Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320-327)|
THURSDAY 17 OCTOBER 2002
320. I think we may be able to get round this.
One of the advantages is that we have got Professor Bradney here
who is our specialist adviser and it may be you could let us know
what it is that is available. He may be able to use parliamentary
channels to get hold of it. It is worth pursuing, is it?
(Mr Allen) It is, yes.
321. We want to do comparative law work and
see what is happening in the rest of Europe.
(Mr Allen) Yes.
(Mr Khan) My Lord Chairman, before we leave question
four, there is one other issue which is raised in question four,
which is whether we think the method that has been proposed is
the appropriate method, that is, by simply adding the words "religious"
to the current legislation. The short answer is yes, that is the
easy thing to do. We know the Home Office are in favour of that
and it makes their life easier, and they are very happy with this
method. That is the easy answer. There is another way of achieving
the same goal and having improvements, other than in the criminal
world, and that would be by making equally simple changes in the
Race Relations Act 1976. By simply adding religion as one of the
markers that define race. Presently the markets are one's ethnic
or national origin, nationality and colouryou could simply
add in the word "religion" there to solve the problems
we experience. I have not had a chance to check Hansard from 1976
but my understanding is that there was a lot of discussion prior
to the Race Relations Actand it may be Hansard of 1976,
I am not sureabout adding, as a marker of race, the word
"religion". That is not the same thing as extending
the Race Relations Act to include race and religion but simply
having "religion" as a marker of race. The advantage
of that would be that when it comes to incitement to racial hatred
and other uses of the word "race" both in the criminal
world and the civil world religion would be included and would
deal with the mischief that we are talking about.
Chairman: So far as it concerns criminal law
we appreciate it is the easy way to do it but whether it is perhaps
too facile may be another matter.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead
322. Have you evidence of the far right organisations
latching on to what I call contentious issues and then, as an
add on, blaming minority groups for the problems they are protesting
(Mr Allen) There is actually a reference on this in
our submission document. It was the National Front with regard
to the Fenham Mosque, the North East branch of the National Front.
They latched immediately on to and exploited that issue.
323. Is this a growing thing where maybe a local
baths is being closed down because of economic pressures on local
authorities and the far right just jump on the bandwagon and tag
on the end?
(Mr Allen) That is right. I have got examples as well
from Tipton in the West Midlands and also from where I live in
Lye, where there is the case of the Ahmadi family in the Mosque
in Lye. The BNP did actually come to Lye immediately after that
incident to try and gain some publicity and start a campaign there.
They do wait for those opportunities to arise and then they do
target those and try and exploit them.
(Mr Aziz) We have one more set of thoughts, my Lord
Chairman, and we wonder if we could move very quickly to question
seven. I realise the time is running out very fast.
324. Very briefly.
(Mr Hussain) My Lord Chairman, our concern is that
if these crimes are not reported then obviously we are undermining
the whole process. At the same time, however, we would like to
say that reporting is not the only measure of success for such
a set of legislation. In fact such legislation gives a very positive
signal to religious communities to say that they are included,
especially when you are dealing with a community like the Muslim
community, which feels quite alienated at times for historical
reasons and for reasons of Islamophobia as we have seen. This
is a very positive signal that we must send out. In such a community
we are concerned that the same problems as had happened with race
legislation are not repeated in the case of provisions which cover
religious matters. We are very concerned that there should be
greater awareness raising within the Muslim community of any changes
to legislation. We feel that even in regard to race legislation
there is quite a low awareness within the Muslim community of
what mechanisms people have access to in order to pursue cases
and incidents. There seems also to be a very low level of confidence
in the institutions concerned as identified by the Stephen Lawrence
Inquiry in relation to the Police and the Denman Report in relation
to the CPS. These are issues that we think need very careful addressing.
Furthermore, there is currently no equivalent to the CRE in the
case of religious matters, and although this may be resolved by
the evolution of a single equality body, I am reliably informed
that this is some years in the future if it is to be, so again
this is a cause of serious concern. If people do wish to pursue
such cases there has to be adequate support for them. There has
to be something at the front line which people can refer to, people
can relate to and people can walk into and say "Here is an
incident which I experienced, please help me take this through
the system". If such measures are not in place then the frustration
that people feel may further exacerbate their sense of alienation,
creating a very negative loop of feedback.
325. I think this is very clearly set out in
the major document, the annual report, this broader based approach,
and I look forward to seeing whether it is replicated in the document
which you are now going to give us.
(Mr Hussain) Yes, thank you.
326. May I suggest that you stay and listen
to the other two groups who are going to give evidence to us.
First of all we promise we will read your paper. We are not beyond
coming back to witnesses if there are things we want to explore
further. If you think after the rest of the evidence this afternoon
anything arises which you would like to comment on further you
are very welcome to do so.
(Mr Aziz) There is just one more thought, my Lord,
and that is to do with the fact that there may still be a gap
in the law, even after Section 39, and even after legislation
on incitement to religious hatred. That gap may be filled by Section
2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860. I am thinking
of situations like where somebody decides to urinate against a
mosque wall or decides to leave beer cans on a Muslim grave or
a pig's head in a Muslim courtyard or even things like dog foul
in a mosque courtyard.
(Mr Aziz) I think that kind of problem or nuisance
will not be captured either under Section 39 or under religious
incitement legislation, and there may be a case, therefore, to
retain Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act.
Chairman: I think that very much coincides with
some of the evidence we have had from other sources that although
that is an ancient act it still has a function to play. I do not
think we are aiming to see it disappear. I am glad to have that
confirmation from you. Thank you for coming.