Orders of the Day — Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 7th December 2004.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department 12:32 pm, 7th December 2004

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When I spoke a week ago yesterday in the debate on the Queen's Speech, I indicated that much of the Bill will be non-controversial and have the support of the whole House. We are dealing in the main, therefore, with issues of detail, clarification and, in some cases, interpretation. There will undoubtedly be party political differences about some aspects of the Bill, particularly in Committee, but on the whole people agree that we are right to set up the Serious Organised Crime Agency and to underpin it with the changes in powers, thereby building on the reforms and modernisation that we have already put in place in relation to policing in this country and through the proposals in the police White Paper.

We published "One Step Ahead" as part of the consultation process on the Bill and on the Serious Organised Crime Agency. I remember that David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said a week ago yesterday that we were not always one step ahead in dealing with organised crime. He might be surprised to hear that I agree with him. There is a real problem in taking on the most sophisticated criminals in the world, who understand the tenets of capitalism a lot better than capitalists do. Their grasp of how to deal with a market internationally, how to change their methodology and how to use new techniques is breathtaking.

Although the massive increase in police numbers, the reduction in crime and the creation of community support officers, which are referred to in the Bill, are critical in building the infrastructure—I notice that Bill Bratton, the former commissioner of New York and now of Los Angeles police, referred this morning on the "Today" programme to the critical importance of interlinking neighbourhood policing and tackling antisocial behaviour in building confidence and then helping with organised crime—the challenge of the decade is undoubtedly to get grips with cross-border international crime.

All nations are considering the interrelationship between organised crime and terrorism and the relationship between trans-national travel and improved communication, by which I mean the use of satellite, the internet and mobile phones, as well as arrangements in terms of people's ease of communication when they travel. All of that has transformed, within the past few decades, the nature of criminality and the way in which people exploit the previous understanding of what was necessary.

If the methodology and the sophistication of techniques have changed, we need to change rapidly with them. That will be the case year on year. There will have to be changes in the way in which the service operates, even as a combined entity, linking investigation, intelligence and its work with the prosecution services. Of course, there must also be the methodology of developing the technology that matches that of the organised criminals.

Organised criminality costs our economy and commercial life at least £20 billion each year. Some £1.3 billion of that is the result of identity fraud alone, never mind the massive investment in hours that it takes to sort that out, not just in terms of policing and the criminal justice service, but of everyone else whose productivity and lives are affected by it.

We have been getting better at getting to grips with that. In the 18 months to the end of 2003, which are the latest figures, we have disrupted and confiscated 11 tonnes of heroin and 26 tonnes of cocaine. The sophistication of the work with other countries to disrupt the supply of cocaine from Colombia and the work that is taking place in the Caribbean is impressive. Just three weeks ago, I was talking to Dominique de Villepin, the Interior Minister in France, about how we might step up that work by sharing resources and by sharing the task across the Caribbean with the Americans in the light of what is happening in central and south America and the West Indies.

We have not been as successful in dealing with trafficking and organised criminality in terms of the poppy supply and heroin from Afghanistan, which is a primary concern for this country. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs spoke yesterday about getting to grips with the problem. On the day that President Karzai is inaugurated, I think that we would want to work with a new democratic and strong Afghanistan in taking additional steps to ensure that we get to grips with what is literally a disabler and sometimes a killer on our streets.

These days we have to think internationally about the way in which change takes place. I am proud that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is on the Front Bench, because it emphasises the importance not only of tackling the causes of criminality and of putting in place preventive measures to give people alternative livelihoods but of clamping down on enforcement. Unless we do so, organised criminals will pay the subsistence farmers, whether in south America or Afghanistan, sums that they could never get by growing existing crops. Development aid, development of trade and tackling the causes of drug production are therefore critical.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Home Secretary makes an important point. I was at the UN last week with a cross-party group. The head of drug enforcement told us that the amount of land under opium cultivation in Afghanistan will rise by 64 per cent. this year. Given that NATO is in control there, why should we believe that things will get better next year when the situation has patently got a lot worse in the past 12 months?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The steps that are put in place take time to work. The installation of a democratic presidency and government in Afghanistan makes an enormous difference. I am sure that the meetings that the hon. Gentleman attended at the UN would have reinforced the long-term nature of what needs to be done. We are not going to solve this problem next year. We can start to tackle it, but it will be a decade before we see substantial change—not because we want it to take that long, but because enormous forces are against us.

I was about to move on to pay tribute to the work that has been done since the creation of the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which are themselves quite new. Good work has also been done with the immigration service and part of Customs and Excise. Together, those organisations will form the new Serious Organised Crime Agency. We are grateful for the work that people have done in pulling together towards that goal.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The Secretary of State mentioned work with the immigration services. The Bill contains some welcome provisions on witness protection in hideous people trafficking cases, but does he share my concern that there are very few safe houses for women who have been trafficked? According to a presentation in the House last week by Amnesty International, there are no safe houses for children who have been trafficked; the last two such places recently closed.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am happy to look further into that as a matter of urgency, particularly in respect of the point about children. There are 6,000 young people under the age of 18 in this country who have been trafficked or, in some cases, sent dangerously by their families across the world in circumstances that none of us would wish to see. Safe accommodation here for those who are prepared to bear witness and help us follow the line in tracking organised criminals should also be matched by safe accommodation in the countries of origin so that people can be returned to their families. The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration and I are both looking into that as a matter of urgency.

In paying tribute to the organisations, I want to say how difficult it has been, even with good will, to exchange the necessary intelligence information and to link investigation, intelligence and prosecution. The added value of the Serious Organised Crime Agency will be measured by its ability to do just that and put together the different activities of the agency in order to produce materially improved results. The new chairman, Sir Stephen Lander, spelled out on the radio this morning the critical importance of getting that right. With his intelligence background, I believe that he will be able to provide a substantive guiding hand for the organisation.

In paying tribute to recent action, I want to mention two or three events over the past 18 months that have demonstrated how, before the agency comes into being on 1 April 2006 after the Bill's passage through both Houses of Parliament, we can and must step up the work to avoid any interregnum or pause in activity.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The Home Secretary is right to say that there will not be much between us on many aspects of the Bill. One important thing that he must do is bring together the powers, as well as the intelligence, of the three different agencies comprising the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Those powers are different and sometimes intrusive. The excise powers, for example, are very intrusive: they have been designed that way over the course of a long time. The Bill will, however, amalgamate all the powers—police, immigration and excise—effectively under one man. Sir Stephen Lander is used to parliamentary scrutiny of his activities, but is the Home Secretary considering how best to keep an eye on the use of the powers in the first few years of the new agency?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes. That was a helpful intervention. Unlike the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Home Affairs Committee will have open access and scrutiny. The Cabinet Committee on Organised Crime will be responsible for determining overall priorities.

In a moment, boring though it may be, I intend to examine the Bill clause by clause to clarify issues before speeches are made, and I hope that that will help.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I want to be absolutely sure of what the Home Secretary has just said, because it is critical to our understanding. Will all the new agency's activities fall within the remit of the Home Affairs Committee, and will it examine the various aspects of the agency's work?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Substantially, yes. The Intelligence and Security Committee may ask to examine aspects of the intelligence work, but we do not intend that to be the norm. The agency is a non-departmental public body, so scrutiny will be conducted through the House in the normal way. I know that Sir Stephen Lander and Bill Hughes, the director general, will want to facilitate such scrutiny as readily as possible.

Briefly, 500 officers from the National Crime Squad raided drug dealers in London, Huddersfield and Jamaica a few months ago, which resulted in a large number of arrests and 10 convictions, including one individual who got 25 years. Under Project Reflex, work has taken place to deal with a Midlands-based gang that smuggled people in from India using routes through Ethiopia. Development and support, which involves my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development, who is on the Front Bench, are crucial. That gang charged individuals £8,000 per person to facilitate their being smuggled into the country, which destroys the lives and well-being of those who are left behind. In deprived and growing countries, £8,000 is a massive investment that can transform the life chances of a family as a whole. Instead, it is being used to facilitate the well-being and profits of organised criminals. The current agency is doing a good job until the new agency takes over.

Linkage is so important. When we discuss cross-border agencies, we are talking about linking with colleagues in Scotland on drug administration and working with agencies in Northern Ireland, as well as working across Europe. A lot of work is now taking place in south-east Europe to disrupt organised crime in Bosnia, Kosovo and other south European countries.

New powers, which the shadow Home Secretary has referred to, and new ways of working are crucial. I promised to bore the bottom off the House.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall try harder this week. Clauses 1 to 4 are about the functions of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and clause 5 concerns the general powers that underpin SOCA. Clauses 6 and 7 are about the annual report, which relates to the intervention by Mr. Heath on accountability—as an NDPB, the new agency will be responsible to both the Home Secretary and parliamentary scrutiny in the normal way. I mentioned the Home Affairs Committee, but other mechanisms will also be used.

The co-ordination of the tasking, prioritisation and resourcing will take place through the Cabinet Committee, which will draw together a number of Departments. That will ensure that a balance is struck and that work is done with the Revenue, because none of us wants to undermine the Treasury's resources and income, not least in the lead-up to the Budget in March.

Clauses 8 to 17 set out the relationships involved in different forms of accountability between agencies. I stress the critical importance of keeping the link with activity by police authorities across the country on level 2 crime. If we lose that link, and confidence and focus are undermined at a local and regional level, that will in turn undermine the activities of the agency in operating primarily nationally and internationally but supporting and working with and behind the 43 forces in England and Wales and, where appropriate, the eight Scottish forces.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries

I have to tell my right hon. Friend that there appears to be a blurring around the edges. As he well knows, immigration is undoubtedly a reserved matter, yet crime in Scotland is a devolved issue. On issues such as serious organised immigration and Customs crime, the Bill seems to suggest that the lead agency will be the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Does that take away the devolved element of dealing with crime in Scotland?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Scottish Drugs Enforcement Agency is to remain. As part of the protocol, the Serious Organised Crime Agency will have to work out its relationships with that agency and others to ensure that where overlaps occur there is a role for the Scottish Executive. I am happy to talk to Westminster Members of Parliament from Scotland, including my hon. Friend, about any concerns that they have. It is important to get things right in what is inevitably a situation requiring co-operation and good will. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Executive for their co-operation on this matter.

Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway

Clause 11(4) provides that codes of practice should be laid before Parliament. Is it anticipated that there will be any form of affirmative procedure?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes. As my hon. and learned Friend is aware, where matters are technical and non-controversial we generally opt for the normal prayer. Where we are dealing with more controversial issues— I am happy for my hon. Friends to address this in Committee—I am willing to accept an affirmative procedure so that there can, where appropriate, be a debate on the Floor of the House in conjunction with the usual channels.

Clauses 22 to 30 deal with the operational responsibilities of the director general. The autonomy of the operation is absolutely crucial in providing the confidence that people are able to do the job properly in drawing together the various elements, including those who had the powers of the constable.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Scottish National Party, Angus

The Home Secretary will be aware that concerns have been expressed in Scotland about clauses 24 and 25, which appear to mean that an officer from south of the border could be seconded to a Scottish police force and given the powers of a police constable in Scotland. The concern centres on the fact that, as the Home Secretary is aware, Scots law and procedure can differ in important respects from English procedure. Will any person so seconded be given proper training in Scots law and procedure beforehand?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is important that people are able to work together through mutual support. For instance, we shall work with the French through Project Reflex. Let me put it as gently as I can: if we can demonstrate that we can work well with the French, we must surely be able to work even better with our Scottish colleagues. There is already common ground through working arrangements that allow for cross-border mutual support. I have assurances from Sir Stephen and Bill Hughes that that will be a priority in making things happen on the ground. The director general will be in charge of the operational side.

Clauses 31 to 34 deal with information sharing and the proper exchange of vital data. A year or two ago, there were problems in and between existing agencies. We must ensure that the Serious Organised Crime Agency is not subject to those problems. That is underpinned by recognising the importance of oversight, including by the Home Affairs Committee, of what is done in respect of data sharing and information. I wanted to put that on the record. Issues to do with gateways and information sharing are critical to doing the job, but also raise in all our minds issues that we must address.

Clauses 38 to 49 cover the conferment of the combination of powers held by the existing, separate offices that are to be brought together—as the shadow Home Secretary said—subject to the appropriate training and accreditation. Training and accreditation will be critical if people are to be able to take on the differing roles that have existed, from those in Customs to those of the constable, and will enable them to do the job, wherever they are and in whatever circumstances, much more effectively than has been possible in the past. The chairman and the director general of the new agency have been explicit in saying how crucial that will be and how vital it is that we reassure people about it. The Police Federation has expressed concern, so I want to reassure it that we are mindful of that and happy to continue the consultation.

Clause 50 is about agency staff being subject to the scrutiny and appeal mechanisms of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. During the consultation on the White Paper, concern was expressed that there would be no scrutiny and appeals mechanism where things go wrong. We want to be explicit about those procedures. In Northern Ireland, the Police Ombudsman will take on that role.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Will the Independent Police Complaints Commission be responsible for complaints only against officers of the agency who are acting in the role of constable, or will it take complaints in respect of any capacity in which an officer acts?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Once they have been designated with the powers that exist in all the agencies that are being drawn in, they will be subject to the mechanism of scrutiny by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. There is no other sensible way of doing it, and people will be reassured to know that no one can exceed or misuse their powers without being subject to that scrutiny.

Clauses 54 to 64 ensure that witnesses and others involved co-operate in the provision of documents. They extend to SOCA existing Serious Fraud Office powers that have been used sparingly by the SFO but are absolutely crucial to doing the job. Those powers will be available, in relation to organised crime only, to the police services. That will overcome the nonsense that has existed whereby agencies attempting to get to the truth by accessing documents, including those held on disk, have experienced enormous blockages when people are not prepared to hand over the information. These powers are exercised with the consent of the prosecutor and only where the evidence will be "of substantial value" to the investigation, and parameters and restrictions are in place to avoid their misuse. It will not be possible for someone to incriminate themselves. Moreover, there will be safeguards in relation to professionally privileged material; that will secure the confidence of the legal profession.

Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway

I agree entirely with all the disclosure powers, but there is a provision in clause 56(2)(c) for the director to deliver a disclosure notice where

"there are exceptional circumstances making it expedient to do so".

Those circumstances do not appear to be defined. Will they have a definition in due course?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, they will. If my hon. and learned Friend is lucky enough to be on the Committee—although I am not sure whether he would feel lucky to be there—we should value his contribution to getting this right.

Clauses 65 to 68 are about what we colloquially call turning Queen's evidence, and will put a common-law power on to a statutory footing. To give an example, similar powers are used in Australia in about 15 per cent. of convictions for drug trafficking, and in about a quarter of such convictions in the United States. In Britain, the figure is 1 per cent. There is therefore scope for us to look at this issue, with great care. I know that Members will want to examine in Committee how these provisions can operate without encouraging criminals to commit criminal acts to get themselves out of a spot. Obviously, we need to ensure that the proper powers are put in place to ensure that that does not happen.

Clauses 69 to 73 are about financial reporting orders. These measures will close the absurd loophole in which people are able to return to organised crime after they have served their sentence and, in some cases, pick up the assets that they have stashed away so that they can continue to fund and invest in their criminality. As with supervising those coming out after long sentences in other ways, the power will now be available to supervise the use of the resources still held by those individuals, including their bank accounts and other financial holdings, so that we can monitor what they are doing and link it to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and any further activity can be dealt with and any resources obtained by criminal activity can be confiscated. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that this should have been done a long time ago. The Assets Recovery Agency will be intrinsically involved, and we shall also be able to use the new powers to undertake monitoring.

Clauses 74 to 86 are about witness protection. We need to put on a statutory footing provisions involving the duty to co-operate of agencies such as housing authorities, housing associations and education authorities—in terms of being able to place the children of families who have had to be rehoused, for example. Further provisions include measures to tackle the ridiculous situation involving the disclosure of names, addresses and whereabouts of witnesses, and to ensure that this is simply about witnesses and jurors, rather than about people who have been involved in criminality.

Clauses 89 to 100 are about amending the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, and about the faster disposal and execution of cases involving civil assets. These measures will get rid of a situation that we did not foresee—it has to be said—when the massive Proceeds of Crime Bill was going through Parliament. The situation arises when, if we have not released some of the assets that an individual had, we end up having to pay legal aid in order to be able to prosecute his or her case.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

The Home Secretary might not have realised that that situation would arise, but if he reads the Hansard report of the Committee stage of that Bill, he will see that I did gently point this out to the Government at the time.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would not for a moment want to take away the hon. Gentleman's success in this regard. At about 11 o'clock tonight, I shall browse through Hansard and check the exact wording, just to make sure that that happened. I congratulate him on spotting that.

We must also deal with the issue of receivers, and with the fact that, in order to be able to get at someone's assets and to dispose of them, we need to be able to use some of the existing assets being held by the Assets Recovery Agency to pay them, rather than having to pay them from the agency and then trying to recover the cost afterwards. We shall make considerable use of these new powers, including those relating to low-value activity being dealt with through the magistrates courts and to dealing with other issues such as freezing orders, which are also contained in these clauses.

I shall touch on only the key elements of part 3—clauses 101 to 115. They include the extension of the police powers that clarify the powers of arrest. There was a very odd situation, in that certain people had to be facing a sentence of at least five years for the constable to be able to work out—through the police and criminal evidence code—whether they could engage in an arrest. In clarifying that issue, we have made the powers explicit and built in the necessary safeguards in terms of exercising them, including revisions of the PACE code and the clarification of the term "necessity" in relation to arrests. We will publish the revised PACE code on these practical issues shortly.

The Bill will also deal with the interesting issue of a criminal who moves from place to place, or who moves assets or documents from place to place, necessitating a warrant to be taken out for every single premise owned or used by that person. These measures will overcome that problem because the authorisation will relate to the purpose of the warrant, rather than to the premises.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

The Home Secretary intends, in proposed new section 24(a), to give powers of arrest without warrant to other persons. According to my reading of that, if I see my neighbour parking his car with a defective rear light and I know that he is about to fly off to Spain on holiday, I will have the power to arrest and detain him until I can summon a constable to the scene. Is that really what the Government intend to achieve?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

After the hon. Gentleman's earlier demonstration of expertise, I shall be very careful about how I answer his question. If the provision could be interpreted in that way, we shall make sure that the wording rules out such an interpretation. There will be an interesting debate in Committee about citizen's arrest more broadly, whether the person involved is going to Spain or elsewhere—[Interruption.] I am just waiting for my learned Friends behind me to help me out on this issue. Perhaps the Committee would be a more appropriate place for that discussion, however.

We then come to the issue of police staff and civilianisation. We are introducing the sensible measure to allow civilian support staff to have a role in custody suites, freeing uniformed staff to perform their tasks more sensibly out in the community.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I am hugely enthusiastic about the use of civilian staff in custody suites, but will my right hon. Friend tell us what safeguards he will put in place if he extends that measure to cover the role of the custody sergeant? One of the huge gains of the past 10 years has been the fall in the number of deaths in custody suites. While we shall make many economic gains by using civilian staff in a general role in custody suites, is my right hon. Friend absolutely certain that now is the time to extend that role to cover the duties of the custody sergeant?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am happy for us to explore this question. The issue here is the nature of the oversight involved, either by a uniformed sergeant or by the inspector based in the substantive station.

Obviously, there will not be a custody suite unless the place involved is a substantive police station, as opposed to one of the many outposts that have been developed in shopping centres, civic centres and elsewhere to oversee what is happening. My right hon. Friend, who has great knowledge of these matters, not least as a former police Minister, will be welcome in informing us about the safeguards that might be built in under such circumstances. It is true that there has been a fall in deaths and dangerous activity and in appeals in terms of how people are treated. We would want to retain that at all costs.

That brings me to police community support officers and the powers to be designated by a chief constable. These are about traffic offences and traffic direction, as well as the enforcement of licensing offences relating to antisocial behaviour driven by drink, and include being able to take details and the power of entry to off-licences. Where we are talking about pubs and clubs rather than off-licences, they would have to do this in conjunction with, and when accompanied by, a uniformed officer. Obviously, the issues involve what needs to be done to amend the law in other areas.

The Committee will want to deal with and introduce measures on the seizure of alcohol and tobacco. These relate to how we need to deal with the aftermath of Customs investigations. Furthermore, when drugs are found, we must empower police community support officers to do something about it, rather than merely note that fact, so that that can be incorporated as well.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

I welcome the measures in the Bill, particularly those that will stop the chilling impact on ordinary communities of the activities of local drug dealers and kingpins. Will the Home Secretary, not least in Committee, be cautious as we advance down the welcome road of PCSOs and neighbourhood wardens so that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater—the beat officer should be the central pillar of neighbourhood policing in a constituency such as mine, where beat officers are not being replaced and vacancies are not being filled—and PCSOs and neighbourhood wardens are complementary to, not a substitute for, effective deployment of police officers on the beat?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It is absolutely crucial that PCSOs complement and work to support the neighbourhood beat teams. They are part of those teams. Where this has been shown to work best is precisely where we have a number of constables—often led by a sergeant—with the PCSOs as part of the team, undertaking the roles most appropriate to them. We can give that absolute reassurance.

