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Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has underlined the fact that we have discussed this proposal four times. I make no apology for intervening in the debate, becauselike the noble Lord, Lord WedderburnI feel an attack of conscience coming on. But my conscience tells me that the Government are right and that my party is wrong. I feel that I have to explain why; otherwise people might think that I was simply being frivolous in opposing my party just for some trivial purpose.
I believe that the enactment of a law on incitement to religious hatred is vital and I would ask your Lordships who disagree with that proposition to look at what was said before the Select Committee on Religious Offences. I am dismayed that neither on Second Reading nor on this occasion nor any other time that this matter has been looked at recently has anyone bothered to refer to the Select Committee. It is as though it never existed, and yet the matter was thoroughly canvassed there. We had evidence from the police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General showing why a law of this sort was necessary. I would refer your Lordships in particular to what was said by the police about the riots in Bolton when the extreme right had very good legal advice and were distributing documents. I refer the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, to that. I hope that he has had a chance to look at what was said and to look at the pictures of the documents which were displayed in the Select Committee's report. There is no doubt that this
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is a way in which the extreme right is escaping from the consequences of the existing law on incitement to racial hatred, by disguising itself as attacking its victims because of their religious beliefs. Therefore it is necessary, vitally necessary, that we should have this legislation.
When the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, says he believes that the legislation will inhibit freedom of speechwe have heard a lot of that this afternoon, as we did the other dayhe is talking rubbish. This Bill does not override the Human Rights Act. A much better lawyer than I amthe noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who is the chair of the Select Committeeguided our committee into pointing out that what we are looking at here is a very narrow range of conduct. It is no good the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, shaking his head. This was one of the few matters on which the Select Committee was agreed. On the one hand we have Article 10 of the Human Rights Act: it circumscribes this offence because nothing which is permissible under the Human Rights Act would be an offence under this Bill. On the other side we have the law on incitement, both the common law which makes it a criminal offence to incite someone to commit a criminal offence, and then a variety of statute law such as the Offences Against the Person Act 1860, which was in fact recently used in a very interesting case which I have mentioned before. It was the case of a preacher who incited his congregation to go out and kill Jews, Hindus and Americans. The preacher made the mistake of recording his sermonsif you can call them thatand sold them outside the mosque, so the Special Branch was able to buy copies and use them for the prosecution. The interesting thing about that case was that the man got seven years under the Offences Against the Person Act, but was given an additional two years for incitement to racial hatred. Your Lordships will appreciate that if he had chosen other groups to attack, and had said Christians rather than Jews, the extra two years could not have been awarded by the court. That illustrates how stupid the law is.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: As the noble Lord has mentioned me twice, I hope that he will not feel aggrieved if I ask him a question. I feel aggrieved to be on the opposite side of anything that the noble Lord says. I have never known an occasion when we disagreed on such matters.
I have had a quick look at the matters to which the noble Lord referred meI had them in my notes and did not mention them, but of course they are importantbut the examples and discussions that took place in the Committee on Religious Offences were in toto about incitement. We do not need a new law to make people liable for inciting people to kill others. To that extent the law covers it.
The issue is about incitement. Does the noble Lord agree that if a Bill is introduced to make incitement to something a crime, it is about intentional acts? People on the far right know very well what they are doing.
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The Bill goes so far beyond incitement, and that is what people are worried about. The amendment reduces the scope of the Bill to intentional incitement.
Lord Avebury: I do not understand the noble Lord's argument as the Bill is about incitement. That is what we talked about in the Select Committee. On the issue of the Bill going far beyond incitement, and the remarks made by other noble Lords about there being no intent in the proposal, I wonder what they have been reading. The intent is already in the Public Order Act. One need only get a copy from the Library, or read the schedule that has been kindly provided by the Government to see that in every section
Lord Avebury: We have been told by the Chief Whip that she does not want long speeches, and I have already been on my feet for far too long. I do not want to trespass on the patience of the Committee, and I have only one more thing to say, which is about intent.
Nobody has argued that the phrase is wrong in relation to incitement to racial hatred clauses; everyone says that they welcome it and have loved it all alongever since the 1976 Act. If they think we are wrong about intent, we are also wrong about intent on incitement to racial hatred. Even though some of those who have taken part in today's debate and on Second Reading are distinguished lawyers, I can only believe that they have not done their homework. They should read the Public Order Act again and look at the key new schedule. They will see that there is intent, which is the safeguard that they want.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: Before the noble Lord sits down, to say that one has not done one's homework is a very grave charge. The noble Lord cites Section 18(5) of the 1986 Act. I have it here. He stresses that time is short, so I shall not read it to your Lordships. His summary of subsection (5) was wrong in law. It says that if you did not intend to do it you are not liable only if you are not aware that it might be regarded by some person as threatening, insulting, or the like. I hope that the noble Lord accepts that his law is wrong.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It really will assist the due process of House procedure if we do not have "dualogues" during the debate. My noble friend chose his own words for his speech at the beginning of the debate. That allows one to say things first, but, unfortunately, it allows others to speak afterwards. I am not the Chief Whip; I am not seeking to curtail debate; I am not seeking to influence the content of
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debate. But noble Lords should be aware there is body language from other parts of the House that is expressing some concern.
Lord Lyell of Markyate: I intend to speak briefly in support of these amendments, because they are not wrecking amendmentswhich some noble Lords seem to believethey are properly focused. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and my noble friend Lord Hunt on a helpful amendment, because at least it can be read as a whole. It is a matter for the Government how to amend the Bill, if they are willing to, but to fillet out religious hatred from racial hatred and to recognise their important distinctions is very valuable.
The first important distinction is that the first requirement of the Bill should be that a citizen should be guilty of the offence of stirring up hatred on religious grounds only if he or she actually intends to stir up religious hatred. It will not be difficult to recognise those far-right activities to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, objected. They will be well and truly caught by the amendment. What will not be caught, nor should be caught, is the much vaguer concept as to whether something is "likely" to stir up racial hatred. That is too vague. The evil people whom the Bill rightly seeks to catch are people who intend to stir up racial hatred and usually there is not the slightest doubt that that is their intention, and British juries will find it perfectly easy to recognise them and convict them.
The second reason that I strongly support the amendment is that it tackles, in paragraph 29J of the amendment, the need to protect both freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It expressly states that, "discussion, criticism" and even,
are expressly permitted, provided that one is not "intending", to the satisfaction of the jury and the court, to stir up racial hatred. Furthermore, "proselytising", for one's own religion, and urging others to turn away from their religion is also expressly permitted. That is what the preaching of the Gospel and the contents of many sermons rightly seek to do. They usually do it in measured language in circumstances where no one would dream of bringing a prosecutionbut occasionally the language may become more inflammatory and we do not want the
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chilling effect on public discussion, whether from the pulpit or in the bar or anywhere else, of an excessive Bill.
Although the amendments might seem sweeping in some ways, they focus on those two points: intention, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The Government can have their Bill. They will be able to prosecute correctly those who genuinely intend in an evil way and in a threatening manner to stir up religious hatred, but the amendments will not catch what we wish to avoid them catching and I strongly recommend them to the Committee.
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