Select Committee on Selection Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520-536)



  520. It is important for us to understand this, because we have got the Director of Public Prosecutions coming to give evidence and obviously we want to know from him why there have been so few prosecutions under the 1986 Act. What I wondered is whether the Sikh community have got experience of reporting incidents to the police which they think constitute good reasons for bringing a case and for being confident that a conviction will occur and still finding that the police are not taking action, or that the police cannot get the cases past the Crown Prosecution Service.
  (Dr Singh) No, we do not have evidence of that, but it is more anecdotal evidence. Unfortunately we have not worked in that way of collecting and trying to pursue things in that way. This is information we get from different Gurudwaras "Look what has happened here". Perhaps we should have been more active in pursuing these things.

Baroness Richardson of Calow

  521. One of things that I think we have heard from a lot of people is that it is not hatred that they fear so much as the sort of ridicule and vilification of the things that we hold most dear.
  (Dr Singh) Yes.

  522. Would you have any suggestions that you could possibly make, that you think could be enshrined in law that would protect religions from that kind of behaviour?
  (Dr Singh) Any new Act should encompass that. While I say the blasphemy laws should go, they seem to be too dated, there should be something similar which allows freedom of discussion, real discussion, which is so important we should get behind the superficial niceness of dialogue to real discussion because a lot of things that we say are religious are really cultural things that should have gone years ago. We need to get that to go anywhere, but there should be protection against ridicule and that would be more I am more concerned about the media doing that than individuals in the street because the media is so powerful, it can do a lot of harm in that way.


  523. Dr Singh, the point that you are making is eminently reflected in European law by which we are now all bound.
  (Dr Singh) Yes.

  524. In that there should indeed be room for copious debate and discussion about these things, but there is a line over which you should not step. Who is to set the line?
  (Dr Singh) I think the example of the European Law is something that should be there. That the line has got to come through judgments in the courts in the end, but it should be clear if something is considered deeply offensive to a religious community, it should be a criminal act.

  525. Yes, but who decides where the line is? You see, it does not start in Europe, it starts here.
  (Dr Singh) It starts here and we have to set our own line, but it is going to change with time because these boundaries of the worst behaviour, we hope, change so that we take a more serious view of these things as time goes on and as education goes, but it is, as far as I can understand it, the people who write the law that must set those initial boundaries and those who interpret law.

  526. You could be addressing them, of course. It could be us.
  (Dr Singh) Yes. That is right, but the tests are the hurt it causes.

Lord Avebury

  527. You get differences in the perception of what could be—
  (Dr Singh) But then, against that we must have the second, it must be offensive. People could, of course, say that anything is offensive, you should not say this or you should not say that, but there should be a second test of the real damage done as well. It should not be just a cursory statement that "I feel offended by this". There should be a quantification of the damage that is alleged to have been caused.


  528. Dr Indarjit Singh, we have got one and half more minutes of your time before you have to go somewhere else, could I just ask you to help us in this; quite separate from an attack either on the tenets of faith or upon members of a group, there is, on the statute book at the moment, the criminal offence of doing something on religious sites, not necessarily involving anybody being there, but causing grave offence when the people who would otherwise have been there find out about it. It is our last question. This is something that we are seriously considering because it seems to have a validity, the graffiti you see, of criminal damage, but an act desecration which does not cause a breach of the peace and does not cause any damage is still something that may be highly objectionable to members of the faith. Have you got any examples of anything like that happening in the Sikh community, in a Gurudwara?
  (Dr Singh) We have had examples of desecration outside the Gurudwara but if this "places of worship" refers to within a place of worship, riotous, violent and indecent behaviour, we do not have any examples of that.

  529. You do not have any examples?
  (Dr Singh) No.

Lord Avebury

  530. Outside you said you did.
  (Dr Singh) Outside on the walls, but within the premises there is nothing. Except that sometimes Sikhs argue amongst themselves, but I think goes anywhere.


  531. I think on the outside it is covered by criminal damage.
  (Dr Singh) It is and that is not sufficiently—if I may, in my last few seconds, cover another point on the need for proper law and religious discrimination, that the armed services, for example, discriminate against Sikhs for wearing turbans, the Air Force particularly. The reasons given are not really valid at all but it is very difficult to counter them. The Air Force in India allows Sikhs to wear a turban with protective head gear and there is in problem. Why should it be a problem in this country? We should not be fobbed off with cursory statements that this is a regulation. They should be subjected to an Act that protects religion in its fullness.

  532. Does anybody else have questions for our witnesses? I think we must let you go—
  (Dr Singh) Can I make one last comment?

  533. Yes, I am not trying to stop you but I appreciate that you have got another appointment.
  (Dr Singh) That is very kind of you and I will run down the corridor. It is on discrimination itself. This fragmentary approach to discrimination, that where there is pressure from a particular community at a particular time or we must do something about this to protect society, we will have a Race Relations Act where there is a pressure of equal opportunities, we must have an Equal Opportunities Act. Or religion, we must look at religion. It should be, I would like to see law moving towards a situation where there is protection against discrimination full stop and people must give very good reasons why they discriminate against any person on grounds that have nothing to do with the job or the place they are in. I would like to see us moving in that direction because I feel the Race Relations Act, for example, is discriminatory to have a Race Relations Act and not protect religion is discriminatory.

  534. You have invited me to ask another question and it is just too bad, I am afraid. First of all, have you looked at the EU Directive on discrimination in civil law on a whole number of grounds which the Government said they are proposing to implement? Have you also looked at the draft framework directive, which is in the process of discussion between member states of the EU including, of course, this country, about criminalising certain forms of discrimination?
  (Dr Singh) I have looked and I would like to see us move in that direction.

  535. Would you like to see if you can find out about these things a little bit more and let us know in writing subsequently whether you have any further views to offer about this, because we are, of course, immensely concerned that we should have the right background. We will know that the civil discrimination side is the underlying problem, but that is not what this Committee is talking about. We are talking about offences and neither is a draft framework directive which actually deals with offences.

  (Dr Singh) I would be very happy to do that.

  536. Would you? Because we would be very grateful.
  (Dr Singh) Thank you very much. Thank you all.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for coming.

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003