Part 4—clauses 116 to 128—is about the critical area of getting the balance right. If I have learned anything over the past three and a half years—I like to think I have, although I hope I still have quite a lot to learn—it is that we must get the balance right. We must recognise that, where there are new threats, we need new forms of acceptable input to get acceptable behaviour. However, there also needs to be a balance in securing those powers.

Photo of Mr Jon Owen Jones Mr Jon Owen Jones Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff Central

Will my right hon. Friend, in considering whether he has the balance right, look at the concerns of some of us about legislating on religious belief? Most organised religions claim that they have an exclusive truth that has been given to them. They usually say some pretty harsh things about other religions and there is a genuine danger that if one reads religious tracts one will find many reasons in the Bill to prosecute people for their religious beliefs.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will return in a moment to clauses 116 to 118 on animal rights, which I was about to deal with, so that I can answer properly my hon. Friend and others who have intervened on this issue. It is absolutely not our intention to engage in preventing people from exercising free speech. On 19 November 2001, when we were debating a measure similar to clause 119, Mr. Letwin, then shadow Home Secretary, said, quite rightly:

"I put it on record that Conservative Members recognise that the Home Secretary has a noble motive in introducing" part 5 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. It is not often that such wonderful terms as "noble motive" are used about me, so I savoured it at the time and I thought I would take the opportunity to repeat it. The right hon. Gentleman continued:

"He wants, as we want and as every Member of the House wants, to protect vulnerable religious communities. That is not an issue."—[Hansard, 19 November 2001; Vol. 375, c. 43.]

I hope it will not be an issue in Committee or when this Bill returns to the House.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I promise to give way in a moment to Members from both sides of the House, because this is an important issue. It is about reference to incitement, religious belief or lack of belief, and groups of persons defined by reference to religious belief. That is what we are seeking to deal with in extending what exists already in terms of those groups that can be defined in relation to their nationality.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. I do not doubt that he has a worthy motive—now and in November 2001—but is there not a question of ensuring that we do not infringe legitimate freedom of speech? Can he confirm what appears to be the case from the notes on clauses, which is that this offence may be committed not just with intent, but without?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

No, I do not think we can infer that. I have made a written statement to back up the debate on Second Reading, so that Members will have it for consideration in Committee. This is about the preservation of the right to legitimate freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It is also about and includes the right to engage in free and vigorous debate on religion, including the right to criticise religious beliefs and practices. It will not criminalise material just because it stirs up ridicule, prejudice, dislike, contempt, anger or similar causes. It is about inciting people in a way that will damage those individuals because of their religion, not because of their beliefs.


I don't know anyone who understands the subtlety of this aspect of the Bill. Many Human-Rights groups are extremely concerned that it will be much harder to criticise cases of systematic organised abuse that take place both in this country any abroad. A good place to start is http://www.barnabasfund.org/News/ITRHC/ITRH_AREAS_OF_CONCERN...

Submitted by d. youreallyshouldntneedtoknowthis

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

I am still perplexed because there is no definition of religion. On the 2001 census form, 5,015 people in Sheffield gave Jedi knight as their religion. I hate "Star Wars", so should I be worried?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If someone incited people because of their love of "Star Wars", or against people with a love of "Star Wars", they would be caught under existing law, but not in terms of religion. That is the whole point—

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

No, that is the point of having to bring in the new measure to provide equity of treatment in relation to faith.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way, but is there not a genuine risk that the courts will misinterpret an attack on someone's religion as an attack on the person who holds that religion? There is a real problem here as people have deeply held religious beliefs that some things, such as evil and some religions, should be hated.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Look, where there is mono-ethnicity in terms of faith and race, we apply these powers. We are attempting to ensure that the powers are available in cases where that is not the situation—that is, Muslims and Christians.

There is nothing sinister about this; people can crack jokes. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint) and I took a look at the jokes that appeared in the Evening Standard and The Guardian. Well, they might not have been very funny, but they would not be caught by this measure. People can ridicule for all they are worth, but if we genuinely want to address the issue sensibly—we need a sensible debate in Committee to ensure that we get it right—let us not have ridicule of a measure by silliness. It must be addressed philosophically, politically and practically.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire

It is sometimes said that there are two things about which people should never argue: one is politics, and the other is religion. That might strike some of us dumb. Is not there some similarity between politics and religion, in that they consider belief systems, seek to interpret and are concerned with values? If there is to be a law against religious hatred, does it follow that there should be a law against political hatred? Does not that illustrate the danger of such a law in connection with religion?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The crucial issue is incitement. Incidentally, I agree with my hon. Friend about what we were taught when we were little: my grandfather and my mother instilled in me that I should never argue about politics and religion. I got involved with the Methodist Church and became a lay preacher, and argued so much that they said that I would be better in politics than in the pulpit. I am afraid that I am therefore inflicting myself on the House rather than on the Methodist Church.

It is crucial that we home in on incitement to attack, hurt or damage people because of their faith. We are talking about incitement to hate, which leads to that hate damaging those people. We are not talking about all the things that we would expect in a free society, which I read out a moment ago: criticising beliefs, criticising practices and having a really good argument. Three years ago, we discussed these matters and nearly reached an agreement—we were within a whisker of it. In the other place, the argument was that that Act was an inappropriate vehicle for passing this clause. [Hon. Members: It was."] People are saying that it was, and that is fine. This is another vehicle, so those who said that they objected to the vehicle as opposed to the principle will now be with us, and those who objected to the principle will need to be persuaded.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

To help me in my approach to clause 119, can the Home Secretary explain what menace he is seeking to address? What is happening in society today in the United Kingdom that he wants to stop happening? That is what he has not explained, and that is what I do not understand.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We are trying to stop groups of people who are prepared verbally, communicating through writing or the internet, to incite others to hate because of someone's faith. That does not relate to the argument about their faith. For instance, we will not stop anyone proselytising—I emphasise that point, because I met those of all parties, including those in the House who have both a political and religious role, about that. It is important that we do not make a mockery and a monkey of the law, and I would not want Parliament to engage in such debate. I just want to ensure that people out there who feel threatened, which they do, who feel that society is not embracing them, which they do, and who feel that the existing law relating to mono-faith, in terms of nationality and faith, protects such people—those who incite hatred—but does not protect them, are covered. That is why we are seeking to extend the law.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

I apologise to the Home Secretary as I have not heard all of his speech. On this point, however, is it not important that the clause puts right an injustice? No Muslims have available to them the present redress which members of other faiths have because their faith coincides with their ethnicity. Putting right that injustice is a fair reason for the clause.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is exactly what we are attempting to do. I can feel the differences of opinion that will exist within political parties in the House as well as between them. [Hon. Members: "This is cross-party."] That is what I have just said. I can hear the differences that exist within as well as between political parties.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall give way to Rev. Ian Paisley—I was going to call him learned as well, although I do not think that he has a law degree. He came to see me and we had a vigorous conversation, which did me far more good than it did him.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

The Home Secretary is dealing with the issue of interpretation. Who will interpret whether a statement that is contrary to the views of people who think differently religiously is incitement? Were a Protestant to look at the Book of Common Prayer, he would see many things that would be absolutely anathema to a Roman Catholic. Are those things incitement? I advise Members to read the Book of Common Prayer and see that, because some people who think that they have read it have never done so. We must be careful that we do not put the courts into a position in which they must be interpreters of what is and is not incitement. I would think that incitement would be a clear call from a person to attack others if they had a certain belief, which is already covered in the law.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The issue is incitement to hate. The things to which the hon. Gentleman has referred would not be caught. I was thinking about this last night as I went to the Archbishop's Advent service. We were singing a hymn, which begins, "Thy Kingdom come, O God, Thy rule, O Christ, begin". That includes the verse,

"Men scorn Thy sacred Name,

And wolves devour Thy fold".

We are not talking about the issue of a particular faith's expression; we are talking about people using the faith of individuals to incite hate by others, so that they take actions that are unacceptable.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

We all agree that right-thinking people should express themselves in moderate terms about others, including individuals whom they might heartily dislike, but the Bill as drafted will cover devil worshippers' sects and satanists. Why should people not tell others that they should hate and dislike people who have cruel or depraved religious beliefs?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We can deal with satan worshippers quite easily through the law. What we would not want to do is to incite people to do something themselves against them—[Interruption.] This is about upholding the rule of law. It is about ensuring that where there are loopholes that exclude a particular group because they are a faith group, as opposed to a nationality, they can be included. I do not want people going out inciting others against devil worshippers; I want to deal with the devil worshipping in whatever form it takes.

It is probably best that we deal with the detail in Committee. [Hon. Members: "The devil is in the detail."] The devil is in the detail. Game, set and match.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

For the avoidance of doubt, I respect absolutely the Home Secretary's integrity and good motives in relation to this clause. What my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin, the former shadow Home Secretary, said on that subject is very sound indeed. We must be specific, however. Can I put it to the Home Secretary that were the offence narrowly defined in terms of incitement to hatred to practise violence, that would greatly assist matters? Narrowing down the matter in that way, which, periodically, sub-clauses of his sentences suggested, would aid us. If it is too broad and amorphous, however, it does not aid us at all.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The difficulty with that is that we are talking about incitement to hate, which causes others to take the action. If the action taken were the issue, the other clause that we passed in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which was about aggravation, would apply. It is incitement to taking the action that is the crucial issue.

I did not answer the hon. Member for North Antrim on the issue of the gateway or lock, and I should have done. As a filter, through the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney-General will have a hand in determining the way in which this operates. Of course, we will test case law in the courts in any case, in relation to how it would operate, should the House pass the clause.

I have tried to respond directly to questions rather than simply going through the Bill, but I now wish to return to clauses 116 to 118. They will enable us to deal with an important issue on which I think there is unanimity: animal rights extremists, or rather the protection of those going about their lawful business—including commercial business—under the very strict licensing that we have. As we have said before, the issue of economic sabotage is under discussion. I have lumbered my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State with further meetings about it, which I am sure she has set in train.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge

I welcome the measures to deal with animal extremism, which is very damaging to many of my constituents working in the biotech industry, but I was reassured by my right hon. Friend's statement that other measures would be considered. I do not think that the measures in the Bill will be sufficient to ensure that important medical advances will not be damaged by animal rights extremists.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We must not only consider what additional powers may be required, but use existing mechanisms, such as the national co-ordinator. We must not rely purely on changing the law; we need much more effective enforcement and immediate action. I think that there has already been a transformation.

I pay tribute to Members on both sides of the House with constituency interests, who have been extremely helpful in working with us, and to outside organisations, including the companies involved. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who has worked extremely hard with my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry. The experience of getting two Departments and their Ministers to work together has been very instructive.

Harassment, alarm or distress will be dealt with by directing protesters and banning them from the locality for up to three months. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 will be amended to cover two or more connective persons. All that will make a big difference, and we look forward to discussing it in Committee.

Clauses 120 to 122 deal with trespass. They arise from the investigation that followed an intrusion in Windsor castle. Clauses 123 and 124 follow recommendations by the Procedure Committee. They have been described by some, including me, as a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but sometimes a sledgehammer is needed for that purpose, and this is a tough nut. It is important for people, including protesters, to be able to go about their business, and for people coming to our capital city to be able to enjoy the environment surrounding the Palace of Westminster. It is daft that we should have to pass a law for the purpose, but that is what happens when people make a monkey of the existing law.

Clauses 125 to 128 are an extension of work on antisocial behaviour. They allow local communities to be involved in the justice system by ensuring that breaches of antisocial behaviour orders can be publicised, so that people can see who is doing what and where it is being done. Proposals for civil compensation orders will be presented in Committee. Such orders will require parents to pay compensation when young children—children under 10, say—have deliberately committed criminal damage and caused harassment and damage to other people. At present nothing can be done in such cases. Our measures will reinforce parental responsibility and the importance of taking the consequences of one's actions.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Riverside

Will the Home Secretary ensure that the legislation can adapt to new information? That is relevant to the new community justice centre that is being established in my constituency.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Our proposals are very much concerned with ensuring that the community can not only monitor justice, but participate and be a positive force for justice. I hope that the new community justice centre, which I think will start functioning on Thursday, will prove to be an exemplar, showing that vigilante justice can be replaced by genuine neighbourhood and community justice. I saw that happening at Red Hook, and the Lord Chief Justice, who was enthusiastic about Red Hook when he saw it, agrees entirely with what we are doing. I believe that it will make a real difference to people's lives.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

The clauses dealing with trespass and extending antisocial behaviour orders are welcome, but does either of them, or any other clause, constitute a peg for action to deal with something that concerns a great many members of all parties—the continuing difficulties caused by some Travellers when they alight in our constituencies? Is there any possibility that that could be dealt with by means of amendment or further Government proposals during the Bill's progress?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

It falls under the auspices of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, but we are considering the unique situation that has arisen. As my hon. Friend knows, existing powers were extended in the antisocial behaviour legislation and the Housing Act 2004; but the purchase of land and the subsequent unauthorised encampment and building on it has been almost unique to the past two or three years, and has changed the perspective. I shall be happy to discuss ways of tackling it with the Deputy Prime Minister.

The miscellaneous measures in the Bill include powers to seize uninsured vehicles. It is a remarkable fact that one vehicle in 20 is uninsured, adding £30 to the premiums of other vehicle users. That is an absolute scandal. Our provision is linked with a Bill that will shortly be presented by the Department for Transport.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight PPS (Ms Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department of Health

My right hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. I am grateful to him.

I welcome this measure. My right hon. Friend will know of my campaign to bridge the gap between the offences of careless driving and causing death by dangerous driving. Would he consider introducing a new charge, such as causing death by driving, to achieve that, with the possibility of aggravated offences to apply to those driving without insurance or without having ever passed a driving test?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I want to link the review that we have been undertaking to further substantive consultation early in the new year, alongside the DfT's Bill, with the aim of securing a definition. I was pleased to be able to discuss the matter with my hon. Friend at length. Like a number of other Members on both sides of the House, he has been campaigning for a change in the law, and a revision is clearly necessary. However, as with so much to do with the Home Office, getting it right is not the same as having the right intention.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The Home Secretary knows that I have a great deal of sympathy with what was said by Jim Knight, but may I return him to the impounding of uninsured cars? It worries me that police authorities do not always pursue prosecution for non-insurance when other charges are pending, or when the associated bureaucracy seems onerous. Will the Home Secretary associate himself with a general condemnation of that approach? Police constables should prosecute in such cases, not just through impounding but through the full force of the law.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am a great enthusiast for the picking up of all offenders. If it is possible for us to make the process of dealing with them through the prosecution service more sophisticated, and make it as easy as possible for the police to deal with prosecutions together rather than separately, we should try to do so. The right hon. Gentleman has made a very reasonable point.

The miscellaneous provisions also deal with the minimum information to be given to the public about their police authorities, and bring the royal parks into the Metropolitan police family.

All those measures bring together the necessary powers, local changes, the structures that oversee them, the new arrangements for accountability and the linking of the international with the neighbourhood. I believe that they will make a substantial difference in protecting us from organised criminality, engaging people positively with the criminal justice system and bringing confidence to everyone—

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way; I sensed his peroration and I wanted to ask him a final question. He has generously suggested that in considering this important Bill in Committee, many important debates should take place and many important matters should be considered in detail. Indeed, amendments might even be made to it; who knows? However, is he satisfied that the time allowed in the programme motion will be remotely sufficient to enable the taking place of the process that he himself has suggested should take place here in the House of Commons?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As far as I am aware, we reached an agreement on the Bill's programming, and we introduced Second Reading as quickly as was humanly possible. I am offering the opportunity for such debate, and where measures can be improved, we should do so. I make that offer in respect of consideration both in Committee and on Report.

I shall not go back to my peroration, in case someone else decides to intervene. This is a practical Bill with a practical application. It is about making a difference to people's lives, and I am very happy to recommend it to the House.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 1:41 pm, 7th December 2004

During last week's debate on the Queen's Speech, I told the Home Secretary that the Conservative party supports the establishment of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. I shall attempt to follow him as best I can, although not, the House will be happy to know, in considering every clause in the Bill.

The Opposition have advocated the creation of such an agency for a long time, so I repeat our support for it today, but the Government must not fudge this proposal as they have some other Conservative ones. The establishment of an effective agency is fundamental to Britain's ability to fight organised and serious crime. I am always concerned that a policy that enjoys all-party support might turn out very badly if it does not get rigorous scrutiny.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I knew that I would get support from my right hon. Friend for that point, at least, which is particularly true where civil liberties are concerned. So although my party supports the establishment of SOCA, we will consider parts 1 and 2 of the Bill very carefully.

The agency takes up only some 50 per cent. of the Bill, and it is perhaps appropriate that a so-called SOCA Bill is a Bill of two halves. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I knew the House would like that one. But we are pleased to see the inclusion of clauses aimed at stopping harassment by animal rights activists, and we hope to have a sensible discussion on them in Committee, and to add further to such provisions to ensure that communities, companies and individuals have adequate protection against pernicious activists.

But the rest of the Bill is an exercise in tidying-up Labour ideas that have failed to deliver the anticipated results. It also lumps together proposals that we support with some that we do not. It gives more power to community support officers, out-sources antisocial behaviour orders, attempts to stop the breaching of ASBOs, expands police powers, introduces new traffic and insurance offences, provides powers to stop and search for fireworks, introduces an offence of incitement to religious hatred, stops trespassing on a designated site, and—Members seem to be very interested in this one—directs behaviour in the vicinity of Parliament. There is more, but that shows the range of initiatives that the Government are trying to smuggle through in this Bill. The title of the Bill suggests a focus on organised crime and the police, but it does far more than that.

SOCA is much needed, but it is going to have its work cut out, as the Home Secretary himself seemed to recognise. Let us consider drug trafficking, which is one of its prime targets. An estimated 35 million tonnes of heroin and 45 million tonnes of cocaine are smuggled into the United Kingdom each year. The Bill may well attack the racketeers, but—at the risk of giving a Blairite sermon to the Home Secretary—it is an attack on the symptoms of crime, not the causes. The Home Secretary himself said that criminals are better capitalists than real capitalists. He will of course understand that I would not put it that way, but it is certainly true that the international trade in drugs is a fluid and fast-changing marketplace. It is therefore hard to stamp out the supply chain: when one importation route closes, another opens. As The Economist recently said,

"against Mafia-style cartels, the police might have succeeded . . . they are less likely to prevail against the invisible hand of the market".

Again, that is not the phrase I would have picked, but it makes the point.

So although SOCA will be useful in breaking up the cartels, that by itself is not enough. That is why I raised with the Home Secretary on various occasions my concern at the Government's abject failure in eradicating Afghan opium crops. To stop the drugs trade, one has to disrupt supply as well as demand; however, that job will be made much harder as a result of our porous borders. Many of our points of entry currently lack the rigorous security measures that would make organised crime much harder to carry out. This issue has been raised with the Home Office, in the context of SOCA, by various senior police officers, so I hope that we will see more work on that front later this year.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

Following decades of abject failure in Colombia—all the efforts there have not reduced the production of drugs; in fact, they have reduced that country to bloody chaos and permanent war—are we not doing the same thing in Afghanistan, where drug production has increased? Even if we were successful in decreasing production, it would then spread to Pakistan, Myanmar and Kazakhstan, just as production in Colombia has spread to Peru and Bolivia. Is not trying to solve the problems on the streets of Birmingham and Chicago by disrupting the economies of third-world countries futile, and is there not a grave danger that we are embarking on the "Colombia-isation" of much of central Asia?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman has an honourable but very different view of drugs management from mine. He is a liberaliser, and he knows that I disagree with him, although I respect his view. I did not intend to dwell on this point, but the simple fact is that the British Government accepted responsibility for eradication of the drugs trade in Afghanistan, and having done so they should pursue that responsibility. However, I am told by American drug officers, among others, that last year, Afghan heroin flooded the British market and that this year, because of our lack of action, it is flooding the world market. That disastrous outcome is the result of the Government's taking responsibility but not carrying it through. If the hon. Gentleman believes in his argument, he should have made it to his own Government at the beginning of this process, so that somebody else could have taken responsibility for dealing with the problem.

People trafficking was described yesterday by Sir Stephen Lander as a bigger problem even than drug smuggling. In truth, that has been apparent for at least five years. He admits that the UK is at or near the top of the list of targets for people smugglers, as it is for drug smugglers. We all know of the vicious criminal networks that people traffickers feed, using illegal immigrants in the drugs trade, the sex trade and many other illegal activities. The Home Secretary doubtless does not disagree with that, although he admits to not knowing how many people are in the country illegally. Any number of initiatives, new organisations and schemes can be concocted, but the most effective measures would surely be 24-hour, fully manned surveillance and embarkation controls.

