Letter from Lord Filkin, Parliamentary
Under Secretary of State, Home Office, to Lord Scott, Chairman
of Sub-Committee E of the European Union Committee
I am writing in response to your letters of
7 and 12 May requesting my further views on a number of issues
raised during the course of my appearance before the Committee
on 30 April.
At Questions 9 and 13, the Committee asked about
the definition of xenophobia and the extent to which this differs
from racism. We have taken a pragmatic approach to this. Neither
racism nor xenophobia are defined in the draft framework decision
nor in our own domestic criminal law on incitement to racial hatred,
and we do not use the word "xenophobic" at all in our
law on incitement. Both our domestic law and the draft framework
decision define what acts and behaviour are offences, and we believe
that this is the right approach. The Public Order Act 1986 makes
it unlawful to incite hatred in a threatening, abusive or insulting
manner against a group of persons defined by race, colour, national
or ethnic origin, or nationality (including citizenship). We believe
that the inclusion of national origin, nationality and citizenship
means in effect that the concept of xenophobic hatredhatred
of foreignersis effectively covered in our domestic law.
It follows that the example cited by the committee of inciting
hatred against the French or the Poles would already be unlawful
under the Public Order Act, providing the behaviour meets the
criminal threshold of being threatening, abusive or insulting.
We cannot therefore see any objection to the use of the term "xenophobia"
throughout the framework decision. The key issue is to ensure
that the criminal threshold is acceptable to us.
At Questions 23 and 36, the Committee raised
concerns about whether incitement to religious hatred should protect
those with no religious belief. Our own laws on "religiously
aggravated offences" introduced in the Anti-terrorism, Crime
and Security Act also protect those with no religious belief,
and our proposals for incitement to religious hatred, which were
eventually withdrawn from the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security
Bill, would similarly have prohibited incitement to religious
hatred directed against people with no religious belief. The current
draft framework decision does not explicitly include incitement
to hatred against people with no religious belief, but it would
not prevent us from legislating in the future along these lines.
At Question 34, the Committee raised concerns
about Article 7 of the draft framework decision. As I explained
to the Committee, this article was included at the request of
some other member states who needed to protect their constitutional
rules in this area, while we will rely on Article 8 to protect
freedom of speech. It is important to bear in mind that Article
7 is permissive, rather than prescriptive. It will not require
the UK to do anything. It will allow member states to continue
applying constitutional rules that they already have, and is not
one that we would make use of in this country.
23 May 2003