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Lord Vinson: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness will give way. The Minister is failing to listen to her speech and is just joking with her colleague. I do not think that that is apt at this moment.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I take objection to that comment. I was merely seeking advice from my noble and learned friend as to whether I should disclose that not only am I associated, as is the noble Lord, with a number of Christian organisations, but I have also, in the past, been a Shabbos-goy. Those factors were important, bearing in mind what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, was saying. I was listening to the noble Baroness. I have now made my disclosures and the whole House can share in them.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lord and to the Minister, because I was
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disconcerted by the fact that she did not seem to be listening to me. I am grateful for the explanation she has kindly given.
Perhaps I should repeat the sentence that one of the most insidious dangers inherent in this legislation is self-censorship. Academics, journalists, writers, religious leaders and others who wish to speak about religion may be inhibited and intimidated to such an extent that legitimate, critical discussion and debate may be stifled for fear that, however reasonable and important, it might give offence. As the proposed legislation stands, truth is no defence against a charge, nor is lack of intent to cause hatred.
One of the most salutary lessons to be learnt from a similar law in Australia is found in the widely cited Daniel Scot case. I have no time to go into the details, but I conclude by mentioning some of the possibly counterproductive effects of such legislation, highlighted by Amir Butler, who is executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee. In a statement called 'Why I've changed my mind on vilification laws', he claims:
For example, he is worried by a turning of the tables against Muslims, who themselves advocated the legislation and had used it against Daniel Scot. He describes how Muslims are now being monitored by Christians, presumably intent on demonstrating that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. He points out that this legislation has not helped relationships between those faith communities. Rather, it has increased tension.
Therefore, in seeking to amend this Bill, I will strongly support those who wish to delete the relevant clause and schedule, including the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, who is sadly prevented by illness from speaking today. If and only if that deletion is not upheld, I will consider supporting fall-back amendments designed to clarify provisions in the Bill for the protection of freedom of speech.
"It is obvious that criticism of one's religion is likely to offend, but just as Muslims should be entitled to aggressively criticise other faiths, likewise those same faiths should be afforded the right to voice their concerns about Islam . . . Who, after all, would give credence to a religion that appears so fragile it can only exist if protected by a bodyguard of lawyers".
My noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond said that it would have been preferable to limit the Bill to setting up the Serious Organised Crime Agency, rather than tagging on a multitude of other measures. I agree with her. I counted no fewer than 22 other measures included in this Bill. Some, of course, are necessary, but others give an impression that the Home Office, in
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anticipation of an early election, has emptied its criminal justice tray and now has a serious Bill with a rag-bag of issues attached to it.
First, I thank the Minister for introducing and explaining the provisions of the Bill. Issues such as protesting in Parliament Square or searching someone on suspicion of possession of fireworks or power of arrest for dropping a sweet paper cannot be ignored. The danger is that time is not on our side, owing to the intervening general election. This would mean that we either throw out the baby with the bathwater or, alternatively, give serious consideration to setting up the crime agency in preference to other hasty measures. I give warning that this will happen if a wash-up session is found to be necessary. The Minister can therefore conclude that with proper scrutiny the main objective of setting up a dedicated SOCA will receive our support.
Serious crime is on the increase and we must remain one step ahead of organised criminals. It will require new powers and new methods to keep ahead of sophisticated criminals, who see no difference between local, national and international geographical boundaries. No longer can agencies work in isolation; we need to add an international dimension to our investigative work.
Events of the past few weeks have demonstrated how inadequate we are in dealing with serious crime. Let me cite three examples. First, the Chief Constable of the Nottinghamshire Police is on record as saying that he is unable to cope with the demands of investigating 30 murders in his area. Despite the increase in police numbers, it is still the case that paperwork takes much of his officers' time and he may have to invite other forces to take over some of his workload. I draw no political inference, but it is strange that our police forces are still without adequate resources.
We are well aware of the drug dealers and their impact on our community and, in particular, on our young people. Drug dependency results in a substantial number of crimes. Despite the appointment of a drugs tsarand then sacking himit is clear that we have made no dent in the drug barons.
The United Nations report makes chilling reading. The amount of opium cultivated in Afghanistan is likely to rise by more than 64 per cent. The expectations after the coalition action there have not materialised. It is a frightening situation that most of the hard drugs will end up on our shores.
Then there are the cases of people trafficking which are appearing at frequent intervals in our courts. The Home Office estimates that there are 6,000 people under the age of 18 in this country who have been trafficked through international borders. It is obvious that people trafficking is more rewarding economically than drugs. We need better intelligence and investigative methods to deal with such vile crimes.
The Bill, in effect, brings different agencies together to improve the results; the powers as well as the intelligence are shared. Some of the powers are not only intrusive but may be seen as oppressive. We need to look carefully at the matter of accountability when at least three agenciesthe police, immigration and
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Customs and Exciseare brought together. We want to be absolutely sure that the Secretary of State is accountable but, more importantly, that there is parliamentary scrutiny of the powers vested in the new agency. It would be helpful if the Minister would confirm that not only the code of practice will be laid before Parliament but that there will be an affirmative procedure attached to it.
I was a member of the former Police Complaints Authority and welcome the valuable work being done by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I am well versed in investigating complaints against the police. This includes the role of the custody officers, which is crucial in matters of serious incidents, including deaths in custody.
During the previous Bills on immigration matters I failed on a number of occasions to bring complaints against immigration officers within the machinery of the IPCC. I did so because they have powers similar to those of a constable. I failed to convince the Minister then but I trust that she will not be surprised if I raise this matter again at a later date. SOCA, which will have enlarged powers encompassing intelligence, police and immigration, must be properly accountable to IPCC if it exceeds or misuses its powers. Can the Minister confirm that that is the intention of the Home Office?