We are now told that SOCA will not be the British FBI that some feared, but as I pointed out to the Home Secretary during his speech, we are concerned about the rights and powers of those who will work for it. Civilians who work for it will be given police, Customs and immigration powers. Traditionally, Parliament has given police, Customs and immigration officers specific, often very intrusive, powers that are needed for their particular tasks. Now, they will all be under the direction of one man—the director-general—and in theory, under his control any agent can exercise any one of a wide range of powers.

I was going to ask the Home Secretary what guidance will be given in that regard, but he elaborated on the issue somewhat in his speech and discussed the restrictions with respect to accreditation. However, I hope that, in winding up, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Caroline Flint, will explain whether civilian agents will have the same training as a police, Customs and immigration officer combined. That would be a pretty onerous load, but such training is implicit in what the Home Secretary said.

The Bill's provisions make the agency accountable to the Home Secretary, and in that regard my initial reading of the Bill was a little different from the Home Secretary's description in his speech. SOCA will be required to submit an annual report and will be inspected by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. But given the agency's range of powers and its importance, would it not be wise to have specific arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny—I am thinking beyond just scrutiny by the Home Affairs Committee, because in the first few years of SOCA's existence such a requirement will be fairly onerous—and to get Parliament to debate SOCA's work annually, at least for the first few years, so that we can see how this very important agency beds down?

We are still concerned about whether the agency will lead to a skills loss in the national police force. We share the Police Federation's concerns that SOCA might be considered an elite unit that creams off all the best policemen. There are a large number of extremely dedicated and talented people in conventional policing, and portraying them as second class would damage police morale. We will look in detail at the way in which SOCA co-ordinates its work with the police—the Home Secretary has recognised the importance of that. In particular, we will look at the impact of the new agency on the autonomy of chief constables, which is vital to the independence of our police forces.

The Home Secretary has previously pointed out in the House that organised crime plays an important role in feeding terrorism. I accept that the new agency does not have a specific role in relation to terrorism, but I should be grateful if, in her winding-up speech, the Under-Secretary provided more detail on its role. How, for example, will it work with the counter-terrorism agencies, which cover an enormous amount of the same ground? In connection with that, when the Home Secretary published the White Paper on SOCA earlier this year, there was much talk of changes to the intercept rules, which would make it possible to lift the ban on phone intercepts in court. That is as useful against organised crime as it is against terrorism. The House of Commons library notes that

"a proposal to allow the use of intercept material is still under consideration. Ministers are expected to announce their conclusions on the findings of a Home Office review before the end of the year, which could make it possible to add new clauses".

I told the Home Secretary that we would support the use of intercepts as long as there was proper scrutiny of the measure to ensure that steps are taken to protect innocent people from being convicted on intelligence that turns out to be wrong. However, I warn him that we will not tolerate the insertion of clauses that pose a fundamental challenge to civil liberties at the last minute and without scrutiny. That is an extremely important point.

The Bill proposes an overhaul of police powers. It moves away from consent-based policing towards policing by discretion. Amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 extend powers to search premises to seize evidence. Section 8 of PACE is changed to introduce a new all-premises search warrant in addition to the existing search warrant for specific premises, thus allowing constables to search all premises "occupied or controlled" by the person named on the warrant. That it is worth while, as it will clearly help to solve problems faced by the police when dealing with criminals with multiple premises, but are the Government not concerned that the measures put a great deal of discretionary power in the hands of the police? The Bill outlines plans for civilian staff to be designated as staff custody officers for the purposes of PACE. Subject to the obvious practical concerns about training and supervision, some of which the Home Secretary dealt with in his speech, I support the proposal. We need more police on the streets and less paperwork, and I believe that it will help to achieve that.

Moving on to measures to deal with illegal animal rights activism, the clauses themselves are not contested at all by the Conservative party. We welcome the fact that something is finally being done, even though it is a little late and is not enough. The Bill should include provisions to protect companies against a targeted campaign and to protect shareholders or names from publicity when a company is being targeted. We can make constructive proposals to tackle such problems. The legislation must be effective, and fighting against such offences requires determination, skill, and a proper range of powers. We believe that the provisions should be expanded, and we will table amendments to that effect.

There are some parts of the Bill with which do not entirely agree or with which we disagree. We are concerned about the increased powers for community support officers—a group of people whose effectiveness has yet to be assessed. In his contribution to our debate on the Queen's Speech, the Home Secretary admitted that assessments of CSOs are still under way, both within and outside the Home Office. It may be premature to provide CSOs with more powers, as that may put them into situations for which they are not prepared. The chairman of the Police Federation said:

"The role of CSOs must be fully clarified before a national roll-out, and there must be national standards for their training, which is commensurate with their responsibilities".

I agree.

We respect and support the concept of visible policing, but with more power comes more responsibility along with more duty which, under this Government, means more paperwork, thus cutting the cost-effectiveness of CSOs—their primary attraction, it appears, to the Government so far. That "powers creep" is taking place at a time when forces such as Hampshire have turned down the extra CSOs ring-fenced for them. The chairman of Hampshire Police Authority said that

"we want properly-trained warrant holding police officers . . . we do not feel that these individuals are value for money".

Hampshire wanted the 13 police officers that that money would have provided. In Question Time last week—and I do not know whether the Home Secretary chastised him afterwards—the Prime Minister made an unusually interesting comment, when he said of policemen that

"we shall continue supplanting them with community support officers."—[Hansard, 1 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 628.]

That may have been a slip of the tongue, but it was certainly revealing. The public do not want policing on the cheap, which is precisely what the Bill is trying to encourage. They want fully trained police officers whom they can trust to cut crime.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Gentleman quoted the Prime Minister correctly, but at the time we all took it—he clarified it for me afterwards—that he meant "supplementing". [Interruption.] Well, he did.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I accept the Home Secretary's correction. He obviously chastised the Prime Minister, but he will forgive me for using the word that appears in Hansard, not the word that he was given later.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

Was it not a Freudian slip, because as I recall, it was the policy of the Conservative Government to employ civilians to release police to go out on the beat? However, it appears to be the policy of the Labour Government to employ quasi-civilians to release police so that they can spend their time in offices doing paperwork.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

My right hon. Friend is partly right. One of our concerns about CSOs is that they should not be there to supplant but to supplement or complement police officers.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Harking back momentarily to clauses 116 to 118, on the protection of individuals engaged in animal research, of course, the Government are absolutely right to act, and two of my constituents who work at Huntingdon Life Sciences will be delighted that the Home Secretary has done so. However, does my right hon. Friend not accept that his brief exchange about language underlines the important point that sometimes Governments should be concerned not simply to legislate, regulate and act but to speak out alongside legislation in support of valuable work? Animal research is not an evil to be tolerated—it is something of profound benefit to the country. The more speeches from the Home Secretary and his right hon. and hon. Friends in support of that proposition, the better.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

My hon. Friend is quite right, and puts it better than I could. As I have said, the Government need to show determination and resolution in public as often as possible. Indeed, this is probably the only occasion on which I shall encourage the Home Secretary to make more speeches rather than fewer.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the issue of CSOs, could I entice him to south Wales, so that he could talk to police officers who, two years ago, were profoundly cynical and sceptical about the introduction of CSOs in areas such as the Rhondda, where there is a low level of crime but quite a high level of antisocial behaviour? Those officers are now universally in favour of CSOs.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I am tempted to tell the hon. Gentleman that I will do so only if he comes with me to Hampshire, but I might be misunderstood. However, I told the Home Secretary that we need a full review, which will consider the sort of evidence that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I do not object to CSOs, as long as they are additional to the police—that is the point that I was making about the word "supplanting". [Interruption.] Well, they are not. In Hampshire, for example, there is a ring-fenced funding for CSOs, and the force will not get police officers instead. We must look at the way in which CSOs work and identify their strengths and weaknesses before delivering change. In the run-up to an election, the Government appear to be in a devil of a hurry to make a series of changes that do not appear to be based on fact but on their wish to be seen as tough on crime, whatever the evidence of the past seven years.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I am afraid not, as I want to turn to the most contentious part of the Bill. The measure is about 220 pages long, but I have serious difficulty with two pages—the rest, one way or another, we can broadly support. As the Home Secretary knows, the part on which we fundamentally disagree is the provisions dealing with incitement to religious hatred. I understand and have considerable sympathy with the Government's aims in trying to prevent religious hatred. I associate myself at the Dispatch Box with my predecessor's comments, which were quoted by the Home Secretary, about his noble aims.

There is no dispute over the aims, but I sometimes wonder whether the Government understand the implications of their proposals. A simple change to previous legislation it may be, making it an offence to stir up religious hatred, but its impact will be profound, wide-reaching and not necessarily that intended. Indeed, the effect may be the opposite of that intended, as I shall explain.

For centuries the United Kingdom has had a tradition of religious tolerance, and at the same time a tradition of extremely robust religious disputation. That has produced a healthy society in which religious freedom and free speech have coexisted to the advantage of all. These joint freedoms have contributed in no small measure to the intellectual vigour of our society over those same centuries. They spawned the creativity that fostered a wealth of talent in many areas, from science to satire. Freedom of speech is one of the great virtues and simultaneously one of the great strengths of our society. The danger is that the Bill will curb that freedom of speech without any benefit being realised from the legislation.

The Bill curbs freedom of speech where free speech is entirely appropriate. Unlike race, religion is a matter of choice—choice of beliefs, values, practices and behaviour. It is quite proper that such things should be debated and contested, and the proposed curb is almost entirely unnecessary. Words intended to provoke violence or cause alarm, distress or harassment are all caught by existing laws. The Bill would sacrifice freedom of speech for little or no gain. The drafting is so ill defined that it is not even clear what is meant by religion. The provision is drafted so widely that any sect or cult could be covered by it.

Religion and race should not be put in the same category. As my hon. Friend Mr. Grieve, the shadow Attorney- General, commented to the Home Secretary earlier, what if an individual made remarks about a sect, cult or religion such as satanism, attacking it for cruelty or deviance? Will such groups have a case against the individual? They would, so far as I can tell, under the Bill. The two examples cited in today's written ministerial statement would be covered by existing laws if they led to violence or harassment, so why do we need to introduce new provisions?

I am sure the Home Secretary is aware that similar—not identical—legislation was introduced in Victoria, Australia. At present two Christian pastors are on trial for holding a seminar on Islam. The seminar was designed to educate Christians about the concept of jihad. Three Muslims came to the seminar and afterwards filed a complaint against the pastors, saying that the seminar vilified Muslims. People who initially supported the law in Australia have now realised its disastrous consequences. The Government may say that the Bill states that cases will have to be approved by the Attorney-General, but does the Home Secretary not understand that in the highly politicised environment in which the decision to prosecute will have been made, the impartiality of the Attorney-General will be undermined?

There are many incalculable ramifications of the Bill. It might encourage hostile legal action between religions or even within a religion, between different sects. It might deter publication of controversial texts. It might even cause resentment against those whom it sets out to help. Worst of all, it starts from the wrong premise.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Not at this point.

The Bill starts from the wrong premise. Britain learned long ago the paradox that more freedom of speech leads to more vigorous debate, which leads to more tolerance. Evil ideas should be met with challenge. The best remedy for evil ideas is more speech, not less speech. We will support the Bill on Second Reading, but we do so on the understanding that we will seek to remove the relevant provisions from the Bill. We, too, oppose religious hatred, but we will do so by using our traditional freedoms, not by suppressing them.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:04 pm, 7th December 2004

I was hoping to welcome the Bill, believing it to be a serious organised crime Bill, and I do welcome it, in large part. It is perhaps a reflection of the rather excessive personality of the Home Secretary that he could not leave it as a serious organised crime Bill. Introducing a seasonal note, if the Bill were a Christmas tree, it would be so overloaded with baubles that it would have fallen over long ago. At my count, it contains at least 22 measures in addition to the establishment of the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

We are given to understand that serious organised crime encompasses search on suspicion of harbouring a firework, the power of arrest for dropping a sweet paper, and dear Mr. Brian Haw in Parliament square. Those do not fall within my definition of serious organised crime, but I understand that we are nearing the end of a Parliament and the Home Secretary wishes to clear his filing cabinets of all the measures that he has not managed to introduce in any of the previous Bills that he has put before the House, so we must do what we can to subject them to proper scrutiny.

We have 155 clauses before us. On most of them, we broadly agree with the direction in which the Home Secretary is taking us. Some of them cover serious matters—disclosure in court procedure, for instance, is not a matter to be lightly dismissed and will need our scrutiny. Harassment in relation to animal experimentation is a matter of huge importance and I welcome the fact that the Government are taking it forward. We have already had a substantive debate on incitement to religious hatred, and I shall return to that.

My favourite clause, from my quick reading of the Bill in its initial stages, has not yet been mentioned, as it is not considered to be the most important clause. It is a quintessential piece of Home Office drafting. Clause 107, which deals with the photographing of suspects, states that a person may be photographed elsewhere than at a police station

"(a) with the appropriate consent; or

(b) if the appropriate consent is withheld or it is not practicable to obtain it, without it."

That seems to cover most circumstances, and I applaud the drafting for its comprehensiveness.

I shall deal first with the single agency. I do not often urge the Home Secretary to go further than he has done in any of the measures that he introduces, but in this case his proposals are modest. I support them because in the modern age of organised, international and national crime we need an agency capable of dealing with it. Our traditionally structured police forces cannot adequately meet those demands. That is why integrating the work of various agencies in a comprehensive way is the right way forward.

Other categories of crime that go well beyond police authority boundaries encompass different specialties and could probably, and could possibly in future, be incorporated into the working of the agency. I would support that, not because I want to establish a national police force under the Home Secretary's control, but because I want to free chief constables and local constabularies to deal with that which should be their first priority. At present, they have a large number of national and international distractions. Those are important and must be dealt with but, at the risk of sounding like the TV programme, "The League of Gentlemen", we sometimes forget that local police are there to deal with local crime for local people. That must be a key priority of local policing. The resources of chief constables are often under enormous pressure to deal with matters that go well beyond that definition. Therefore, I hope that the agency will prove to be a wider resource that enables our chief constables and police forces to crack down hard on crime in local neighbourhoods more effectively.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I do not want this intervention to be regarded as evidence of an insatiable ambition to sit on the Standing Committee, as I entertain no such ambition. However, he said that the Bill covered almost everything but the kitchen sink. Will he enlighten me as to why we need clauses 129 to 131, which deal with vehicle registration and road traffic offences? The Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001, which passed through this House under the auspices of the Home Secretary's predecessor, the present Foreign Secretary, dealt with those matters, and I do not understand why they should need to be addressed in this Bill. I presume that they do need to be so addressed, but I should like to be enlightened.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I have no difficulty with those particular clauses, but one always wonders why the Home Office did not think of a particular provision in the last Bill that it presented to the House. Every Session, half a dozen Bills come from the Home Office. Another one is always due, and there is always plentiful opportunity for provisions to be attached to whichever legislative vehicle happens to be passing. That is the case here.

I want to return to SOCA. I pay tribute to its predecessor organisations in policing terms, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad. I was involved with NCIS at an early stage in its genesis, as I sat on the standing committee—the predecessor of the service committee—that was set up by the previous Home Secretary to oversee the organisation. I believe that NCIS has done a tremendous job in providing and underpinning intelligence used by the police on a national basis. I hope that the lessons learned in the development of the two predecessor agencies will be incorporated in the ethos and context of the new agency.

However, some concerns remain. A principal concern affected the development of the regional crime squads and the National Crime Squad, and it has to do with the interface between national bodies and local constabularies. The feeling is that important areas of crime—and category 2 crimes are an obvious example—may slip between the two jurisdictions. In the early days of the NCS, there was a strong feeling of discontinuity in that respect, and it is possible that there may be a new discontinuity in terms of intelligence sharing. We have corrected one difficulty by creating the new agency, but we may also be developing another problem. It is very important that that turns out not to be the case.

Questions remain about the status of officers. The Home Secretary knows the views of the Police Federation on this matter, which has rightly stressed the important concept of the officer-constable. We discard that at our peril, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman listens very carefully to what the federation has to say. The problem has practical consequences if officers are dissuaded from joining the new agency simply because they do not like the status or conditions attached. That is a matter of serious concern.

There are proper concerns about the Bill's application in Scotland, which was touched on in an intervention. I do not think that we have got to the bottom of this matter, but I am grateful to the Home Secretary for the conciliatory nature of his response. It is clear that work is still in progress, but we do have to question what happens when an officer belonging to the new agency operates in Scotland. The Scottish judicial system and police arrangements are totally different from ours, and it is possible that difficulties will arise as a result.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

My hon. Friend visits a point that I consider to be of supreme importance in the context of this Bill. I have raised this matter in the House already. I am not sure that it needs to be dealt with in the Bill, but does my hon. Friend agree that training lies at the heart of the problem? To put it simply, does he agree that people must not take on the powers of a constable in Scotland unless they have been properly trained in Scots law and procedure?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That is absolutely right. For instance, familiarity with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which applies to England and Wales, would not be sufficient to allow an officer to operate in Scotland. Specific training needs to be given, and I hope that we will be able to explore that in Standing Committee.

My final point in respect of SOCA has to do with accountability. We have already touched on that to a certain extent, but I was glad to hear that the agency will fall within the remit of the Home Affairs Committee. That important fact was not clear before today, but why has the Home Secretary taken the view that the new agency should have no service authority? Both NCIS and the NCS had one. In effect the right hon. Gentleman has taken on direct responsibility for the new body. Presumably, strong arguments were made in respect of why service authorities were required for the predecessor bodies, and I expect that similarly strong arguments have been made to explain why no such authority is needed now.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I should like to take this opportunity to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. We have put a majority of non-executives on the new strategic board because we believe that it will be more streamlined and effective as a result—including, of course, when it comes to holding the director general to account.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Home Secretary, and that is another matter for exploration later.

I do not take issue with the Government on the new proposals for disclosure. The Bill's extension of existing powers will clearly be of value, but I am worried about how they will be safeguarded to ensure safe trial. I shall return to that question later.

As I understand it, the Bill puts on a statutory footing the current situation in respect of plea bargaining. I have no problem with that, although some reservations are inevitable when it comes to total immunity from prosecution, which is a major concession to make to a person. Will the fact that total immunity has been granted to a witness be made known to the jury that hears his or her evidence? It is possible that the granting of total immunity could affect the validity or credibility of the evidence that is provided.

The Bill's provisions with regard to the national witness protection scheme are sensible and necessary, and I look forward to supporting them.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

The national witness protection scheme appears excellent, but it defines a witness as a "witness in proceedings". Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that could exclude people compelled to give evidence under the terms of the disclosure notice? In serious fraud cases, there is probably no need to protect people in that position, but in other cases such witnesses are likely to come under threat from the Mr. Big involved as soon as the notice is served. Should not those witnesses be subsumed in the witness protection measures too?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right, both in what she says and in her concern about what is not made explicit in the Bill. That is something that we can explore at greater length in Standing Committee. Also, I want to make certain that the same level of protection is provided for witnesses in failed prosecutions as in successful ones. That is essential to making sure that people are ready to come forward with appropriate information.

I think that the Government have got themselves into a bit of a pickle in connection with the general power of arrest. I do not understand why they have adopted the approach evident in the Bill. In this country, the problem is that there is no clear differentiation between misdemeanours and felonies, as there is in other jurisdictions. The police and criminal evidence review examined this matter in 2002, and it acknowledged that there was a difficulty of definition. We understand that, but the review explicitly rejected the removal of distinctions that the Government are now proposing. Why have the Government rejected the review's proposal? The review was explicit on that point:

"The Review recommends creating a definitive list of powers to arrest, complemented by information on how they can and should be applied. This should link to more enhanced training."

I agree, and I would even accept the obverse of that suggestion—a comprehensive list of offences to which no power of arrest applied, which would be a different way to approach the same issue. Providing no distinction allows an officer to arrest for trivial reasons, which would take us dangerously close to the sus approach—and I thought that we had moved away from that. It worries me, and we need to consider it with much more care.

The benefit that the Home Secretary adduced for the change—that it removes the necessity for discretion—is not true. The police officer has to exercise discretion as to whether the offence that he thought he was arresting someone for fell within the definition. He will now have to exercise a different discretion, as outlined in the Bill. All it will do is substitute one discretion for another without improving clarity. That proposal needs more work.

We have been clear in our support for community support officers, not in supplanting but in supplementing the police service. We have also been clear that we do not want to see a steady accretion of power to community support officers so that they become indistinguishable in power, but not in training, from properly trained police officers. I fear that we are moving towards that situation. It makes sense for CSOs to have some of the traffic powers they will be given, but the powers of arrest could create difficulties. They could also put CSOs at risk unnecessarily and we should draw back from granting them those powers.

I strongly support the harassment clauses. The House must stand up and be counted by saying clearly that those who engage in animal research do so with our blessing, for the betterment of mankind. They deserve to be protected from people who take a contrary view. Those people are entitled to take a contrary view, but they are not entitled to harass or threaten physical violence. We have already made huge changes in our approach to animal experimentation. When I was at university, I was issued with a vivisection licence as an undergraduate on matriculation. That does not happen now and I am glad, because there was no justification for me to undertake animal experiments as a first-year undergraduate. Things have changed and we should recognise that. We should be aware of the need to take a sensitive view of animal experimentation, but violence against individuals on that basis cannot be condoned.

