible with the religious views of a religious group that is being incited to hatred. For example, it is said that people of some religions do not believe in democracy, so if one is promoting or criticising that group for not believing in democracy, it could be an incitement to hatred against that group.
Even leaving aside the wider issuesI am trying to narrow them down as much as possibleabout what a lack of religious belief means, are we talking about criticising people for not believing in God, or are we opening the avenue to prosecution because a group of people who do believe in God are being incited to hatred of people whose views are incompatible with belief in the God whom that group happen to believe in?
I hope that the Minister will tell the Committee whether the Government have focused on this matter, because from reading the Bill and the explanatory notes about what is intended it seems to me that the lack of religious belief could be construed as simply being any belief that is incompatible with religious belief.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): My hon. Friend has a very lucid argument, which I had not thought of. Is not it also possible that a court might find that a persons behaviour, about which another person complains, happens because of that persons religious belief? That might be something that the religious leader seeking to address the issue is implyingthat because a person does not believe in God, they are some kind of outsider, infidel, heathen or unbeliever, and therefore act in a certain wayand that person could well be brought to court under the provisions of the Bill.
Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend is right. It is precisely that matter that troubles me, and that we must tease out. I used the example of gays or lesbians precisely because that has been one of the rather heated areas of debate in the recent past and is therefore classically illustrative of the nature of the problem. Will condemnation of gays and lesbians, for instance, lead to them saying that they are being attacked for their lack of religious beliefsome may have religious belief, but others may notwhich is in part fuelled
Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 are, perhaps, slightly tongue in cheek. They were designed to try to focus attention on what it is we are trying to debate and what we think might or might not be appropriately protected. In amendment No. 24, I seek to confine religious belief to the mainstream faiths that the Government identified in the explanatory notes to the Bill, as they suggest that those are certain to be covered. That leaves open what else might be covered, but those are the mainstream faiths that the Government seem to have in mind. Under the amendment, one would not be allowed to incite hatred against Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Rastafarianism, Bahaism, Zoroastrianism and Jainism.
In amendment No. 25, I have tried to reverse the process for the purposes of trying to get some debate going in the CommitteeI hope that members of the Committee will not be too coy. I have tried to identify beliefs for which the provision of protection against hatred some people would think extraordinarily repellent. The Jedi Knights at the end was put in as a bit of a joke, but we have to face up to the fact that Jedi Knights seemed to feature in the census return as being the belief of rather a large number of people. I shall read through the list that I have produced: Satanists; believers in human sacrifice to propitiate a deity; believers in animal sacrifice to propitiate a deity; believers in female genital mutilation to live in accordance with the rules of a religion; believers in violence as a means of proselytising a belief; believers in the supremacy or superiority of one race over another; believers in the supremacy or superiority of one gender over another; and Jedi Knights.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I was looking forward to discussing the proposed new sub-paragraph (g). I suppose that there are those who would argue that when Graham Leonard, the former Bishop of London, argued that a woman was no more ordainable than a potato, he was indeed arguing that he was a believer in the supremacy or superiority of one gender over another. Might there not be a conflict between the hon. Gentlemans amendments?
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is catching on fast to the point that I am trying to highlight. Indeed, in a moment I shallI hope that by doing so I will not
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): My hon. Friend is being rather modest when he says that he tabled the amendments in a tongue-in-cheek way. Does he not agree that they go to the heart of the matter? The fact that the Government have not stated what a religion is will cause huge problems with the Bill. Disreputable groups will undoubtedly hide under the protection that comes with being classed as a religion and will potentially not be able to be criticised for their abhorrent views. Does my hon. Friend not agree that the definition of what is and is not a religion goes to the heart of the Bill?
Mr. Grieve: Yes, my hon. Friend is right. We have no definition of a religion. The Government say that they are happy to leave that to the courts and that they are happy to allow case law to develop. Religion has been defined in English case law, although in slightly different contexts. There are definitions under the Human Rights Act and under charity law. All one can say is that the courts have, on the whole, been prepared to give the widest possible construction to religion. In charity law, they have made it clear that religion can exist if an objective observer, by whom I suppose one means the judgejudges are not necessarily the most objective people in the world, but they try to make themselves objectivedecides that belief in a deity and an organised rite of worship of or obeisance to the deity apply. Those are the only two criteria and they would certainly cover Satanists, Christians, Muslims and anyone who believes in a god and for whom there is a ritual surrounding that. The scope of the term is therefore very wide. The Government, however, do not seem to be quite so confident, because they have deliberately left the issue right up in the air.
In amendment No. 25, I listed Scientologists before Jedi Knights. There has been debate about whether Scientology is a religion, and there is a court authority to suggest that it is a set of philosophical beliefs but not a belief in a deity. I leave that to one side. With Jedi Knights, it is difficult to know. They seem to believe in a force, because the force has to be with you, and they appear to be able to master the force by the processes of their own spirituality.
Chris Bryant: It is fictional.
Mr. Grieve: I have no idea whether being a Jedi Knight is fictional. The text from which it is derived was written by an author who was not pretending that it was revealed truth, but there seem to be a number of people who, for their own reasons, put in their census return that it is their religious view. I cannot comment any further on that.
Column Number: 46
Chris Bryant: I hate to say this, but it is also true that several hon. Members have placed light sabres in the Cloakroom in the place where they could be hanging their swords. I do not think that that means that anyone believes genuinely in the power of the force in the sense of a religion.
Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and fascinated by his expertise on the subject. All I can say is that he may be right, but I have no certainty on the matter.
Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I may have made this point in the Chamber, too. The hon. Gentlemans contribution has been fascinating and fun, but can he give examplesfrom the charity law to which he referred, the Human Rights Act jurisprudence, the case law since the legislation relating to the employment and religious discrimination directive was introduced a couple of years ago, or the extensive European Court of Human Rights jurisprudencein which the mischief that he is talking about has been a problem?
Mr. Grieve: I find that a difficult question to answer. Case law has developed case by case. On the whole, the interpretation by the Court of Human Rights of what a religion might be seems historically to be narrower than that of English charity law, as an example. However, I cannot be certain that that is so. In the 19th century, Joanna Southcott believed that she had heard voices and could provide revelations. A fund left to perpetuate her teachings was decreed to be a charitable purpose, even though the judge concluded that the teachings were probably, on any intellectual analysis, rubbish. That has always been one of the classic starting points, although others who know more about charity law may correct me. It is also true that a charitable purpose might be void if it were contrary to public policy, so if a religion believed in something that was a criminal offence, it would be unlikely to be recognised as a charity.
The best that I can say is that there are parallel strands of legal thinking, but I do not think that a court, starting along the process of ruling on such matters, would necessarily find itself confined to the jurisprudence of the Court of Human Rights. If I were a prosecutor going before a court, and the first question that the court had to determine was whether people who were victims of religious hatred were in fact a religion, I would start to look at the definitions. The hon. Gentleman should bear it in mind that, as I said previously, we are talking not just about religious belief, but lack of religious belief. The courts will have a complex time deciding what falls within the parameters.
Mr. Khan: Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that the same definition was used in the anti-discrimination legislation a couple of years ago? To my mind, there has been no example of an employee claiming to belong to any of the 10 groups that he lists in order to try to obtain the protection of the legislation against discrimination on the grounds of their religious belief or lack of it.
Column Number: 47
Mr. Grieve: It can only be a matter of time when it comes to the first group, Satanists, because they have already featured in an employment case with the Royal Navy concerning the rights of an individual to practise his religion on board ship. The view clearly taken by the Navy was that the Satanist was entitled not to be discriminated against. It was precisely because the Navy wanted to ensure that he was not discriminated against that it allowed him to keep his paraphernalia in his cupboard and to practise his rites. He was also allowed to step out of attendance at church parade on the quarterdeck. Therefore, if that issue has not yet arisen, it is likely to come up in future.
Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): I have been following my hon. Friends argument with considerable interest. He will be aware, as I am and, I am sure, is the Committee, of recent worrying reports from the Metropolitan police about certain groups that believe in the need for exorcism or, in certain cases, for children to be sacrificed. There are, according to the Metropolitan police, a good number of these groups, which clearly fall within one of the definitions that he has described. Does he share my concern that the irony of the Bill if not correctly refined will be that we end up protecting such groups, most of which our constituents would regard as utterly repugnant and in need of being rooted out?
Mr. Grieve: The subject of exorcism has a mainstream track record in Christian faiths. The Catholic Church will still, in exceptional circumstances, practise exorcism, although I do not think that it involves beating people to death in order to achieve it. However, there is a belief that people may be freed from spirits. The Anglican Church would still recognise that as a possibility. As I understand it, the criticism made by the police is of Christian sects, not voodoo culture religion, although some may be influenced by animist faith in arriving at their position. There is a long tradition of animism running alongside Christianity from the cultural origins of the people concerned.
All that illustrates the complexity of the problem. Many think that the practice of exorcism is unjustified in any event. Some think that even if it can be justified, because it is just saying a prayer and hoping that somebody gets better, rituals that may be terrifying to a child, perhaps physically endanger a child or even, as we seem to have discovered recently, kill a child are matters of huge abhorrence. Many would take the view that they would be entitled to hate peopleor intensely dislike them; I suggested to the Committee yesterday that that is what hatred meanswho practise such things. We could easily have added exorcism, and Christianity would have been slotted into both categories.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): May I point out that things such as female mutilation and human and animal sacrifice are already outlawed in this country under various laws, and the law supersedes religion? The hon. Gentlemans case is that religions come and go over time, and that peoples interpretation of them can change. We know that, but
Mr. Grieve: I disagree. It is true that religions may come and go, but the Government have made it clear that they do not wish to inhibit the practice of religious faith; that is not their intention. The criminal law already prevents people from doing things, irrespective of their religious belief. There may well be legal challenges over some of those things, but I suspect that the law will fall on the side of state intervention.
I do not think that those who have a religious faith that believes in paedophilia will succeed in getting a court to allow them to practise it. The fact is that most people regard paedophilia as abhorrent. It is perfectly possible to hold a religious belief that children should be initiated in sex at the age of seven, and to say that that is what one is striving for, but that in the mean time one will obey the law. I am certain that there are people in this countryindeed, I have met one or two from other cultural backgroundswho believe that female circumcision is an appropriate cultural and religious rite, but they do not practise it because they have been told that the law would stop it. Indeed, some send their daughters abroad for the purpose, where the law of the land cannot touch them for it. Again, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that saying such people are horrible and should be hated will be criminalised under the Billsave those cases in which, as I said yesterday, the Attorney-General decides that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute them.
I ask the Committee to forgive me for giving some short quotations. I turn first to article 18 of the 39 articles of faith of the Church of England, which states:
What poor old Mr. Hammondan evangelical preacher; I do not think he was a member of the Church of Englandwas saying in the street may have been insulting to his audience and should not have been said, but it was rather compatible with the tenets of the Church of England. That is so unless, I might add, one belongs to a sect of the Church of England that thinks that homosexual relationships are within scriptural canon.
Then we have the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a difficult issue, but we have to face up to the fact that he said some rather controversial things. What he said may have been tampered with or altered subsequently, but John, chapter 8, verse 44, contains unflattering references that relate directly to the Jews whom he was addressing.
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