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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 O’Hara, 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

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Wednesday 29 June 2005

[Mr. Edward O’Hara in the Chair]

Racial and Religious Hatred Bill


Hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds

4.30 pm

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—

    ‘17B   Meaning of “religious belief”

    For the purposes of section 17A a religious belief is confined to—

      (a)   Christianity;

      (b)   Islam;

      (c)   Hinduism;

      (d)   Judaism;

      (e)   Buddhism;

      (f)   Sikhism;

      (g)   Rastafarianism;

      (h)   Baha’ism;

      (i)   Zoroastrianism;

      (j)   Jainism.’.

No. 25, in schedule, page 2, line 12, at end insert—

    ‘17B   Groups not protected by Part 3

    For the purposes of section 17A any group of persons holding the following religious beliefs or lack of religious belief shall not enjoy the protection of this part of the Act—

      (a)   Satanists;

      (b)   believers in human sacrifice to propitiate a deity;

      (c)   believers in animal sacrifice to propitiate a deity;

      (d)   believers in female genital mutilation to live in accordance with the rules of a religion;

      (e)   believers in violence as a means of proselytising a belief;

      (f)   believers in the supremacy or superiority of one race over another;

      (g)   believers in the supremacy or superiority of one gender over another;

      (h)   Scientologists;

      (i)   Jedi Knights.’.

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
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my arguments more generally; hopefully, there will then be an opportunity for the Committee to discuss some of the issues.

Amendment No. 3 seeks to delete the reference in the meaning of religious hatred to

    “hatred against a group of persons”.

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 Government’s 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

    “religious belief or lack of religious belief”

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
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saying, “Stop immorality. Stop homosexuals. Stop lesbianism. Jesus Christ is Lord”. The basis of the prosecution under the provisions of the Act was that Mr. Hammond was liable to insult people in the street who might presumably be of a homosexual or lesbian orientation. But when the law has been changed as the Government intend, it would be possible for the expressions “stop homosexuals” and “stop lesbians” to be caught by the provisions of incitement to religious hatred if—it is the “if” to which I want an answer from the Minister—the lack of religious belief is the fact that someone who is of a homosexual orientation and believes it is appropriate to engage in homosexual activity is doing something that is contrary to the tenets of the religious faith of the people who are being incited. That is no light issue.

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 issues—I am trying to narrow them down as much as possible—about 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 person’s behaviour, about which another person complains, happens because of that person’s religious belief? That might be something that the religious leader seeking to address the issue is implying—that because a person does not believe in God, they are some kind of outsider, infidel, heathen or unbeliever, and therefore act in a certain way—and 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 belief—some may have religious belief, but others may not—which is in part fuelled
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from their sexual orientation and their belief in the appropriateness of homosexual and lesbian behaviour, and therefore that the mullah or priest who has delivered a sermon fiercely criticising such practices is liable to prosecution because he has incited hatred against them on the basis of their lack of religious belief? I do not think that that is what the Government intend, but it may be the result of the way we are reading the Bill. If it is, the Committee and the House should become fully aware of it; otherwise the legislation will start to affect to an enormous extent what one is allowed or not allowed to say, and the debate will undoubtedly move into the political sphere very quickly, although the Government keep reassuring us that that is not an area into which the Bill will stray.

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, Baha’ism, 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 Committee—I 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. Gentleman’s amendments?

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is catching on fast to the point that I am trying to highlight. Indeed, in a moment I shall—I hope that by doing so I will not
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offend the Committee—read one or two short bits from the Koran and the Bible, which I think the Committee might want to consider. Although the lists in amendments Nos. 24 and 25 appear superficially to be starkly at odds, there is in fact the capacity for interchange.

4.45 pm

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 judge—judges are not necessarily the most objective people in the world, but they try to make themselves objective—decides 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.

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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. Gentleman’s contribution has been fascinating and fun, but can he give examples—from 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 jurisprudence—in 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.

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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. Friend’s 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 people—or intensely dislike them; I suggested to the Committee yesterday that that is what hatred means—who 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. Gentleman’s case is that religions come and go over time, and that people’s interpretation of them can change. We know that, but
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if the Government’s position is right, it does not make sense to mention specific religions in the Bill. Surely the hon. Gentleman is arguing against his amendment.

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 country—indeed, I have met one or two from other cultural backgrounds—who 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 Bill—save 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:

    “They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For holy scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.”

What poor old Mr. Hammond—an evangelical preacher; I do not think he was a member of the Church of England—was 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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