The most difficult issue addressed by the Bill is incitement to religious hatred. No one in the House wishes to allow or promote incitement to religious hatred and I do not doubt the intentions of the Home Secretary in introducing this legislation. It is unacceptable for people to promote hatred against any group of people defined on the basis of their religion, which is often a cipher for racial hatred. Let us be clear about that. However, that does not stop me having serious doubts about the form in which the Government have chosen to bring forward this legislation.

I accept the difficulties involved, but the dialogue has not been sufficiently conclusive to allay the genuine concerns of a strange alliance between evangelicals and comedians. That alliance suggests that the Government have not got it right. We must be explicit about regarding incitement to religious hatred as unacceptable, but it is equally unacceptable for our law to prevent the expression of any religious belief or none. We should also accept the sensible expression of satiric intent or humour. We must strike that balance. There are genuine concerns about the present proposals and we will need to explore them in Committee and on Report. Unless we get them right, they will not be acceptable to the House or to the other place. It is incumbent on us to get them right, if we possibly can.

The Home Secretary is eager to help some faith groups through this measure, but there are more important issues, such as ensuring no discrimination in the provision of goods or services. In practical terms, that is more important than the measure before us today. Let us have a sensible debate, without ascribing motives that do not exist.

It is hard to compress one's remarks on the Bill because it covers so many issues. However, I cannot finish without mentioning the specific proposals for Parliament square. Members on both sides of the House will have varying views about the almost permanent demonstration in Parliament square, but I reject the introduction of new criminal legislation to deal with what is essentially an ad hominem problem that can be dealt with by civil sanction. If there is a nuisance, let us use an injunction to deal with it, but we should not introduce a new criminal offence that is indiscriminate and will—I predict—be used in inappropriate circumstances in the future.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend is a lawyer and he has to say that, but I entirely agree with him.

This is a very large Bill that addresses serious issues, many of which it will be necessary to debate in detail, but I have serious concerns about the timetable for debate. If we do not do justice to the Bill in Committee and do not have the opportunity to deal with matters on Report, justice will be done in the other place. Therefore, it is in Ministers' interest to arrange matters so that we have a sensible amount of time to debate matters in this House; otherwise, great difficulties in timetabling may arise in the future.

By my estimate, we have had nearly 50 Home Office law and order Bills from this Government. More than 700 new offences have been put on the statute book. Sometimes the new offences repeal offences that have not even been implemented. I doubt whether incessant activity is a substitute for effectiveness. My argument has always been that talking tough is cheap, in every sense of the word, and it is far more difficult to be effective. Elements in the Bill will increase the effectiveness of our policing and security services and those are the elements that I shall support. However, I shall seek to reject those that are simply Christmas decorations—the baubles.

Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway 2:29 pm, 7th December 2004

It is a great, profound and rare joy to be able to congratulate the Government on what is for the most part a measured, effective and necessary piece of legislation. However, no pleasure is unalloyed, so having got over that, it is possible to be curmudgeonly about one or two general and specific parts of the Bill—so I will indeed curmudgeon about them.

It is not surprising that the Bill has almost unanimous general support, as one can see by looking round the Chamber. I have been instructed by the Whip to speak as slowly as possible—an instruction that I shall uncharacteristically ignore.

The first matter of general importance that I want to raise is the way in which the Bill began its introduction to the House. As a criminal lawyer—by that, of course, I mean a lawyer who has dealt with crime for most of my professional life—I have a small plea: let us stop talking up professional crime and professional criminals. Let us, as a matter of practice, stop telling each other, and the people, how good those criminals are, and how effective, big and dangerous they are. It is an unhappy fact that many law enforcement agencies, and, indeed, many politicians, have a vested interest in so doing. The more powerful one's enemy, the greater the plaudits when one succeeds and the greater the mitigation when one fails.

It has been my happy, or unhappy, task many times in my life to prosecute or defend those who are engaged in major professional national and international crime, and it is a plain fact that they, like all criminals, are cut and bleed just like everybody else; they all whinge and whine in precisely the same way when they are caught, and beside the power of the state they are pygmies, in precisely the same way as all criminals are pygmies. Adulating serious crime—glorifying it—is a matter for the media, not for us, and we serve no purpose by doing so. We must treat it as a criminal enterprise; it is something to be dealt with, and we can indeed deal with it. The Bill, as it is right immediately to say, makes a considerable contribution to doing that.

I shall expend a little time on the other two controversial elements of the Bill. The first is the incitement to religious hatred. I have to say that the law will have difficulty with that. The job of the law is to interpret legislation, and the better the legislation, the easier it is to interpret. But juries and magistrates will have a problem with that element. The Attorney-General will have a problem in deciding what is and what is not to be prosecuted.

At root, the matter is philosophical; there is a profound difference between hatred based on race, sex or age—all of which are thrust upon us; we have no choice—and on religion, which is not thrust upon us. Religion is a matter of choice; it is a matter of what we do. It is intolerable, and should be criminal, to incite hatred of a man or woman because of what they are, but I have grave doubts whether it should be criminal, as opposed to merely socially unacceptable, to incite hatred of someone because of what they do. Religion is what we do, not what we are. We shall have grave difficulties with those proposals.

I join with ease in the plaudits to the Home Secretary for his motives, but motives must be thought about carefully. They pave not only the route to hell but the route to extreme difficulties in enforcing the law in society.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The hon. and learned Gentleman is making some strong points, based on his years of legal experience. As it is already a criminal offence to incite violence, what possible interpretation, even in principle, could a court put on the Bill as adding to the existing law? What else could it possibly mean, except people objecting to other people's beliefs? What innocent interpretation could a court put on the measure, given that there is an existing law against incitement to violence?

Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway

The truth, which goes to the core of the argument, is that there is no interpretation. The fact is that the Attorney-General will interpret the Act in a way that is not written in statute, and bring prosecutions only when incitement is not only to hatred but also likely to cause serious violence. That is not in the Bill, but that is how it will be interpreted and it is not a happy state of affairs. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, which is well founded.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

In the light of the concerns that the hon. and learned Gentleman has expressed about the difference between religion and race, what does he make of the Government's decision, following a review, not to repeal the blasphemy laws, which, had they done so, would have made it clear to people that the Bill, which they are, rightly or wrongly, introducing, was not about the protection of ideology and ideas? Is not that a missed opportunity, and would he support a measure to repeal the blasphemy laws in the context of the Bill?

Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway

To the first of the hon. Gentleman's questions, my answer is: incomprehensible; and to the second: yes.

I turn to the third matter that I want briefly to deal with: the missed opportunity in the Bill in relation to plea bargaining. What is contained in the Bill is not plea bargaining; it enshrines what is already practice in the courts to provide either immunity or a diminution in sentence for those who turn Queen's evidence. That is not plea bargaining, which has a specific, largely American, cognisance and is an absolute direct bargain between plea and sentence. That is anathema to our law, because in the past it has been felt that defendants have said that they were, at least, misled, sometimes grievously, by their lawyers, or by their lawyers in conjunction with prosecution lawyers or even with the judge, and that they entered pleas on a basis that they did not understand. The purpose of our law, which is anathema to plea bargaining, is to protect the defendant.

The same is not the case in offences of serious fraud. I have spoken to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Caroline Flint, about this matter, and hoped that we could take this opportunity to put into statute a provision to allow for plea bargaining in offences of serious fraud. This may seem a tributary, but it is not, because we spend a great deal of courts' and jurors' time on it—far more than on anything else. Our arguments about inconvenience to jurors would largely be negated if we were to allow a simple amendment.

Serious fraudsters do not require protection from their own lawyers; the reverse is more often the case. In those circumstances, there is no reason why for such offences, carefully regulated and tabulated direct plea bargaining—a sentence known in advance in respect of a plea—could not properly be introduced in the Bill. Will the Minister give that matter her consideration? If necessary, rather than being sentenced to the honour of serving on the Committee, I should be delighted to discuss that perfectly reasonable, small but effective provision, which could be added to an otherwise admirable Bill.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 2:39 pm, 7th December 2004

When the apostle Peter instituted the Christian Church, he said in his great sermon:

"Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

He declared a principle of Christianity: that salvation and everlasting life is vested solely and only in the Saviour. It has been rightly said in the House today that every religion must have a dogmatic objective; religions must say something confidently that they believe, and that, of course, rules out other beliefs.

I am not accusing the Home Secretary of having something sinister in what he is doing. We all know him, and the time that I spent with him in his office was quite pleasant, as well as straight. I am not lining him up and saying that I believe that there is an ulterior motive. However, we must say that in the argument that we have heard in the House from him today, he seems to suggest that he can lean on the link between racism and hatred of people because of their race, and religious belief. That does not hold water in argument because, as Mr. Marshall-Andrews has said already, religion is a matter of choice. If a person happens to be a Jew and becomes converted, he does not change his race, and still he is a Christian—but if a Christian becomes a Muslim, for instance, he ceases to be a Christian, because that is a matter of religion. That is a different issue from hatred because of race. What we have then is the interpretation, and I referred to that in my questions.

People should read the Book of Common Prayer that lies on the Table, and with which the House opens in prayer every day. A man said to me the other day, "Parts of the Bible should be cut out because I don't like them." I said, "Yes, we may come to a day when we'll be back to pre-Reformation times, when people were burned because they believed in the whole Bible." So we are on very dangerous territory when we ask the Attorney-General to do more than all the cardinals of Rome can do, and interpret something in that way. His interpretation may lead to a prosecution, and the poor jurors will be called on to ground of which they may have no knowledge, and they will have to make their decision. I say to the House today that that needs to be very carefully considered indeed.

Across the board, people may disagree vehemently with my religious beliefs, and people may disagree vehemently about my defence of what I believe is the very heart of the nation—the Christian family—yet those people will have the same problem with this matter. This is not a sectarian objection; this is something that takes in all religion and all peoples, and there is very serious worry. It is no use saying that people who say things in the pulpit will be exempt. According to the Bill, they will not be exempt. Even a preacher in his Sunday morning service—if he has a Sunday morning sermon; some preachers do not have that today—would be open to prosecution if he said something that would cause offence to a person in his congregation.

Now that the Bill has come to the House, it is time to apply our minds to the fact that we cannot link such issues merely with hatred because of race. There have been cases, even here in this country, where people have been brought to court because of the placards that they held. One man held up a placard denouncing homosexuality, and he was brought to court, found guilty and fined very heavily. In all fairness I must add that Peter Tatchell, who would take an opposite view, said that it was ridiculous and shameful that a man of that character was taken to court, tried and found guilty. Such matters could be accelerated if we do not remedy this matter.

I shall not detain the House because I have other duties elsewhere today, as hon. Members know, but I came to speak because I felt that, on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party in this House, I must put up our marker on this matter.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes 2:44 pm, 7th December 2004

I do not normally speak on home affairs. Having grown up in Belfast, I shall avoid the subject that the person whose Church I went to as a child has just touched on. I want to concentrate on a number of other issues, including the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

When SOCA is set up, the way in which its powers—whether customs powers, constabulary powers or immigration powers—are allocated is crucial, and a bureaucratic pre-allocation route will not be flexible enough to tackle some of the serious issues that the agency will face. One of the key things is that the agency's officers should have the ability to select powers appropriate to their task and to be accountable for those powers, rather than having a pre-allocation of powers, as is envisaged in the Bill. I hope that Minister will look again at that issue, because getting it right is crucial.

Getting the culture of the organisation right at the beginning is very important. We have learned the lessons of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, under which we did not get such things right at the beginning. The relationships between SOCA and local constabularies and international forces are important, and we must get them right at the outset.

For generations, the Home Office's immediate reaction to any problem has been to introduce legislation. Despite the universal welcome for the Bill, which contains a lot of good things, I fear that there is still a tendency in the Home Office to think that legislation is the only thing that matters. It is much more important to consider enforcement and the international co-operation that is required, both of which will determine whether SOCA is a success far more than the legislation itself.

A number of technological changes are taking place that will have a direct impact on SOCA. Again, we must consider those aspects, which are not touched on in the Bill. Education also has a role to play. We often forget when passing Home Office legislation how to educate people about the aspects that we need to tackle, and how we can prevent serious organised crime.

The Minister will be aware of the relevance of the proceeds of crime. I have tackled that issue with her in the past. If an agency seizes assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and central Government are the prosecuting authority, the Department involved is reimbursed for the cost of the prosecution. Counterfeiting and piracy are major problems in this country—they represent a lot of organised crime activity—and local government trading standards officers are often involved in those prosecutions.

One prosecution for piracy and counterfeiting in Waltham Forest cost £90,000. The court confiscated the assets of the people who were found guilty, but there was no money to pay for the local authority's prosecution costs. I urge Ministers to take on board an amendment that has been discussed with the Department of Trade and Industry to allow agencies outside the Government to have their prosecution costs reimbursed. As we are amending the Proceeds of Crime Act, there is an opportunity for the Government to deal with that issue.

If SOCA is to work, its relationship with the private sector—particularly with banks, internet service providers and other companies—is critical. Again, the Bill is too traditional in its approach and does not use the private sector to tackle serious organised crime. I would advocate that the directors of security of our banks and internet service providers be made special constables, so that they have the powers to collect the evidence to present to the prosecution authorities. Ministers have heard that argument, but we should consider innovative ways to tackle some serious organised crime. I hope that when it is up and running, the agency tackles those issues, rather than simply continuing down the traditional route.

It is vital that we have the resources and capacity to deal with international co-operation. One country recently gave a list of 500 paedophiles to us, but it overwhelmed the agencies that were supposed to deal with it because they did not have the capacity to cope. Having the right skills and the capacity to deal with such problems is important. I urge the Minister to consider not only how powers are allocated to SOCA, but the resources and training that will make it a success. If we do not have the skills or the resources both inside and outside the agency—that relates to linkages with other constabularies—we put it at a disadvantage.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that because of issues relating to the status of the new agency, many people in the National Crime Squad have said that they will not be happy to transfer to it, thereby denying it a source of expertise and skills? Does that cause him concern?

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

If that were the case, I would be concerned. I appreciate that a number of issues need to be resolved, and those are being discussed. My understanding is that those people will happily transfer to SOCA, because it is the right way forward. We would expect uncertainties in any reorganisation. One of the important things about reorganisation is to get the culture right at the beginning. The director will have to get that right when SOCA is set up. If the hon. Gentleman's fears were well founded, I would be worried, but discussions are ongoing, as I hope the Minister will confirm when she responds.

We need to ensure that people in other forces understand what the agency is doing. There is still confusion in some police forces about what they can and cannot do under RIPA. Again, it is important that local police forces understand SOCA's remit and where it is going.

I regret that Ministers have missed an opportunity. The all-party group on the internet recently examined the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and made several recommendations, including upping the tariff set out in part 1 of that Act to two years, which would allow us to extradite people such as the members of the organised crime groups in Florida who are putting viruses into the internet. The problem with part 1 is that the tariff is only six months, so the offences are not extraditable.

The police will have the power the seize vehicles. Given the experience of Customs and Excise in doing that, and the problems that that has caused many of our constituents, I hope that Ministers will consider that power before police forces implement the measure. There is a difference between those who are actively engaged in fraud, whose cars should be taken, and those who are without insurance, tax or documentation because of incompetence or chaotic lifestyles. There is a fundamental difference between those who set out deliberately to act fraudulently and those who end up in a similar situation through their own incompetence. I am a great believer in the cock-up theory of life as opposed to the conspiracy theory, and when we consider clause 131, we need to examine the safeguards that can be built in to ensure that those whose lifestyles cause the situation are not penalised to the same extent as those who act deliberately.

The Bill contains much that is good, and it will be generally welcomed. It is a major step forward in tackling crime. The bringing together of functions under SOCA is important. We need to get the culture and the way in which SOCA is established right. I hope that when we discuss those aspects in Committee, the Government take on board some of the suggestions that will make it work more effectively, and that they learn the lessons of past agencies.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills 2:56 pm, 7th December 2004

I have a difficulty with Home Office Bills. As Mr. Heath said, the Home Secretary is now up to about 50 Bills. Nearly two weeks ago, I tabled a question to the Prime Minister on how many Home Office Bills had been enacted since he became Prime Minister. Wisely, he promptly shifted it over to the Home Secretary's office, and of course there has not been a reply as I imagine that they are still weighing up the import of the question.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Home Office in previous Governments has been equally bad?

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

The hon. Gentleman is launching himself on a hopeful exposition of ignorance on my part. There has never been a Government like this one. They have showered a confetti of legislation in home affairs matters on the House. It has not even been considered in Committee here, but it has had to be looked at seriously in the House of Lords. It is absurd to suggest that this Government are modest and timid in introducing Home Office measures. They flaunt them. They shout them from the top of every roof in the hope that no one will inspect them or understand that they are often ineffectual and contradict certain serious purposes that this House and this country have.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

Not right now. I am beginning to address the very thought that Brian White set out.

It has been rightly pointed out that this is a compendium Bill. It is a portmanteau. The Home Office can stick anything into it that it wants. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman wanted something else stuck in it. Heaven forbid!

First, the Bill creates the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Secondly, it contains powers to compel people to co-operate with an investigation by producing documents and answering questions. Thirdly, it provides for defendants to plead guilty and offer Queen's evidence in return for a discounted sentence. Fourthly, it introduces changes to police powers contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and confers a number of new powers on the police. Fifthly, it extends the powers of community support officers and other police support staff. Sixthly, it provides for all criminal offences to be "arrestable offences", subject to a test of necessity. Seventhly, it provides for an offence of incitement to religious hatred. Eighthly, it creates a new offence of harassment of a person in his home. Ninthly, it create a new arrestable offence of trespass on sites designated by the Secretary of State. Tenthly, it gives the police new powers to control protests that hinder access to, or are disruptive of the workings of, Parliament, or which spoil the visual aspect of Parliament square.

Eleventhly, the Bill lifts the automatic reporting restrictions in youth courts in relation to proceedings for a breach of an antisocial behaviour order. Twelfthly, it extends the range of law enforcement agencies from which non-conviction information may be obtained. Thirteenthly, it enables the Criminal Records Bureau and its equivalent in Scotland to access passport, driving licence and national insurance number data in order to identify the identity of applicants for a criminal record disclosure.

I have listed only some of the propositions in the Bill, but many of them have, I would suggest, very significant human rights implications. Indeed, they engage a wide range of human rights, including the right to liberty under article 5; the right to a fair trial and the privilege against self-incrimination under article 6(1); the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence under article 8; the right to freedom of religion and conscience under article 9; the right to freedom of expression under article 10; freedom of association under article 11; and the right to be free from discrimination in the enjoyment of convention rights under article 14. That is quite a little coup, striking at the very heart of the Government's own Home Office flagship legislation, the Human Rights Act.

I do not know whether any Committee scrutinising the Bill or any judge who comes into contact with the Government's new proposals will find that they are in conflict with the range of rights that I mentioned. However, I would point out that this touches on something that is important to all of us—the balance between security and liberty, about which the Government are casual and careless.

Many people's minds have been concentrated by the new offence—or the replay of an offence that the Home Office tried to slip into a previous Bill, but did not get away with—relating to incitement to religious hatred. I come from a background, in Scotland and England, in which freedom of expression was the ultimate way of finding our liberty. It provides the way in which we assault the conscience of others.

James I of England, who was James VI of Scotland, said: "The business of state is mine; let no man meddle in it," and his authority for such a sweeping assertion was something called the divine right of kings. I might take exception to that concept, though I see that new Labour increasingly toys with it. Am I not assaulting a religious belief when I say that James I had no such divine right? What crime could I have committed under the Bill?—[Interruption.] It is a religious faith and belief. Having absolute power came from his belief and faith in the church. It may be an old argument about new Labour, but it knows nothing about the time before it was born. The struggle that I referred to was an expression of freedom, and it was a long march that enabled us to respect the premises on which our liberty was built.

The Home Secretary has found it necessary to invoke a derogation from the Human Rights Act and the convention on human rights, asserting that the very life of this nation is threatened. It is something to which the House has acceded, and the consequence has been the diminution of traditional liberties and freedoms. That is the thread that runs through the present Home Secretary's administration of one of our great offices of state. I do not acquiesce easily to those propositions, but I notice that on the front of the Bill, the Home Secretary asserts:

"In my view the provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill are compatible with the Convention rights."