This is even more important now that the Secretary of State is introducing measures to allow civilian support staff to have a role in custody suites. We shall certainly give it a cautious welcome but it is important to recognise that many serious complaints have been lodged about what happens in custody suites when there is no public presence. Again we need to look at the code of practice, powers and training of such staff. We must also ensure that complaints against civilians will be investigated by the IPCC.
This brings me to Part 3 of the Bill, which contains some breathtakingly sweeping extensions of police powers, both in relation to arrest and to the exercise of a wide range of other intrusive powers.
Let me spell this out. The current law governing arrest, with its distinction between arrestable and non-arrestable offences, reflects an attempt to strike a balance between two important considerations: first, the right of citizens not to be deprived of liberty for disproportionate reasons, and, secondly, the need to detain people in some circumstances to protect others and to investigate crimes effectively. The Bill sweeps away this careful balance by abolishing the distinction between arrestable and non-arrestable offences. This opens up the possibility of detaining people suspected of a wide range of minor offences.
The concept of the arrestable offence is also the basis for activating many of the police powers that have significant implications for human rights, such as detention for questioning, obtaining search warrants, taking intimate samples and delaying a suspect's right to obtain legal advice.
It is disturbing that such intrusive powers should become potentially much more widely available, particularly as there is a wide element of discretion
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involved in the original arrest decision. The test of "reasonable suspicion", on which arrest depends, can involve a considerable degree of personal judgment, and will continue to do so even if, as the Bill provides, a code of practice is produced on the use of arrest powers.
The extension of stop and search powers to include a power to stop and search for prohibited fireworks is not in itself an unreasonable provision. Like all extensions of such powers, however, it raises important questions about the potential misuse of stop and search, in particular its racially biased use, which has caused so much damage to relations between minority ethnic groups and the police.
It is disturbing that, since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report was published, the racial bias in the use of stop and search has become even more extreme. In 2003-04, black people were six and a half times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, while Asian people were twice as likely.
The same issue of potential racial bias arises in relation to the Bill's provision allowing the police to take an individual's photograph and fingerprints in a place other than a police station. Again, these are intrusive powers that, if carried out on the street, can involve an element of humiliation. Members of minority ethnic communities will need convincing that the police service, which has so far been unable to prevent its members applying stop and search powers in a racially skewed way, will be able to prevent these powers being applied in a similar manner.
It is impossible to overstate the impact of racial disproportion in the use of police powers as an alienating effect on young black and Asian people. If this sweeping extension of powers survives in the final form of the Bill, there must be at the very least a systematic ethnic monitoring of these powers' use.
The Bill's provision that, when juveniles breach anti-social behaviour orders, there should be a presumption in favour of reporting their names in the media, is wholly wrongly conceived. It is the reverse of the normal presumption in the case of juvenile offenders.
The important reason why the law has provided for over 70 years that juvenile offenders should not normally be named in the media is that such reporting can hinder their rehabilitation. Moreover, in some cases, publicity has the reverse effect from what was intended, so that the young people can revel in their notoriety and become determined to live up to the "troublemaker" label given to them by the media. This consideration applies just as strongly to a young person who has breached an ASBO as it does in other cases involving juvenile offenders. Will the Minister confirm that the Youth Justice Board has expressed opposition to this provision?
Any extension of police powers to detain citizens or intrude on their liberties should always be made with great care. We must ensure that these powers go no further than is genuinely necessary to protect the public from crime. This is at least the lesson we learnt
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from last week's marathon debate on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. Significant parts of the Bill as drafted do not maintain this careful balance.
Part 4 deals with public order and conduct in public places. The Bill's provision to create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred on the same basis as the existing offence of incitement to racial hatred has provided me with the largest mailbag apart from the Hunting Bill.
I made a note, as far as possible, to analyse the views of noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The breakdown of 39 speakers is as follows: eight supported the Government's provisions, 18 were against the provisions or expressed concern, and 13 have not expressed an opinion. I am sure it will be a relief if I promise not to add to this number.
We have on our Benches my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill. My association with him dates back to the early 1960s, when he was a member of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, so notably chaired by the late Lord Pitt of Hampstead. My noble friend was an adviser on equality legislation to the former Home Secretary, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. I value my noble friend's judgment and experience on race matters. We want to ensure that racial incitement, using religion as a pretext, should be covered by law. There is no dispute that our multi-religious communities have been victims of attacks and harassment, and it is on the increase.
In conclusion, I feel honoured and humbled that the Minister quoted my support on legislation to deal with incitement to religious hatred. That was some three years ago, and I am delighted that someone took the opportunity to read my past contributions. We are not disputing the need for such legislation. As my honourable friend David Heath explained in the other place, we want our laws to be as comprehensive as possible in bearing down on crimes of either racial or religious hatred. If the noble Lord, Lord Alli, were to bring forward an amendment on homophobic hatred, I am sure that he would find support on our Benches.
In essence, I stand by what I said in previous debates. I believe that the Government's proposal is flawed but not of bad intent. We want to support what the Government are doing but we want to find a way that will achieve that intent and not the opposite.
I read the Government's Explanatory Notes with great care. They state that legitimate discussion, criticism or expression of antipathy or dislike of particular religions or their followers will not be caught by the offence. I ask the Minister to note the word "legitimate". How can the Government explain what is illegitimate criticism of ideas and beliefs?
The diverse religious community has suffered much backlash in recent times. We will not be forgiven if the effect, and not the intent, of what is proposed encourages further intolerance and divisiveness.
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