I do not think that he is right in that judgment and I am sure that he will be found not to be right. I would argue that the House should treat with great caution a Bill which the Home Secretary says should be debated in detail in Committee, when we have on the Order Paper, immediately after our present business, a programme motion that insists on the Bill's being returned from Committee on 25 January. Christmas lies between. Traditionally, at this stage of the Session, before a Bill goes into Committee we would barely have a Committee stage, if at all, before Christmas. We are looking at no more than four or five sittings for examining the Bill.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

My hon. Friend on the Front Bench has clearly negotiated eight sittings. Hallelujah. Yet this is a 220-page Bill with many contentious schedules and provisions. I imagine that the Liberal Democrats and, I hope, my own side will examine those provisions carefully. However, our experience of Home Office Bills, with all the knives and reductions, suggests that the House will not have the opportunity to debate the detail of the Bill. That is why I am cautious about it. I do not accept the general roll against our liberties and freedoms and I do not accept that everything is merely a technical advance.

It is the aggregation that matters. If we stand back and look at the architecture of new Labour's new police and security state, it looks unattractive. If we take little step by little step, it may not be obvious that we have moved, but I ask those listening to our debates to cast an eye over the sequence of these Bills that make up Labour's defence of our liberty. I suggest that they are not only ineffectual in many ways, but a real step back from the essential liberties that this country worked and fought long and hard to achieve.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar 3:07 pm, 7th December 2004

It is clear that we need the Serious Organised Crime Agency that is established in the Bill, because we have not seen the reductions in harms caused by organised crime that we have seen in those caused by volume crime. The harms of organised crime that damage people most are those associated with people trafficking: charging people to be trafficked to what they think will be a new life, which in fact leads them to be sold into slavery—usually sexual slavery, irrespective of gender—to feed the amazing capacity of men to buy women and children and young men, even though they know that those people are ill treated and live in appalling circumstances.

The second huge harm that befalls people from serious organised crime relates to drugs. I do not have to list the huge ramifications such crime has in our constituencies and the huge economic impact that it makes. I note that the aim of setting up SOCA, as explained in the White Paper "One Step Ahead", is rightly threefold. First, it is to disrupt criminal activities, including by adding to their costs and seizing assets. Secondly and rightly, it is to increase the risk for criminals—the Mr. Bigs—who must be more successfully targeted, arrested and prosecuted. That explains the need for procedural and evidential changes. Thirdly, and also rightly, there is the intention to reduce the market, among other ways, by reducing demand.

I can see how drugs education, treatments and initiatives can reduce demand for the massive importation of cocaine and heroin coming into this and pretty much every other western country on a weekly basis. Those initiatives must be supported, but have we not missed a trick when it comes to the question of people trafficking and disrupting the demand for it? Where are the measures to disrupt the desire for trafficked people? Where are the measures to reduce demand for ripe young people, who are sold off like fresh fruit to degenerates to be used for sex? Where are the measures to educate and treat those who behave in that way?

Education and treatment may be the wrong words. Hon. Members might think that I support social engineering, but we must face the fact that a market exists in this country for young people. If the recipients of sexual favours from those young people thought about it, they would realise that those young people have been abused and enslaved and are still being used in a framework of fear and oppression, but they disregard that in the interests of a brief physical sensation. We are missing a trick if we do not start seriously to recognise that disrupting demand for trafficked people is an urgent need. It is time to understand, recognise and think through that urgent need and to work out ways in which we can try to disrupt that unequivocally evil demand.

As the Home Secretary said—I agree with him—this is a practical Bill. I also agree with the White Paper that we should aim to make the UK one of the least attractive places in the world for organised crime. After we have implemented those measures, we must strengthen international co-operation to widen and disperse the measures that prove most effective.

I hope and think that SOCA will work. I never understood why intelligence and investigation were run by two separate bodies, and I am pleased that such incomprehension was not solely my own. Even in their modern incarnations, each body had a separate service authority, administration, internal rules, operational remit and complaints system, and it seemed to me that that was pointless. One authority that unites some skills and that calls by secondment on other skills from related groups such as the police, Customs and forensic scientists should be effective on first principles. Its focus on serious and organised crime should make that body more than the sum of its parts.

The concerns are easily and quickly listed, and I imagine that they are not profound. Accountability is still not 100 per cent. clear. Service authorities were attached to the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, but the exact status of the board that will replace them is unclear. How will the new board compare and contrast with those service authorities?

On resourcing, little new cash appears to be available for SOCA. I know that the intention is that SOCA should be self-financing quite early in its life, but that may create concerns, which need allaying, for local police forces. For instance, people who are seconded to SOCA will leave a gap, which local police forces must fill. Rather than being properly financed at the top, SOCA will impose a down-line cost on the police, perhaps putting at risk their capacity, especially if their leading staff are seconded. That point has been made before, because it is a real risk. In police terms, SOCA will be a glamorous new body for which people will want to work and to which people will want to be seconded. We must ensure that the built-in protections are there, so that local police forces are not denuded of their high-flying staff.

The complaints route is not entirely clear. I saw the Home Secretary respond on that matter, but I did not follow 100 per cent. of his explanation. It seems that when somebody is designated to SOCA as a constable, a Customs officer or an immigration officer, they will be subject to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

In a way, that pleases me, because the route is clear and the model is well tested—the IPCC has been good in the short time in which it has existed. However, the system is peculiar, because if somebody is seconded from Customs and Excise, where they were subject to their own complaints procedure, they will be subject to an entirely different procedure whose rules they did not know when they volunteered. The issue is not straightforward, but the Minister can see why I retain a little bit of residual concern about the complaints situation.

The possibility of a two-tier work force is also a concern. In the grass roots in my constituency, I have heard it expressed that people will be seconded at their particular level, seniority and pay from both the police and civilian organisations such as Forensic Science Service, Customs and Excise and the immigration service. It is possible to imagine an operation in which two people from completely different backgrounds do the same job for a year on radically different pay and conditions, which, in due course, might interfere with the cohesion that is essential for that body. That is another concern that must be thrashed out.

I shall quickly discuss two powers in the Bill relating to serious organised crime and two other police powers that concern me. We have heard a bit about disclosure notices, which have been taken from the model in the Serious Fraud Office. The model has been around since 1987 and works pretty well. However, it has a small compass of use and is used in few cases. The SFO is small, and it is governed by its lawyers, who are the only people who can use those notices. SOCA is a much bigger affair than the SFO ever has been or is ever likely to be, and it will deal with much higher levels of crime and much bigger gangs.

The power in clause 56(3) worries me. It allows an "appropriate person" to have the power delegated to them to use a disclosure notice. We all know that disclosure notices compel people to give evidence, not against themselves but against others, or to produce documents or other kinds of information. The power is strong, and it needs to be used in a sophisticated way. Although the caveat is that the power can be used only in exceptional circumstances, and following the intervention from my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Marshall-Andrews, who will define those circumstances?

Concerns exist about when such exceptional circumstances will occur, and, taking the SFO model, the power to use disclosure notices might be delegated to low-level people in SOCA. It will not be easy to control the use of those powers, because SOCA is much bigger. What would the remedy be if those powers were wrongly used, particularly granted that is an offence punishable by imprisonment not to obey the application of those powers?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

What is the hon. and learned Lady's view about maintaining a distinction between the SFO and the new agency in the first instance? When the Solicitor-General was questioned about that matter, she advanced the argument that because of the combined prosecution and investigatory role of the SFO, it must be a separate body. However, I was not entirely convinced and would welcome the hon. and learned Lady's view.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

That is a rather broad issue to raise in connection solely with this power. I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that I am not convinced that that justification is one that would necessarily make for permanent separation. Irrespective of whether one merges the two, however, it is more or less inevitable that the use of disclosure notices will be much more frequent than it ever has been under the Serious Fraud Office. I am worried about its being delegated too far down and about the huge consequences of refusing to comply with a notice, whether rightly or wrongly imposed.

I have two more concerns about disclosure notices. First, whatever the person says under the pressure of such a notice cannot, rightly, be used in evidence against them, but assuming that what they have said is, in the ordinary course of events, disclosed to anybody who is a defendant in a case that follows, it will be impossible to put the person who is the subject of the disclosure notice on trial with those defendants. Although the Crown will not be able to put to the person who is the subject of the notice what they have said, the co-accused most certainly will, and they will use it to discredit that individual and to put the blame on to him if there is the slightest inconsistency between what he says in court in his defence and what he has said under the pressure of the disclosure notice. I fear that the information that emerges from the use of these disclosure notices will be used in evidence and weigh on guilt and innocence, and that that will give people second thoughts about complying with them.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

Will my hon. and learned Friend vouchsafe to me her expertise on whether the procedure in clauses 56 and 57 might compromise the situation of journalists; or are they excepted by the provisions governing privileged information later in the Bill?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

My understanding is that they do not need to fall within the ambit of privilege, because the Bill contains a specific exception for journalistic material which means that they will not be troubled by the provisions.

Secondly—I raised this with Mr. Heath—disclosure notices will usually be issued against minor players; that is what they are for. When officers are trying to unravel a gang, they will be conscious of who is at the outside edges doing small amounts and want to put pressure on them, in the form of an incentive or a compulsion, to talk about what is going on further inside, so that they can gradually peel off the layers, as it were, to get to the Mr. Bigs. We must face the fact that as soon as the disclosure notice is issued that minor player will come under threat from the Mr. Bigs whom their silence protects. That does not happen in relation to the SFO; we are talking about a completely different kind of crime involving extraordinarily large criminal empires buttressed by the regular use of violence, intimidation and threats to sustain them. These people will undoubtedly face intimidation, threats to injure, and even threats to and attempts to kill.

As I said before—I hope that I am not in error—new section 74, which establishes long-overdue national witness protection measures, does not include in its ambit somebody who is the subject of a disclosure notice, because its definition of "witness" relates to someone who is miles further on in the process, giving evidence in proceedings. That will not take away the problem.

We want this to work, and it will do so only if people who are served with notices know that they are safe in responding. I would much rather go to prison for a couple of years, which is the maximum sentence, than face the wrath of a Mr. Big who is determined to silence me one way or another. That is a big burden that the authorities will have to recognise straight away by putting in place provisions to protect people.

Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway

Before my hon. and learned Friend moves on, I want to ask her about the sanction for not complying with a disclosure notice. She will have noticed that the defence to such a charge is that they have not acted "wilfully". As she will know, that word causes more difficulty in criminal law than anything else. If she is on the Committee that steers the Bill through, as I am sure that she will be, will she contemplate at least attempting to amend it to the far more useful and reasonable term, "without reasonable excuse"?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

As ever, my hon. and learned Friend makes a good point, and whoever is on the Committee should consider it. I entirely agree that the word "wilfully" is slightly outdated, very hard to define, and causes more problems than it solves in criminal law.

Formalising the giving of Queen's evidence is obviously a good idea. It should not be carried on in an under-the-counter, ad hoc or arbitrary way; it should be done in a systematic way. However, this will not produce a straightforward benefit to the criminal justice system. It is extremely difficult to get juries to rely on the word of someone who is pleading guilty to get a soft sentence, when the only way in which he can save himself from a 30 or 40-year sentence is to talk about what he has done with his co-accused. Of course, in those circumstances, he would have every interest in piling on to his co-accused offences of which he himself might well be guilty. It would be very clear to the jury that that was going on, and that would make it difficult for him to be believed. It would be impossible to keep it from the jury that it was going on without perverting the course of justice, because it has to be clear to the defence that the individual has a motive for giving that particular evidence, whether it is true or not. It is important that both parties know what is going on.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 allowed the introduction of previous convictions and all sorts and shades of past villainy to be put against the person giving evidence, just as they can be put against a defendant. However, it would be easy to undermine a jury's ability to give any credence to what such an individual said, given that he could easily be discredited because he is almost certain to have previous convictions and because all the material that will come from the defendants about the way in which he has previously conducted himself will show him to be a terrible villain.

The definition of what is truthful in such circumstances will clearly involve what will get a conviction. The individual will have been told to tell the truth, and the Crown will rely on him to do so, but his way out of his dilemma is to get the people in the dock convicted. That is a difficult situation for the authorities to handle. The individual could be sentenced before he gave his evidence. That would look better, but the authorities would then be hooked by him, because if he reneged on his agreement, he would already have his sentence and it would be hard to unpick it. There could well be grey areas in terms of whether he had told the truth.

On the other hand, if he were sentenced after giving his evidence, it would be as clear as day that he had an incentive to tell the truth—that is, to get the Mr. Bigs off the streets, as the prosecution wanted. Both options look slightly corrupt, and it is easy to mix up the legitimate use of a criminal who has turned his face against crime and decided to go legit with the corrupt use of people who are just trying to save their necks. If, in any trial in which a person is in the dodgy position of giving such evidence, there were in addition any dodgy police evidence that called into question their motives, such a prosecution would be doomed to failure. We can only hope that this procedure will become more familiar to us so that juries will learn better to rely on what is said by supergrasses, or whatever they are to be called. However, I would suggest that, in the short term, these measures are not going to make a huge difference.

By way of a footnote, I must point out that there is no provision in the Bill for the person entering into an agreement to give Queen's evidence to get legal advice during the negotiations. He will be subject to the terms of a detailed agreement that will be incapable of being revoked. Indeed, as I understand the Bill, his discounted sentence could be revoked if he did not tell the truth. It is hugely important that a person entering into such a contract should do so only if he has had its terms properly explained to him and understood them. I also wish the authorities luck in deciding whether someone has told the truth in a situation involving such an agreement, because that concept could become extraordinarily hazy.

The Bill is pretty clear and focused when it is targeted in those ways, notwithstanding the reservations that I have stated. However, when it is not targeted against serious organised crime, it seems to lack focus and to raise certain concerns. I am particularly worried about the amendment to the power of arrest. Clause 101 will amend the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 by effectively making every offence arrestable, from parking on a yellow line or not having a light on a bicycle to murder, subject to a test of "necessity". That will be very difficult, I think.

Currently, when a policeman summonses someone, he must decide whether he suspects that person of committing a non-arrestable offence, an arrestable offence or a serious arrestable offence. The powers follow from that decision, but it is a fairly clear one to make, as he can see what is going on in front of him and what the offence is or is not.

It is said that that is a confusing position for officers to be in because there is no straightforward universal framework. The intention is that this should be the straightforward universal framework, with powers of arrest extended to every offence. I would have thought that if police officers find difficulty in deciding whether they are looking at a non-arrestable, arrestable or serious arrestable offence—granted, they have been trained to do that—they will find it bewildering to apply the test of necessity to everything that comes their way.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome referred to the 2002 review of PACE, which considered the problems of confusions over arrest powers but rejected this solution. I agree that it is right to reject it. David Davis referred, almost in passing, to this change representing a move from consent-based policing towards policing by discretion. In my view, it represents exactly that, which is not something that should be mentioned only in passing.

We are considering saying to police officers one of two things: either sort out some complicated principles of the Human Rights Act 1998 on the spot and make the decision accurately or—I think this is what we are saying—officers have all the powers they need and those should be used only when they think it necessary.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am most grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for giving way. She is making an extremely important point, which she knows I agree with. Does she agree that, at the point of arrest, a lot of other powers flow from that in our statute law? If that arrest becomes entirely discretionary on the part of the officer for any offence, so will all the other powers that flow from arrest when that person is taken back to the police station.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. There are a number of serious powers—searching, searching premises, use of force—that flow from a decision to arrest, all of which will become the subject of what is bound to be a highly individualised decision that is likely to be, therefore, almost by definition, an arbitrary way of deciding who is arrested and who is not.

This "necessity" has to be a subjective term, has it not? It will mean what the officer in that situation thinks is necessary. There will never be some black and white rule whereby it can be said, "It is necessary in this situation, but not in that." Necessity will be in the mind of the individual. What better definition is there than an arbitrary power of arrest? The decision to use it is in the mind of the individual.

Either that is the real position or we are asking officers—in the absence of any rules about what is a necessity and in the absence of the definitions of which offences can and cannot be arrested for—to fall back on their individual judgment. So if we decide to look for some rules, what will we find? We can look only to the human rights convention.

The individual involved—either in the heat of the moment, on the roadside or in the middle of a field where he had apprehended someone who may or may not be a burglar—would have to decide whether he was justified, given the exigencies of the situation, in interfering with the individual's rights under article 5, which refers to arbitrary detention, while bearing in mind the rights under article 8, which refers to the right to privacy.

Are we are expecting—pretty soon we will be, I think—a community support officer, or in any event a trainee constable, to reach such a conclusion in the heat of the moment? That is just not going to happen. I am afraid that this will be an arbitrary test, and I am concerned about arbitrary powers of arrest.

I do not mind confessing that a few weeks ago I had something of a ruck with a police officer who asserted, utterly incorrectly, that I had gone through a red light and turned left, and who roared up behind me in his vehicle, clearly seeing that I was a weak and feeble middle-aged woman and thinking that he would get out and rough me up a little verbally. So, when he got out he told me I had gone through the light. I said that I had not and proposed to move off. He stopped me. He proposed to lecture me. I got cross with him. One can just imagine that the necessity to arrest me could not have been far from his mind, if he had that power. I am afraid that that is what will go wrong. Perhaps we do not have to worry—although I am worried about the arbitrariness of it all—but a situation that gets heated over a small matter will lead to misuse of this power.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

I have little doubt that, in the exchange to which my hon. and learned Friend refers, it was not the policeman who came off best. She is raising this issue partly because she will know that one of the great difficulties that police officers have is that somebody who seeks to evade their attentions often conceals their real identity. Consequently, a large number of offenders get away with relatively trivial offences, such as fare dodging on a train. If a police officer suspects that a false identity has been given, that creates major difficulties for effective policing.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar

I appreciate that point entirely. Currently, however, section 25 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 allows a power of arrest, not for that level of offence but for slightly higher ones, when we would be seriously concerned that people might be able to get away with the offence by using false names. If a police officer asks for a name and address, and has reasonable cause to suspect that a false one has been given, he then has a power of arrest under section 25. Such a problem—not for the ticket dodge, but for a higher level of crime—is therefore not present, and this provision is not required to meet it.

I have said all that there is to say about that proposal. It is very worrying, and it needs consideration in Committee. Perhaps it can be realistically explored in the way in which the Home Secretary appeared to be offering himself as ready to explore issues about which others might have real reservations.

Lastly, I am very concerned about civilianising the custody officer. The custody officer is usually called a custody sergeant, and he must indeed be a sergeant of police. By definition, he will be an experienced officer who has been in the force for a number of years. He is not a jailer—he is not just the person who locks up an individual. He has a responsibility for the civil liberties of that individual and to ensure that all the procedures, under the extensive PACE codes of practice, are put in place. He must keep a custody record, which he must open at the outset and which must be kept systematically. He is in charge of decisions as diverse as when the individual will or will not be entitled to see his family, how long they will need to be detained for, and when it is necessary to call a more senior officer to consider events that might have arisen in the police station. He will also have to make decisions about whether someone gets bail. As I understand it, those duties will be devolved down to a civilian, which causes me some concern.

The custody sergeant has additional jobs, which occur every day. When someone is arrested, the officers responsible are obliged to present the facts of why the person has been arrested to the custody sergeant. A senior police officer, as the sergeant usually is respective to those bringing in the individual, will have the power, authority and independence to say to those bringing in the individual that he does not accept that those facts amount to the alleged offence, if that is the case. Will a civilian employee be able to do that?

In addition, the custody sergeant has the responsibility of ensuring that interviewing is done fairly, that it is done for only as long as it should occur, and not longer, and that it is done only when it should occur. Will a civilian be able to resist the personalities, the force and the seniority of senior detectives who may want to interview again someone who has already been interviewed two or three times, because something new has arisen in the case? What is required is a person who has a full understanding of all the implications of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and of the codes, and who is totally independent of the inquiry and the officers involved, senior enough to be taken notice of, and able to take responsible decisions. That person will not be a civilian employee who, like community support officers, is of lower status than the police; he will have to be a civilian employee of higher status than the police with whom he deals. Why can he not be a police officer—the obvious person for the job?

What will we gain by releasing a custody sergeant to do whatever is intended on the beat? That is a rather unusual notion. The person concerned will generally be an officer involved in administrative roles in the police station, so no front-line troops will be released. The price will be a very high level of risk for the rights of those who are detained. Let us leave the job with a police officer, or else understand more fully why the change should be made. Are there not better ways of releasing troops on to the street?

Where it targets serious organised crime, the Bill seems very good and very focused. Arguably, some elements are not strong enough. For instance, I do not know why the definition of serious crime for the purposes of the extra powers does not include paedophile rings. There are respects in which that part of the Bill ought to be made tougher, and I hope that that can be done in Committee. Where the Bill is less targeted, it seems less focused—a bit of a Christmas tree—and I think it will require careful scrutiny.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:41 pm, 7th December 2004

It is a great pleasure to follow Vera Baird. I echo her point about the omission of paedophile rings, and I will shortly return to another point that she made.

I know from the many letters I receive from constituents that crime is the No. 1 fear. Violent crime and antisocial behaviour are in danger of becoming an epidemic, blighting the lives of numerous law-abiding, hard-working families throughout the country. The breakdown of law and order and respect for wider authority is arguably the most serious domestic problem in Britain today.

In Kent we are blessed with one of the best police forces in the country—in my view, one of the best in the world—but I am sorry to say that the Government, with their plethora of crime Bills, have done little to turn the tide back. Despite unbelievable, unprecedented amounts of legislation, violent crime is rising. The horrifying recent incidents—three murders by burglars, of which we have read in the press in the last week or two—underpin the bleak statistics.

Rather than dealing with the full scope of the Bill, I shall focus almost entirely on those who suffer terrible, degrading, inhuman treatment at the hands of international organised criminal gangs engaged in people smuggling. They have no voice. We are nowhere near winning the battle against drugs, and we now have a whole new war to fight. One of SOCA's most important roles must be to tackle the disgusting traffic in people—the vile trade in women and children.

Estimates of the worldwide value of migrant smuggling and trafficking vary. According to Der Spiegel, the German secret service has estimated that revenue for international criminal gangs operating in Europe alone amounted to €5 billion a year, of which about two thirds was collected by Chinese criminal gangs, three or four years ago. Some organisations now estimate the total value of the trade to be anything up to €30 billion a year. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe believes that it has now replaced the drugs trade as the world's most profitable illegal industry. That is a truly staggering fact.

The International Organisation for Migration has estimated that between 700,000 and 2 million women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. It observes that

"in most countries there are few statistics on the scale of trafficking."

Unfortunately, Britain is one of the most affected countries. The Home Office has no information on the number of women trafficked into the UK for the purpose of exploitation. Indeed, one official described the whole illegal immigrant population as a "knowledge black hole".

At a Home Office seminar five years ago, workers in health projects estimated that, even back then, 50 per cent. of those employed in London's sex industry's so-called brothels were immigrants. A more recent investigation by the Metropolitan police found that 76 per cent. of Soho brothels were staffed by foreign prostitutes, with Albania and Lithuania being the most common sources. Every year, more than 6,000 children aged between 12 and 16 are smuggled into Europe to work as prostitutes. An estimated 80 per cent. of people trafficked from Albania are teenage girls under the age of 18, according to a report in The Guardian.

Behind these grim statistics lie literally thousands of horrific individual cases. Typically, the victims describe how they are repeatedly raped until their resistance is completely broken. By the time that they reach this country, they are completely in the hands of their captors. Indeed, even if they do escape, they are in a foreign country. Frequently, they do not speak the language and have no idea to whom to turn. In many cases, the police in their country of origin are the very last people to whom they would go for help; they have no way of knowing that the situation here is very different.

The Bill does contain some welcome measures—in particular, chapter 4 of part 2 puts witness protection on to a statutory footing—but it is very important to provide safe houses for victims who have only just escaped their tormentors. The Home Secretary gave me a fairly conciliatory answer earlier in this regard; however, the anti-slavery coalition and Amnesty International pointed out in a joint presentation in the House last week that there are very few safe houses in this country for such women, and that there are now no safe houses at all for children, the only two having closed. It is vital that women, and particularly children, have safe places to go to, where they are beyond the reach of these remorseless criminal groups.

Amnesty International and others have also called for medical care, counselling and other aid before deportation. I have been involved in the campaign concerning the treatment of child victims in this country—a campaign that has been run for the past 15 years. There has been a transformation in their treatment, but how much worse has the plight become of these young girls, who have been abused for months, and in some cases, for years? They know nothing about this country, yet they are receiving the same sort of treatment here. If we do not provide the resources to protect them and to encourage those who are brave enough to testify, the chances of penetrating the dark and murky underworld in which these rings operate is nil.

When this Government came to power seven years ago, we were told that we would be treated to joined-up government. This Bill is trumpeted as an example, and we all welcome the bringing together of the various agencies. However, in other fields relating to crime and disorder, measures have been implemented that conflict directly with each other. The Government have a professed desire to tackle binge drinking; yet licensing legislation prevents local authorities from considering police intelligence on licence applicants' previous conduct. It also prevents them from taking into account serious time-expired offences, and it creates a charter for previously illegal raves. At the same time, in the name of healthy living, the Government are waging war against smokers, fat people and anybody enjoying a Big Mac, while at the same time downgrading the classification of cannabis and presiding over an explosion in sexually transmitted diseases.

Sadly, my concern today—people trafficking—is no exception in this regard. Please let me be clear: I do not buy the argument of those well-meaning non-governmental organisations that say that the vile trade of people trafficking can somehow be separated from wider immigration policy. That is complete nonsense. The organisations that specialise in people trafficking started out in the business of people smuggling, and their profits grew when they expanded into this vile new sector. Bringing successful prosecutions against people traffickers through the testimony of courageous witnesses will help to close down people smuggling and vice versa. If we make it harder for people smugglers to succeed, we will help to deter people traffickers.

People trafficking is a symptom of the wider breakdown of immigration controls. A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in July 2000 on the trafficking and smuggling of refugees states that much of existing policy making by European Governments is

"part of the problem and not the solution."

A passage in a migration paper published by the widely respected Brussels-based "Migration News Sheet" sums up the position perfectly:

"Through their severe short-sightedness and inclination to rush through emergency measures without reflecting on the consequences . . . EU states have helped to create the ingredients of a very lucrative form of international criminality which top Mafia bosses never even dreamed of, namely trafficking in human beings."

Our borders and internal enforcement procedures are undermanned. The Triad and Snakehead groups that operate women's prostitution were behind the Morecambe bay disaster. As long ago as June of the previous year, the Home Office were warned about the exploitation of vulnerable migrants by ruthless gangmasters. The warning was noted, but ignored, as a clear decision was made to do nothing. In a letter to Geraldine Smith, the Home Office said that the immigration service could not intervene because of "resource issues". It said that

"little useful purpose would have been served by sending officers to assist."

What were immigration officers doing that could have served a greater purpose?

The lack of specific anti-trafficking legislation to deal with perpetrators has often resulted in charges being brought under the Sexual Offences Act 1956. The hon. and learned Member for Redcar was right that we are far too short of tools. This is one of the few areas where we would benefit from having more Home Office laws, as we need much sharper measures to prosecute both the traffickers and the perpetrators. As a parallel—I am not suggesting that this could be directly imposed in British law—when we were discussing legislation to deal with sex tourism, we discovered that the Philippines had passed a law under which a prima facie offence is committed if a tourist is alone with a Filipino child without being able to show good reason. It takes a great deal of courage for women and young girls to testify, but once they have done so, the criminals often get away with short prison sentences. Sentences should reflect the nature of crimes that often result in the destruction of young lives. Indeed, those lives are often ended by sexually transmitted disease.

As always on immigration, the Government are sending out the wrong signals. Only one in five failed asylum seekers are removed from the UK, and more than 250,000 asylum seekers live here. Asylum applications are still much higher than they were in 1997, having peaked at more than double the number in that year. The Government are taking virtually no action against legal advisers who exploit legal loopholes for use by people smugglers, whose business helps to sustain people trafficking. If memory serves, in Home Office questions, I was told that there were only 12 cases in the previous year in which legal advisers were prosecuted. Interestingly, none of those cases related to work permits. We had a discussion on the subject in Westminster Hall. It is obviously true that most people traffickers do not go anywhere near the work permit system, but a system that has quadrupled the number of people already in the country who apply successfully for work permits serves as a pull factor that is of huge use to people smugglers. Incidentally, can someone explain to me what has happened to the 1,160 young women admitted last year, allegedly to take up jobs as dancers? Do we really think that none of them is being exploited?

The wider breakdown in immigration policy is creating an underclass of people who, at the more moderate end of the scale, are working in the UK illegally, subject to low health and safety standards and so on, through to the extreme example of those enslaved in child brothels. Hundreds of thousands of people continue to circulate illegally in this country, many of them to a greater or lesser degree in the hands of the people who originally smuggled them here. I sincerely hope that the creation of SOCA will help to eradicate this vile crime, and that the misery of the thousands of exploited and tormented women and children will be brought to an end.

The Bill on its own will not achieve that. Successful action against illegal exploitation must involve other factors, a number of which I have mentioned—safe houses for witnesses, more counselling and support for them so that they are more likely to be willing to testify, much tougher penalties in courts, and an effective overall immigration policy.

My final point relates to another topic. There was a tremendous cross-current of discussion on the introduction of the new crime of inciting religious hatred. Before the eloquent testimony of my right hon. Friend David Davis on the subject, the Home Secretary was generous in giving way to about 10 Members in various parts of the House who were deeply concerned about the matter. I should like to leave hon. Members in all parts of the House with one thought on that—the point that I put to Mr. Marshall-Andrews, with whom I frequently disagree, although he is my near neighbour in Canterbury.

I ask hon. Members to think about this: the law is already perfectly firm and clear on incitement to violence. We have a panoply of measures to deal with it. If Parliament passes an Act, the courts and the Attorney-General must look at it and say, "This is supposed to extend a power in a new direction. There must be some new dimension to this." What is this new dimension of incitement to religious hatred? How does it differ from incitement to violence? The only possible answer comes back to arguing about beliefs. If we go down that route, we have given up on free speech. I urge the Government to think again about these provisions, although I support the rest of the Bill and argue that it needs strengthening in a number of areas with regard to the vile trade in women and children.

Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle 3:58 pm, 7th December 2004

I shall begin where Mr. Brazier left off and speak briefly on clause 119 and schedule 10. I have misgivings about the new offence that we are creating—that of stirring up religious hatred. It is being introduced for a noble purpose, as the Home Secretary acknowledged earlier, and for the best of reasons, but it still makes me feel a little uncomfortable. There is no consensus among the public that calls for the introduction of this new offence. When Lord Avebury looked at the matter in detail in the Special Select Committee, one of the conclusions was that there should be a degree of protection of faith but that there was no consensus as to the precise form that that might take.

That is still the position. Religions are belief systems, and all belief systems should be open to challenge, ridicule, satire and debate. In a free society, it should be possible to contest them.

Paragraph 305 of the explanatory notes states:

"Of themselves, criticism or expressions of antipathy or dislike of particular religions or their adherents will not be caught by the offence."

However, those are just the notes, not the terms of the Bill itself. Eminent jurists and lawyers say that the Bill would have that very effect.

The Bill contains no definition of religion, and that is amazing. There will be an offence of stirring up religious hatred, but we will not know what constitutes a religion. Apparently, the Government are content to leave that for the courts to decide.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

Does my hon. Friend accept that the expression of antipathy towards a creed might be okay in a conversation, but that schedule 10(11)(3) means that broadcasting such a view on the radio or in an interview on television or in the newspapers would render it likely to be seen or heard? As a result, strong antipathy expressed in that way would fall within the scope of the Bill.

Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

I shall come to that very point, but first I want to deal with the fundamental question of what constitutes a religion. I was about to say that this question will test the most eminent jurists and the finest legal brains in the land. In an intervention on the Home Secretary, I said that there were 5,015 Jedi knights in Sheffield. They belong to a religion that was listed in the 2001 census. Across the country, there are—amazingly!—390,000 Jedi knights. I suppose that they must worship Darth Vader, or something.

That is astonishing, so I took a closer look at the 2001 census and its list of religions. The list includes mysticism—well, why not?—paganism, new age beliefs, and Vodun. I confess that I have not heard of the latter, and I should be pleased to take an intervention from any colleague who might be able to help me out. The list goes on to cite the Wicca religion, Tin Tao, ancestor worship and Cooneyism. It mentions satanism too, and about 200 other religions. They all have adherents somewhere in the UK. The religions listed range from the bizarre to the absolutely mainstream. It will be left to the lawyers and the courts to interpret which religions will be caught by the new offence that is being created.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Opposition Whip (Commons)

Schedule 10(3) also refers to people who lack religious beliefs. That means that we are talking about inciting religious hatred among lots of our fellow citizens who do not believe in anything at all.

Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

Atheism is included in the list, and I think that gnosticism is too. The list can be accessed on the web. As the hon. Gentleman says, the Bill captures those who believe in a religion and those who, conversely, do not. That is a little perverse.

What do we mean by hatred? I suppose it means a really intense dislike. How would Christians feel about satanists? I imagine that they would feel an intense dislike for the Antichrist—perhaps that is another one for the lawyers. After all, we have a satanist in the Royal Navy now: he got some publicity a couple of months ago.

I am not an expert in these matters, unlike some colleagues, but there is an ambiguity about where the line will be drawn on what is and is not acceptable. It all seems very subjective at the moment and, of course, one person's meat is another's poison. I have heard it said that the new legislation could be used by coreligionists—a fundamentalist Muslim against a more mainstream Muslim or an ultra-orthodox Jew against a liberal Jew. It might be felt that the liberal Jew was in some way selling out the religion.

Intention is not included in the Bill, as my hon. Friend Mr. McWalter pointed out. Intention is not required for the offence to be committed. It must be shown only that the action had the effect of stirring up religious hatred. The hon. Member for Canterbury pointed out that the statute book is very thick and there must be any number of ways in which the police and the prosecuting authorities could successfully bring to book someone who incites violence.

In fact, Lord Desai made that point when he said that we do not need a new law, because the existing provisions should be sufficient. That point was amplified last night by an eminent academic lawyer, Professor Jowell, speaking in the Jubilee Room. He said that, for an offence to be committed,

"the words, behaviour, written material, programmes or recordings must be threatening, abusive or insulting".

He said that the provisions were very vague and he was not sure whether they covered something that was offensive. He also said that the provisions set a very low threshold and he was not sure what sort of statement would cross the threshold and be liable to prosecution.

The Home Secretary told us earlier that the person of the Attorney-General provided a lock or failsafe, because he would make the decision on prosecution. However, in deciding whether or not to prosecute, the Attorney-General would be establishing a benchmark of what was and was not acceptable. Is that a proper safeguard? Who knows what kind of religious beliefs a future Attorney-General might hold. We might end up with a really fired-up, souped-up, born-again Christian: we do not know.

The final worry is that the Bill may encourage self-censorship. People may be wary of saying anything that could be taken out of context and cause offence. The people who say that most passionately are those who work in the creative world—journalists, writers, comedians and performers. The comedian, Rowan Atkinson, who attended the meeting in the Jubilee Room last night, said that he believed that the Bill would lead to a

"chilling of the climate of free expression".

He went on to say that it was incredible that in future he might crack an illegal joke. That is astonishing and not very funny, so I hope that the measure will be considered exhaustively in Committee, because many people out there, as well as Members on both sides of the House, have big reservations about the new offence that we are about to enact.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point 4:10 pm, 7th December 2004

I do not always entirely agree with Mr. Prentice, but he spoke eloquently and I agreed with every word he said. I am grateful to him for giving us the benefit of his sound advice.

The Bill is like the curate's egg—good in parts. In fact, it is good in most parts. There are 155 clauses and more than 200 pages. I agree with most of them, although there are one or two bits that I want to pick over, if I get the opportunity. There are obviously some easy political points to be scored here, if we wanted to try to do so, but today is not the time for that.

There is one serious and fatal problem with the Bill: the religious hatred provisions, which are ill-conceived, idiotic and an offence against freedom and common sense. They may damage mainstream religions, and they will certainly damage tolerance in our society, and will benefit only the worst type of extremists. They will also benefit the law industry, which stands to trade heavily and expensively on the uncertainties and lack of definition in the Bill.

Like many other pieces of legislation introduced by the Government, the Bill transgresses the law of unintended consequences. I accept that the Government are introducing it with good intentions, but it will deliver unintended consequences. It will reduce tolerance, and that is a major problem. Just as the Hunting Act 2004 will damage the overall welfare of our fox population, and the Gambling Bill will create super-casinos that will increase the damage done to individuals, families and society by excessive gambling, so the religious hatred provisions in this Bill will attack society's freedoms; they will damage tolerance, and may bring extremist right-wing responses that damage religions themselves.

I want to start on a positive note, however, and whistle quickly through one or two of the Bill's main provisions. On balance, the new agency—SOCA—is necessary to respond to greater co-ordination in international organised crime, such as people trafficking, drug trafficking and money laundering. I welcome the move to set up the agency, but I want to address two issues. First, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, which, with some help from Customs and Excise, will form part of the new force, have generally served the country well. They have good management and administrative support and their officers are dedicated and professional. We should not forget to thank them and give them recognition for their achievements, dedication and professionalism.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

I am glad to see that the Minister agrees.

My second point about SOCA is that the agency will be close to sinister organised crime, and although there must be no crossover, that danger is always present in such organisations. We shall give the agency many new and powerful tools, so we must also have procedures for complaints about and regulation of the agency that command public respect and confidence.

The Home Secretary said today that accountability would be provided by the Home Affairs Committee. I do not quite understand how that will work, and I remain to be convinced about it. Clearly, there must be a strong independent element in the complaints channels, which must be publicly accountable and transparent, and it is not clear to me that the Independent Police Complaints Commission will work well.

The single co-ordinated and integrated agency—SOCA—will take the fight to those involved in serious crime. We should all welcome that, but we need to look carefully at the status of SOCA's officers, who will lose their status as officers of the Crown. The Police Federation has serious concerns about that, and we must listen carefully to those concerns, not least because the vast majority of current National Crime Squad officers are unwilling to submit to transferring to SOCA, which may represent a great loss of skills for tackling serious crime.

I come now to a raft of technical police powers that I broadly welcome. The extension of investigative powers, which will enable the police to collect evidence and compulsorily question those who can help to solve serious crimes, particularly while the crime is hot, is an important measure. Used sensibly, it can help. I broadly welcome the extension of powers of arrest to all offences, but we must define limits to that, of course. I have great concerns about citizens' arrests, as will most hon. Members.

I welcome the super-warrants that will empower the police to act quickly against villains who are now much more organised and cleverer. They will give the police increased power and flexibility while the chase is on and the evidence is still available. I also welcome the police power to test for drugs at the point of arrest. The increased power for the police to take forensic evidence at the earliest possible moment must also be greatly welcomed. At a much lower level, the power to deal with incorrectly registered and uninsured vehicles is long overdue.

The powers to tackle animal rights extremists and to protect people from serious harassment are also long overdue, although I do not know why we did not simply extend the powers in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to do just that. That would have been a much easier way to deal with the matter, and it could have been done years ago. However, the power to remove protesters or to put onerous conditions on them, particularly as we are taking that power to deal with the problem outside Parliament now, gives me deep cause for concern. As someone said, hard cases make bad law. That is absolutely true, and we must be careful not to over-respond to the situation in front of Parliament. We must do nothing to stop fair and decent protesting in this country.

All those powers will enable us to make society safer and to bring more villains to justice—we all want to do that—but they will also enable us to establish people's innocence earlier. If we are taking evidence and testing earlier, we can establish people's innocence earlier. That must not be forgotten, and it is a very good thing. People who are innocent would not object to those powers being used on them, as that would establish their innocence.

These measures will help us to improve detection rates and therefore to increase convictions. Detection and conviction are the best ways to deter serious and organised crime. These measures will tip the scales of justice back towards the innocent victim and society, and against the serious villain. Some of the measures may offend the legal profession, but hon. Members must act in the best interests of society, not in the best interests of the Law Society—although I thank it for its excellent briefing on the Bill. It is high time we took tough action to catch and convict villains and to support the victims, especially if they have protected themselves, their families and their property against burglars, intruders and other attackers. We must also make the punishment of convicted people much tougher.

The Bill makes changes to the judicial system and increases police powers. I wait to see how Queen's evidence—plea bargaining—will be designed and work in practice. It offers clear administrative advantages, and I am not necessarily against that. I stress again, however, that when a sentence is given it must be appropriate, even after a plea bargain. We must not give slaps across the wrist to serious criminals. The punishment must be so tough that they and others are seriously deterred, and must also strongly promote and enable the rehabilitation of criminals while they are in prison. Bad people can and do reform to become good people, but not often enough under our politically correct wimpish systems of punishment.

Tough and harsh action at the start of a career in crime can and does deflect many away from crime. A constituent from Hadleigh e-mailed me yesterday to ask me to raise that with the Home Secretary. My constituent knows full well that tough action at the start of a career in crime can save not just society from crime, but the life of someone who gets involved in crime. Sadly, the Bill does not address punishment in any way. We need a Bill to do that.

We can all welcome the witness protection proposals and the improved money laundering provisions, but we must not forget low-level offences such as credit card crime and cheque fraud. Pound by pound, those crimes can feed through into serious crime and fund terrorism, on the old IRA model. I hope that SOCA will bear that in mind, especially while we suffer from the threat of terrorism, which on the international scale is largely from Muslim sources—and although that is a fact, I might be at risk under the religious hate crime provisions for saying it. That would be wrong.

The religious incitement measures will damage freedom of expression and religious liberty. They will prevent fair comment about religious beliefs and cults and enable them to silence their critics. Some cults are off the wall, some are downright nasty, some are dangerous and some are just silly—we have heard about the Jedi knights twice already, I think. Some cults are corrosive to society, especially Christian society, which is still broadly the society that we enjoy in this country—and I do not want anyone ever to be at risk of being prosecuted for saying that.

The law will be brought into disrepute by this measure. The Attorney-General and the courts will find it impossible to interpret the proposals consistently. How will we select a jury to deliberate on such charges? Will the jurors' religion be taken into account when the jury is formed? What relevance would that have to the decision that they made, depending on whose religious beliefs were being offended?

The Bill could even prevent comedians from poking fun at religions. It is a measure of how civilised we are that we can tolerate and withstand fun, jokes, jibes and criticism. The Bill is a move backwards to a less tolerant society. I can just imagine the thought police dragging Dawn French, under arrest and in handcuffs, off to prison after a particularly challenging episode of "The Vicar of Dibley"—[Interruption.] It might take several police to do that job, but where would the outrageous alternative comic stand in the face of the Bill, and who would like to see Billy Connolly thrown in jail?

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

I see a few nods around the Chamber, but I think that that would be a bad move.

The incitement to religious hatred proposal of 2001 provoked widespread criticism from many groups—not only Christians, but Muslims, atheists, humanists and gay rights activists. After two defeats in the other place, the Government dropped their proposals—yet another example of the other place doing a better job for the country than we are able to do in this House now. No wonder the Prime Minister wants to destroy the other place.

Existing criminal law already protects religious believers from criminal acts or incitement to commit such acts. We already have protection against religiously aggravated offences under legislation of 2001. It provided increased safeguards and much tougher sentences where a religiously provoked crime was committed. At the moment, the Crown Prosecution Service is monitoring 70 or 80 religiously aggravated cases, so it is working well. As I said, the laws to provide protection are already in place.

The new proposal is a step too far. It will prevent good organisations from fighting for human rights freedoms and religious freedoms around the world. I deal weekly, if not daily, with such matters, with the help of the great campaigner, Wilfred Wong. In Westminster Hall tomorrow, if I can catch the eye of whoever is in the Chair, I hope to speak up for Christians in Iraq. The Christian Institute does excellent work, dealing with cases of individuals who are mistreated because of their beliefs, but that clause in the Bill could prevent it from doing its job in the future.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Will the hon. Gentleman please explain how a prohibition of religious hatred against people—equivalent to the present prohibition of inciting racial hatred—that protects Jews on the basis of their faith, would stop the quite proper activities that he is describing on the part of Christian organisations? I think that the hon. Gentleman is misled, and he has not explained how the consequences that he fears will be brought about under the Bill.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

The Christian Institute certainly believes that there are dangers in the Bill as drafted. It is worried, for example, about dealing with the actions that Muslims sometimes take against people who convert from Islam to Christianity, in case that is regarded as incitement to religious hatred. That is the point. If the Minister believes that the Bill should go further than the current protection that the law provides against incitement to violence or any criminal acts, perhaps she will explain why she believes that it is necessary.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Present law protects people not only against incitement to violence, but against incitement to racial hatred. The courts decided that two religious groups, the Jews and Sikhs, were covered by that protection, though it has to be said that that law has not stopped some of our comedians from making pretty florid racist jokes, so the hon. Gentleman's charge that humour would be silenced seems ill founded. Currently, only Jews and Sikhs are protected against incitement to hatred on the basis of their faith; Christians and Muslims are not protected in that way, and they deserve the same protection.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

It is my belief that the current law provides protection to anyone in this country, whatever their race or religion, from incitement to commit criminal acts. Is that not a fact?

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

For the last time, it is true that the law protects people against incitement to commit a criminal act, and it also provides further protection against incitement to racial hatred. In a secretly filmed documentary, the British National party leader, Nick Griffin, said that he could not say the things that he said about Muslims about black people, because that would contravene the law on incitement to racial hatred, but he could say them about Muslims, because that was not illegal.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

The Minister makes my case for me. She says that people are protected from incitement to criminal acts, so why do we need this law?

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Hating people on the basis of their race is not a criminal act; inciting someone to hate people on the basis of their race is.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

The Minister makes my point for me.

I shall move on. We must be free to tell the truth to expose human rights abuses, and others must have the right to criticise us for what we do and how we do it. In any event, the religious hatred proposal is technically flawed. Paragraph 3 of schedule 10 does not even define what constitutes a religious belief or a lack of religious belief. Everyone, from atheists to animists and from humanists to Hindus, has cause to worry about the uncertainty within the proposals. Only lawyers are celebrating the Bill, because they will benefit greatly in wealth and in work from its great uncertainties.

As Matthew Parris pointed out in The Times:

"Glenn Hoddle's remark that the disabled may be being punished for sin in a former life was silly, but should it be criminal? It's a point of view. A few hundred million adherents to reincarnationalist faiths hold it. May I not mock the fallacy of reincarnationism? The new law will lead to trouble and confusion. Leave it alone, Mr. Blunkett."

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

Is it not ironic that the same journalist argued that Buttiglione should not remain as a commissioner, because of his views? At one moment Matthew Parris wants tolerance; at another, he does not.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

The hon. Gentleman has made his point—no doubt he will meet Matthew Parris in the newspapers on that issue. Some people think that Matthew Parris should be locked up. I do not happen to think so, but surely he should not be at risk of being locked up for expressing his opinion about somebody's belief. Incidentally, Glenn Hoddle was today appointed the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers, and we all wish him well.

Let us examine the Australian law on religious vilification, dating from 2001. On 9 November, The Times law page revealed that two Christian pastors were being prosecuted for criticising Islam by drawing attention to the teachings of the Koran and questioning Islam's compatibility with western democracy. Those pastors read out quotations from the Koran at a seminar, and were reported to the Islamic Council of Victoria, which took the case to court. The court sat for three days, and the case ran for almost eight months. Indeed, it may still be running—no doubt Matthew Parris will tell us tomorrow. On the back of that case, however, another similar case has been launched. That is, of course, nonsense, which we do not need in this country. We should not corrupt a good Bill with an ill-thought-out measure. The religious hatred provision should be dropped.

Finally, the Law Society's excellent briefing on the Queen's Speech states:

"The Government's aim is to strengthen the link between the police and the community, increase the accountability and responsiveness of the police service and build the confidence and awareness of the community."

I agree with those words, but the trouble is that they are only words. To our cost, we know that the Government are all talk and no action, and it is by their actions that we shall know them. How will they act to improve the 999 call service, which has become a joke in many areas? When will they stop closing our police stations and making them part-time? In Castle Point we now have only two, part-time, police stations—one in Benfleet and one on Canvey Island. I want those to remain open, and open for longer if possible. Canvey Island police station was closed at one stage last year; I fought to get it reopened, with the help of the excellent Councillor Ray Howard, and we succeeded. We want to ensure that both police stations stay open.

In Castle Point we are lucky to have a very good police force with dedicated professional constables and officers and excellent leadership from Chief Superintendent John Mauger. Local detection rates are increasing; our local crime levels, having risen for some time, are falling; and our dedicated and tough antisocial behaviour order team has made a great start, with some 35 arrests in recent weeks. We now have in place six or so ASBOs, which have dramatically reduced street crime. I welcome the measures in the Bill to extend ASBO powers and to give triggers to local councillors, but we need to take much tougher action when ASBOs are breached if they are not to fall into disrepute. The Government must deal with that problem.

I congratulate our local police. They need more help, not less, but the Government gave them a rise of only a 3.75 per cent. this year, although they needed 5.75 per cent.—an additional £2 million—simply to stand still. They must get that if they are to make use of the powers in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although the current penalties for breaching ASBOs are quite severe, the probability of someone who does so having those penalties visited on them is too low? The problem is not the sentence, but the probability of its being applied.


this is my first venture onto this site so hear goes. I must agree with Tony McWalter about the ASBO,s i read in a national sunday newspaper about ASBO orders placed on...

Submitted by david parker Continue reading

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

The hon. Gentleman speaks wisely; he is absolutely right. The courts are not taking breaches of ASBOs seriously enough. I can cite a specific case. A police team in my constituency did 120 hours' work to bring a case involving a very serious breach of an ASBO, but the person concerned got only 20 hours' community service. That is complete nonsense. ASBOs will be brought into disrepute if the courts do not take appropriate action.

Labour is targeting Castle Point for 4,000 more houses, but reducing our police funding in real terms. It is also targeting Castle Point as a seat that it wants to win in the general election. It will be judged, as I will, on actions, hard work and commitment to local people. I am very happy to submit myself to them, and I think that they will speak for me at the next election.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead 4:37 pm, 7th December 2004

It is a pleasure to follow Bob Spink, particularly since the vast majority of his speech was taken up with the virtues of the Bill. Given that he welcomes its overall drift, even though he takes exception to certain provisions—as, indeed, do I—I hope that he, as well as many of his hon. Friends, will vote for its Second Reading.

In some ways, the Bill seeks to combat a "Dixon of Dock Green" approach to policing and crime. Huge numbers of people in our society would find that approach amusing and easily avoided when they contemplate nefarious behaviour.

The Bill brings together several agencies in order to take serious crime really seriously. That is welcome. As we have heard, it includes provisions relating to people who have been caught up in illegal immigration and are effectively imprisoned in brothels. Having come from another country, they are forced to perform sexual acts for their miserable living.

I recently graduated from the police service parliamentary scheme, and during my time with it we carried out a joint raid on one such house. There was an extremely young girl there—she could only have been about 14—who had been taken from Thailand and placed in the house. When the police arrived, she was overcome with joy that she had been rescued from her desperate servitude. When she was told that she would be on a plane the very next morning and that she was to be reunited with her family, she was ecstatic. She cried tears of joy at being liberated from her miserable circumstances.

That was a joint operation between the immigration service and the police service, but I had a sense that it was partly a show being put on for me as a Member of Parliament. I felt that such joint operations were not conducted frequently enough, and that the barriers between the operational systems of the two services seemed to be sufficiently high that, although that particular success was welcome, such successes were not being achieved regularly enough.

The Bill tries to link the operations of all the different services. It also tries to attack the gangs involved in those activities and the financing operations that lie behind the gangs. The extension of provisions relating to the proceeds of crime is also an extremely welcome part of the Bill. I look forward to all those proposals receiving strong support.

I should like to add a footnote to an exchange that I had earlier with my hon. and learned Friend Vera Baird about clause 58. I queried whether, in her understanding, the clause would exempt journalists from the provisions on disclosure notices. I was worried that there was no explicit reference to journalists in the clause and, having taken other advice, I am still not clear about that. I know that the explanatory notes to the Bill say that the intention is to ensure that journalists cannot be subject to those processes, but I am not sure whether the wording of the Bill has quite achieved that purpose. If I am selected to serve on the Committee, I shall look forward to working out a way of making it more explicit that a clear exemption for journalists exists in this regard.

Like most hon. Members, including Bob Spink and my hon. Friend Mr. Prentice, I remain as entirely unconvinced by the provisions governing incitement to religious hatred as I was when these matters last came before us. I voted against them at that time. I suppose that, if that debars me from serving on the Committee, I shall not have the opportunity to raise the issue at that stage, but I give notice to the Whips and the Minister that I fully intend to raise it on Report, if that is the earliest opportunity I have to do so.

A number of fundamental matters are at issue concerning the kind of country that we have and the kind of provisions that we make to manage the extraordinary diversity of views within it. People have suggested that we are simply extending to Muslims and Christians provision that is already available for Sikhs and Jews, but that is not what the Bill says. It says some specific things about those of some religion, or indeed none. Anybody expressing a creed is to be protected from other people inciting others to hatred of those people who are held to be professors of that creed.

A good thing about creeds—a bad thing about them, perhaps—is that people who say what they believe in have a positive agenda on their values, the kind of society they wish our society to be, the kind of person they want to be, the kind of families they think are the best structured and so on. They profess a range of positive things.

Let us consider certain aspects of a creed. For example, it is etched strongly into Britain that all people should have the right to develop and subscribe to whatever creed they want. Mr. Shepherd claimed that Labour Members have, apparently, no sense of history and he quoted a bit of history to illustrate his credentials. The truth is that the notion that everybody has the right to profess their creed is strongly etched into our constitution, courtesy of the work of John Locke in his essay "A Letter Concerning Toleration" and in "The Second Treatise of Civil Government" of 1689, which consolidated a view of our society that was put in place by the so-called Glorious Revolution.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

If that was all established at such an early date, how come the Catholic emancipation Act did not happen until 1829?

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

My hon. Friend raises a good point. Interestingly, even at that stage, "A Letter Concerning Toleration", which is in many ways a foundation of our society's view on what is to be accepted, stopped short of tolerating Catholics. It did so because although the principle behind Locke's thinking was that we must never seek to criminalise what someone thinks, we can criminalise what someone overtly does.

At that stage, as my hon. Friend knows, some held the strong view that those who went to a Catholic mass were showing deference to a foreign power. That foreign power was in conflict with the monarch. Hence, there was a sense in which someone who professed such a view might, by that act as opposed to what they thought, be deemed to be acting treasonably.

I have mentioned that a creed has a positive agenda, but most creeds also have not simply a set of positives—lights by which one might live one's life—but a theory about where darkness lies. That involves the things that are deemed by that creed to be opposed to it, odious or even worthy of there being visited on those who profess those beliefs a sentence of death, or perhaps eternal death, which is damnation. That is the dark side of creed.

Historically—I do not have to go to Darth Vader for my religions—if we consider the rise of Protestantism, we see that Calvinism professed many of the same positive aspects as Lutheranism. What was etched much more clearly into its fabric, however, was a theory about how odious, contemptible and disgusting the Catholic faith was. That was not merely in words in Calvinistic articles. As the hon. Member for Castle Point said, such beliefs can sometimes be corrosive of society, and Calvinism was constitutive of the society and character of Switzerland in the 16th century and later.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning)

The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting contribution to the debate. He talks about the dark side of creeds, but is he not really talking about the nature of tolerance? Tolerance is not indivisible. We exercise tolerance in the context of a wider range of ethical considerations. Of course we do not tolerate cruelty, wickedness or hatred. He is not talking about creeds so much as the nature of the human condition, in all its imperfection.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. First, there is a small distinction between toleration and tolerance. One of the things that got built into our system was toleration. That was saying not that every creed had the same value—clearly, some creeds had better value than others—but that we would at least not seek to gainsay the practices of those who profess other ideas.

The crucial point is that a kind of anodised version of religion characterises the Government's view both in this debate and the previous debate. That anodised view thinks only about religions in terms of the light side—in terms of what they enjoin positively and the extent to which families, cultures and people are bound together by that set of beliefs. That is why we want to tolerate different belief systems—people have the right to conduct their lives in that way. We must be vigilant, however, about the extent to which people sometimes profess creeds that express deep, vengeful and murderous intolerance. Sixteenth-century Calvinism was such a belief. Incidentally, I do not know the extent to which these remarks will be seen as negative by large numbers of my constituents. It was such a belief, however, and from what little I know about it now, it may still be.

One of the reasons why Calvinism was such a vengeful and murderous creed, and why its state wished to extirpate anyone who did not profess it, was that there had been a Catholic inquisition 40 years before. Calvinists therefore saw the people whom they were vilifying as destroying the lives of dissenters. Some might say that their extreme hostility to Catholicism, which is etched into Calvin's work, had the justification of those earlier events.

Within the notion of a creed, we have a right to be vigilant about whether there are people in our society who profess a creed that has a capacity for an intense negative and dark side.

I think that, as leaders of the nation, we owe it to the nation to be vigilant. We are the custodians of John Locke's views, although they were expressed imperfectly at the time. My right hon. Friend Mr. Barron was right about that. We are the custodians of that tradition, and it is right for us to be vigilant in ensuring that the beliefs people express do not go beyond the bounds of what is acceptable to society.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning)

The conflict, or at least contrast, between dark and light that the hon. Gentleman is describing lies at the heart of almost every major religion. Nearly every religion I can think of—although this may not be true of all of them—marks a journey from darkness to light, and redemption depends on that journey. Surely legislating against that would fly in the face of all the principal faiths in the country.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

I am not suggesting that we should legislate against it. I am saying that it is right for a society to be vigilant—in its education system, for instance—about making people aware of some of the beliefs to which they subscribe. If people emerge from our education system with an anodised version of religion, that may not do the history of religion much justice. Ideas, creeds and beliefs are forces for good, for integration and the structuring of decent life, but they can also be forces of destruction, capable of exerting pressure on people to behave in all sorts of unacceptable ways.

I have a particular reason for raising this issue: 3 per cent. of my constituents are Muslim. I have met them on the doorstep and elsewhere, and I am particularly concerned about some of the younger adherents to their creed—and, indeed, younger adherents to other creeds as well. They often express their views in a particularly harsh and stark way. Perhaps as we get older we start to become more mellow, and less inclined to see those who are not with us as being against us; but some of the views expressed by some of my more excitable Muslim constituents give me cause for concern. Opinions on the status of heretics and, in particular, the status of apostates who turn against the religion into which they were born are expressed very crudely by some younger Muslims, and could easily get them into trouble. I agree with the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which fears that their religion could well be used against Muslim communities. Muslim representatives themselves express contrasting views, but the evidence I have seen strongly suggests that that could happen.

Many other people also profess their beliefs very stridently. It is much easier to hear about what and whom they dislike and hate than about what their positive message might be. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle that the proposal in the Bill is well-intentioned, that we all know that it would not be there if the British National party had not decided to attack Muslims rather than, say, people who are black. That is the origin of this measure, which will factor in this anodised version of religion. If there are still Calvinists of the sort that I mentioned, or even Torquemada Catholics, it will be impossible for us to say, "Those people have a creed that is hateful, and we must do what we can to ensure that it is extinguished."

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we currently have a law that protects Muslims, but not one that protects Islam? The two are different.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

Members of any religion are much more likely to take offence than those who hold less strong views. Most people in our society are fairly ignorant of such matters, myself included. I do not know enough about Sikhism to be able to delineate its dark side. But through education, we perhaps manage to convince all people that they should try to look honestly at their beliefs, reflect on them and see whether they have a tendency to conduce to bad behaviour in certain circumstances in a multiracial, multi-religious society. That is one of our society's values, and we bring it to those of different religious persuasions.

It is unlikely that the Government will rein back on this provision, but I reiterate what I said at the beginning of this short speech—[Interruption.] It is not so short now. This is a good Bill that contains lots of valuable things, but schedule 10 is not of value and I hope that the Government will resile from pushing it through on Report and Third Reading.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Scottish National Party, Angus 5:02 pm, 7th December 2004

On listening to Mr. McWalter go on at length about the dark side, it struck me that Mr. Prentice perhaps had a point in mentioning the Jedi knights. He will doubtless now have a huge mailbag from obsessive science fiction fans, explaining the true place of Darth Vader in the Jedi religion. Fortunately or otherwise, the part of the Bill in question does not apply to Scotland, so I shall quietly side-step this issue, leave it to the Scottish Parliament to deal with its own version of that provision, and address instead the nitty-gritty issues relating to the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

I should say at the outset that we in the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru acknowledge that there is merit in the idea of cross-border co-operation in dealing with serious organised crime. We are not opposed to the Bill and we recognise the need for an organisation such as SOCA, but we have some serious reservations about the detail and, so far as the SNP is concerned, particular aspects relating to Scotland. SOCA's creation is a further indication of a move away from crime fighting on the ground and towards a more intelligence-led system. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead spoke of the "Dixon of Dock Green" approach, but there is a balance to be struck between such a traditional approach and a completely technological one. I fully appreciate that a great deal of intelligence information is required to deal with organised crime successfully, but it is also essential to have people on the ground.

SOCA will deal with many of the aspects of organised crime previously dealt with by Customs and Excise, which has moved toward intelligence-led operations. The Scottish Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, examined the operation of the Customs service in Scotland, and it is fair to say that we were less than impressed with the impact of this intelligence-led service. Many of our smaller ports do not have adequate Customs cover, and there is some evidence that many of those involved in the drugs trade regard the smaller ports as an easy route to getting illegal drugs into the UK. I suspect that that is increasingly true of people smuggling and other organised crime activities.

I refer the Under-Secretary to the final paragraph of the fourth report by the Scottish Affairs Committee:

"We support an intelligence-led Customs service, but not at the expense of all else. Accordingly, we recommend that HMCE should seek to supplement its approach to law enforcement in Scotland by increasing the number of occasions on which staff are on duty at strategic points. An important weapon in the fight against contraband should involve the strategy of anticipating likely avenues which traffickers might seek to explore next and putting into place appropriate procedures to deter them. We believe that prevention is better than cure. A frequent high profile Customs presence should be apparent in parts of Scotland where discernible risks of smuggling activity can be demonstrated."

Those concerns remain, and they probably apply to other parts of the UK. Indeed, Bob Spink made a similar point about his constituency. If SOCA is to be truly successful in defeating trafficking and other obnoxious organised crime, it must have sufficient officers on the ground throughout the UK, and should not rely entirely on remote intelligence. This morning, Sir Stephen Lander, the designated head of SOCA, noted on the "Today" programme that much organised crime in the UK originates abroad, so points of entry into the UK would be of essential interest to the agency. At many smaller ports, however, there is not even a fisheries protection officer, let alone a representative from Customs and Excise, so many of them could be used as points of entry for the import of illegal substances and for other obnoxious trades.

The Public and Commercial Services Union has expressed concern about the resourcing of SOCA, as there appears to be little new money to set up the agency, which is expected to be cost-neutral in its first two years. Are cuts in other crime fighting agencies inevitable if it is to be fully financed? The concern expressed by the Scottish Affairs Committee comes into even sharper focus, as there is likely to be a reduction in the provision for many remote and rural areas. If smaller-scale drug smuggling is not deemed a sufficiently serious problem, it could be overlooked. SOCA's objective should be to stop the drugs trade and other such activities, not shift the focus on to larger operators.

In preparing for our debate, I asked a parliamentary question to ascertain how many Customs officers were employed in Scotland. I was told:

"HM Customs and Excise has 85 Law Enforcement investigation staff based in Scotland including two officers seconded to the Crown Office, Financial Crime Unit and Civil Recovery Unit to support the Lord Advocate's Proceeds of Crime Act strategy."—[Hansard, 30 November 2004; Vol. 428, c. 89W.]

I would be grateful if the Minister clarified SOCA's intentions regarding the number of staff to be based in Scotland. Presumably, some Customs officers would be transferred or seconded, but how many officers will undertake other SOCA duties in Scotland?

We are concerned about the annual plan and strategic priorities that are to be set by the Home Secretary. Under the Bill, he is required to consult Scottish Ministers, but it is not clear what will happen if they disagree. Scottish Ministers do not have the power to veto the way in which the agency operates in Scotland. Indeed, there is confusion about the Home Secretary's role in relation to the operation of SOCA in Scotland. Under clauses 8 and 9, which deal with the annual plan and strategic priorities, he must consult, but under clause 24, which deals with the power to give direction to a police authority, he must secure the agreement of Scottish Ministers. If the Home Secretary can set SOCA's priorities, effectively he has the power to give direction to police authorities, irrespective of clause 24. Will the Under-Secretary clarify that that is the case, and that by using those powers the Home Secretary will have the right to direct the operation of police in Scotland, at least within the ambit of SOCA's investigations? If that interpretation is correct, it is unacceptable and I shall seek a strengthening of the power of the Scottish Minister so that there is more than consultation. As perhaps envisaged in clause 24, there should be agreement on the operation of SOCA in Scotland, as crime is a devolved matter. I am surprised that Scottish Ministers did not insist on that.The same applies to the code of practice in clause 11, where again there is only a requirement to consult.

On the Bill more generally, there appears to be a lack of a clear definition of serious organised crime. The original White Paper provided a definition, albeit a somewhat woolly one. It could be argued that one would know serious organised crime when one saw it, but that might not necessarily be so, especially at the outset of an investigation. There seems to be no brake on what the Home Secretary decides is serious organised crime. There has already been discussion today about Travellers, for example. One hon. Member spoke about computer viruses, which may be organised crime if used, for example, to undermine computer systems for the purpose of stealing money, although that may not be the work of a single hacker. Another hon. Member assumed that paedophilia would not be within the scope of the Bill, but the activities of such rings—on the internet, for example—could be defined as serious organised crime. Some effort must be made to decide what serious organised crime is.

Given the absence of a definition and the fact that the Home Secretary can determine priorities, there is no long-term plan for the agency. That is fundamental to dealing with serious organised crime, however it is eventually defined. As the Bill is drafted, the agency could be subject to changing political priorities as Governments change.

From a Scottish perspective, the greatest concern relates to operational matters in clauses 23 to 25. Clauses 24 and 25 in particular cause us severe problems, as they relate to officers being seconded from police forces to SOCA, and vice versa. The most serious difficulty is that a civilian member of SOCA with no training in or understanding of Scots law and procedure could act with the powers of a police constable in Scotland. That raises serious questions not only about undermining police forces, but about the potentially disastrous consequences of not acting in accordance with Scots law or procedure, which could allow those caught in a SOCA investigation to get off on a technicality.

I raised the matter earlier in an intervention, but in his usual manner the Home Secretary brushed it off as not being of any great importance. He mentioned that officers had operated successfully with the French authorities on immigration. That may well be true, but I am sure they did not act independently of the French authorities on French soil, which effectively could happen in the agency. It is not a trivial or purely legalistic point. If the proper procedures are not carried out, there could be serious consequences for the whole investigation. After the investigation and charge stage, the Lord Advocate and the Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland take over the case and it would go through the Scottish procedure thereafter, so there is the potential for huge difficulty.

It would be unacceptable if SOCA could authorise any officer in its employment to operate with the powers of a police constable in Scotland without any knowledge of the difference between English and Scots law and procedure. I urge the Minister to reconsider the provision and ensure that proper training is provided. I accept that it might be necessary for a SOCA officer from south of the border to be seconded to an investigation in Scotland, but only with proper training.

Interestingly, the Police Federation of England and Wales also raised concerns about the clause, from the opposite point of view, arguing that if a police officer transfers to SOCA, he could lose his status as an officer of the Crown. That problem has also been raised before, and deserves more consideration.

The Law Society of Scotland has raised another point in relation to clause 46, which deals with the assault and obstruction of SOCA officers. There appears to be a discrepancy that could result in there being a variation in the maximum sentence for that crime. The society says that the maximum sentence that can be imposed in Scotland under the clause is 12 months in prison, but that the maximum for the analogous crime under section 41 of the Police (Scotland) Act 2002 is nine months.

The maximum sentence possible for assaulting police officers or other emergency workers under the new Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill, which is currently before the Scottish Parliament, is also nine months. It would seem illogical to have different sentences for the same crime. I appreciate that the Scottish Parliament might want to consider increasing the maximum sentence that it allows, rather than the other way around, and that that would probably be the best way to deal with the problem.

As Vera Baird noted earlier, the PCS union has raised concerns about the resources available to SOCA to employ its own staff at competitive terms and conditions. If staff are to be seconded from other departments on better terms and conditions than those available to full-time SOCA staff—and given that staff may be coming from various agencies, there is a clear danger that that might happen—and if they are doing the same work, that could create a two-tier work force and all the resentment and problems that go with that. If SOCA is to be the success that we all want it to be, it must be properly resourced to avoid those problems.

In conclusion, I repeat that we support SOCA in principle and can see the logic behind it. It will have an important part to play in dealing with organised crime which, by its very nature, tends to be cross-border. However, there are serious concerns about the aspects of the Bill that I have mentioned. I hope that the Minister will take some of them on board. We do not oppose the measure and hope to see SOCA in operation, but we hope that Scots law and procedure are properly protected in the final version of the Bill.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda 5:17 pm, 7th December 2004

This has been a fascinating debate. I feel that I have never learned so much in a speech, short or long, as I did when I listened to the contribution about the dark side from my hon. Friend Mr. McWalter.

I welcome the Bill, in the broadest sense. I suspect that it contains many provisions on which most hon. Members will be able to agree when the time comes to vote. I shall say something about two particular measures, and then touch on the issue that has exercised so many contributors to the debate this afternoon—the incitement to religious hatred.

First, I welcome the provisions in respect of uninsured drivers and the powers that the police will have to take their cars away. Clause 131 amends the Road Traffic Act 1988. On June 10, I parked my car in Clydach vale while I waited to drive people to the polling station. Unfortunately, somebody drove into the side of my car. I was stationary at the time and it took three months before we discovered that the other driver was uninsured. I am therefore as aware as anyone else of the hassle that is caused to innocent drivers, and of the problems that arise in terms of increased premiums in subsequent years. The problem of uninsured drivers affects an increasing number of people, and the Bill will go some way to helping with that.However, in none of the Bills presented by the Government this autumn is there any measure to ensure that cars are insured. That problem will remain as long as we ensure only that a car is insured on the single day that it takes to tax it. I hope that the Government will bear in mind the campaign undertaken by many hon. Members to ensure that all cars are insured.

Some redrafting may be required, however. According to clause 131, the constable is allowed to stop a car and demand insurance details under section 165 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. However, clause 131(5) states:

"If the constable is unable to seize the vehicle immediately because the person driving the vehicle has failed to stop as requested or has driven off, he may seize it at any time within the period of 24 hours beginning with the time at which the conditions in subsection (1) or (2) are first met."

My hon. Friend the Minister may wish to reflect that it might be difficult for a police constable to ask the driver of a car for the required information if the car has not stopped. It may be necessary to redraft that provision. In any event, I welcome the intent.

I also welcome the provisions on fireworks, which will tighten up legislation on which we started work last year. I know that many of my constituents have been relieved that this year has been a better year than last in terms of the number of youngsters carrying fireworks around and of fireworks being thrown in the streets, because we have tightened up the law on the sale of fireworks. However, clause 106 is welcome because it will give the police power to stop and search under-18s who might be in possession of a firework in a public place, as well as adults who are not firework professionals but who might be carrying category 4 fireworks, which are demonstration fireworks and—to all intents and purposes—are not much different from a bomb. That provision is welcome and I know that my constituents will be grateful.

While listening to some of the debate this afternoon on the provisions on incitement to religious hatred, I have felt that some of the arguments posed have been overstated and hyperbolic. Some hon. Members have created Aunt Sallies, suggesting that the legislation will do something that it patently is not intended to do nor has any likelihood of doing. It is a question of righting a simple injustice. Public order legislation already provides for the prevention of incitement to racial hatred. As has already been explained this afternoon, the courts have determined that that applies to Jews and Sikhs, for whom their ethnicity and their faith are intimately connected. In fact, that is true for many people of many different faiths. Many of those who are brought up as Catholics remain cultural Catholics whether they maintain that faith or renounce it. Even those who have become "notorious apostates", in the words of the Catholic Church, are none the less Catholics. Many people in Northern Ireland and other areas of the country with a serious sectarian divide will know that it is difficult to differentiate somebody's faith from their personal circumstances.

Those who have argued this afternoon that faith is always a choice are wrong both in fact and in Christian doctrine, which has always described faith as a gift, not a choice. The other reason it is important to right the injustice—that Jews, Sikhs and others are protected from hatred, but Muslims are not—is because there is significant Islamophobia in this land.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

On the theological point that my hon. Friend has raised, it should be borne in mind that faith is a gift offered that one has the right to reject or accept through the exercise of free will. It is still a choice.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

My hon. Friend entices me into an area of theological debate in which Mr. Goodman and others might wish to participate. We might talk about prevenient grace and double predestination, to which my hon. Friend effectively referred when he mentioned Calvinism. However, now is probably not the time to debate such issues as you might call me to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Islamophobia is a serious issue that affects many communities, not only those with a large congregation of Muslims, in cities such as Bradford or in the east end of London, but those with small numbers of Muslims. Where there are only two or three Muslims in a community, they can often feel far more isolated and can be subject to quite sustained personal vilification and harassment on the basis partly of their colour, but often, too, of their religion. This country should not countenance that. Far from the accusation that the clause will be intolerant towards religious expression, I believe it to be a statement of Britain's inclusiveness and its acceptance and toleration of different faiths.

Islamophobia is sometimes deliberate and sometimes casual. It is a great shame that so few people in this country understand the basic tenets of Islam. Remarkably few of us, even in the House, properly understand what jihad is. We completely fail to understand it when we describe it as a crusade; the concept is very different from that.

It is a shame that most religious studies courses in our universities are entirely confessional and vocational, for all sorts of historical reasons. I am an external adviser for the Oxford MA degree in theology and it saddens me that, for that degree, although one can study many of the Calvinist teachers of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, one is still unable to study many of the great Jewish or Islamic teachers. Only when we can turn that around will we have a chance of understanding Islam properly and of binding that community fully into the heart of British society.

We need to make a move because the existing loophole has been regularly and deliberately used by those who want to foster racial and religious unrest—those who dislike people who do not fit into their white perception of how Britain should be. I am talking primarily of the British National party but people in other organisations have deliberately used the loophole, too. Earlier, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart, referred to a BBC television programme that showed how the BNP are doing so.

Violence of any kind towards any person, whatever their religion, is obviously wrong. Setting fire to people's homes, attacking synagogues, gurdwaras or mosques, sending horrible literature or putting excrement through people's front doors because of their race or religion is wrong and it is already covered by the law. However, while we allow a culture of hatred towards different religions to exist in this country, we enable that violence to grow in society. That is the menace I want to prevent by bringing the clause into law.

Some false arguments have been made this afternoon. We have heard much of the argument that the clause will harm freedom of religious expression, yet half the time the piece of religious expression that people seem to want to have the freedom to exercise is the freedom to hate other people. That is so distant from my understanding of any religion that I have come across that I find it rather difficult to comprehend.

As we heard when we debated this matter the first time around in 2001, there is an argument that people should have the freedom to make the Westminster confession. The Westminster confession is robust in its attack on the Roman Catholic Church or the Catholic Church—or the whore of Babylon as it is referred to in some of the documentation that was produced at the time. I agree that people should have the right to make the Westminster confession. They should have a perfect right to criticise the views of the Pope and to disagree with Cardinal Ratzinger and the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. There are large areas of theological dispute that I could have with them, but it is not a limit to freedom of expression to say that one should not incite people to hate Catholics.

Similarly, in the 19th century, when Christmas trees came into fashion in this country, many Calvinists believed that they were a terrible thing and that Britain was going back to its pagan roots as well as adopting Catholic symbols because people were celebrating Christmas. Some people may argue forcefully that all such celebration is wrong, which is fine. What is unacceptable is then to argue that those people who have Christmas trees in their windows or who celebrate Christmas are lesser people in society than anyone else and to foster hatred against those people, because out of hatred comes violence. I believe that it is perfectly possible in law to draw a distinction between incitement to religious hatred and forcefully holding a different theological position.

Another argument that has been advanced this afternoon—by some hon. Members of considerable standing in the House, so I am slightly surprised—is that there is no need to prove the intent to incite religious hatred and that that goes a step further than the Public Order Act 1986. In fact, that Act contains no provision to prove intent to incite racial hatred. The provision relates to intent, to provoking a breach of the peace or to the likelihood of such a breach of the peace being created. There is an exact parallel with incitement to religious hatred.

The shadow Home Secretary said in a rather curious speech, which ended extremely abruptly, that the United Kingdom had always been tolerant of other religions. That is profoundly untrue. We do not need to take a great lesson in the religious history of the United Kingdom to know that the Jews in York and in many other parts of this country, such as the east end of London, have suffered serious attacks throughout the centuries. The United State of America was founded in large measure on the back of religious dissidents who left this country because they found it intolerant.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman does my right hon. Friend David Davis an injustice in that he was making the point that, unlike most European countries that sadly experienced conflict through religious wars, this country has generally avoided them.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

This country has avoided religious wars, but we are straying again into the area of history. Many Catholics left this country at one point because they were fearful for their lives and many Protestants left when there was a change of dispensation—hence, not so much the vicar of Dibley, but the vicar of Bray, who changed his view on bishops according to whichever King came to power.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Nevertheless, the important point and the flaw in the hon. Gentleman's argument is that, although the vicar of Bray may have changed his religion, he did not lose his head.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

There seemed to be a slight sigh in the House then and there is a slight sigh in my heart at being enticed further down that route, although I admit that I started it off.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I shall entice the hon. Gentleman down a different route. He is making an interesting speech in defence of the Home Secretary's proposals and many hon. Members share a lot of the concerns that he has expressed, but we still retain a nervousness about the way that the law will work in practice. I wonder whether he will comment on something. I do not expect a plethora of prosecutions because they must be agreed by the Attorney-General. Indeed, there have been few prosecutions for incitement to racial hatred. However, there will be an awful lot of complaints to the police and investigating authorities about people who are simply exercising their right to profess their faith. That will cause a great deal of unhappiness, discomfort and useless activity by Christian groups and many others.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for moving me on to a different tack. I suspect that there will be remarkably few complaints, unless some of the hon. Members who spoke today are suddenly going to declare themselves. Once the few vexatious cases that are brought in the first months are dealt with robustly, we will have seen off the problem. I honestly do not believe that the measure is likely to produce a plethora of complaints over a long time. In fact, the gain to be had from being able to say to the British Muslim community that it is considered to be a resident part of our community, with the same protections under the law as other racial and faith groups, represents a significant benefit to all our society.

I am aware that Rowan Atkinson has advanced a counter-argument. I think he once played the Bishop of Bath and Wells in "Blackadder", and he has always been interested in religion as a ripe source of comedy. I remember watching the hilarious moment when many Muslims were shown bowing down to pray and someone said, "The Ayatollah Khomeini has lost his contact lens." Rowan Atkinson said yesterday that it was important that he should not be prevented from cracking that kind of joke. Similarly, I remember Robert Runcie and David Jenkins being heartily lampooned in "Spitting Image". I knew David Jenkins at the time, and he enormously enjoyed the idea of having achieved such prominence. It may be that Anglicans are used to being lampooned because we have had centuries of it.

The truth of the matter is that I do not believe for a single instance that anybody is likely to use the Bill to prevent comedians from cracking decent jokes or from satirising, lampooning or holding up for jolly abuse clerics of any particular religion. The spiritual pride and hubris shown by any cleric who chose to use the Bill to prevent the mickey being taken out of him would be his undoing. The argument of those who think that we will lose the ability to satirise religion is overblown and misplaced. For that matter, I do not believe that theological disputes will come to an end just because we have instituted a law on incitement to religious hatred.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

If I understand my hon. Friend correctly, he is saying that the law will justify a significant number of actions, but they will not happen in practice, so it is all right. Is that it?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

No. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity to clarify my argument, which is that there is an injustice in the law. Many groups in society are protected from incitement to hatred against them, but those who are not include those of particular religions, most notably those who subscribe to the Islamic faith. They should have that injustice seen to in law. I am almost certain that some cases will be vexatious, but there will not be many of them. Once they have been dealt with robustly by the Attorney-General, it is unlikely that such vexatious cases will be brought again. If there is real incitement to religious hatred, however, the law should be used to tackle the problem, not least because Islamophobia is rife. It leads to an increasing sense of danger for many young Muslims in particular, and we should give them every protection that the law can afford.

The version of religion that I have heard today is not the version that I have grown used to, neither through my schooling in Cheltenham nor, for that matter, through my theological training at Oxford. I do not believe that all religions hold as their fundamental tenet that they are unique. Indeed, many religions expressly declare that there is truth in other religions. All three of the main world religions declare that the others have some truth in them.

It reminds me of the classic story of the Welshman from the valleys who is lost on a desert island. When he is rescued, having been there for 10 years, his rescuer says, "I see you have built two chapels. I can understand why you have built one chapel, but why build two?". The Welshman responds by saying, "It is simple. That is the chapel I go to; and that is the chapel I don't go to." It is all too easy, after the crusades and centuries of battles between different expressions of faith, to subscribe to the view that every religion is always a problem in society because it preaches hatred. I do not subscribe to the tenets of the dark side, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead mentioned earlier, and I do not believe that we should be encapsulating in law what Rev. Ian Paisley said earlier—that he reserved his right as a Christian to hate other people.

My final point to Ministers is that although the Bill is a good measure, we could make it better by abolishing the blasphemy laws and, for that matter, by removing the Church of England's privileges in terms of its seats on the Bishops' Bench in the House of Lords.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Shadow Minister (Education) 5:41 pm, 7th December 2004

First, I apologise for not having been in my place to hear the conclusion of the speech by my right hon. Friend David Davis. It is a pleasure to follow Chris Bryant, who made one of his typically robust defences of Government policy to the House. I would also like to highlight the speech of Mr. McWalter. In characteristically thoughtful style and with philosophical and historical sweep, he drew attention to the issues surrounding clause 119 and schedule 10, to which I too want to speak. I suspect that when he hears my speech, he may find some pale echoes of his own thoughts.

There is much in the Bill to agree with and support. The Home Secretary described it in his peroration as a practical Bill with practical applications. Most of the Bill might meet that stricture, but I am not entirely sure that clause 119 does. I do not believe that that clause and its associated schedule are practical in their application in tackling the problem that the Home Secretary outlined.

I shall suggest a few reasons why I believe that clause 119 will not work. First, there is a great deal of confusion between race and religion. The Bill seeks to draw together religious and racial hatred in the context of the legislation that first brought the crime of inciting racial hatred into force in 1986. It is right that people of every race should receive special protection from discrimination and hatred. There comes a point, however, when certain religious groups—we have talked about the Jews and Sikhs—are regarded in case law as being ethnic groups in their own right. They receive protection, as was made clear in a particular legal case, not necessarily on account of their religion, but because of their ethnic group.

I believe that we should distinguish between people's race and their religion. To exaggerate to make a point, a person's religion is, on the whole, a matter of choice, conscience or conversion, whereas a person's race is not. Speaking as a cradle Catholic, I can happily say that there may be cultural or family reasons why someone embraces a faith, and that those reasons may change over time in accordance with the exercise of conscience, but religion remains largely a matter of choice. As the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead said, some people reject the gift that is offered to them through their lives, whereas some would argue, "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic"—I am not convinced that that is necessarily so, although in my case it may be.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West

The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting point. Logically, is he not arguing that somebody who accepts one faith rather than another should accept a lesser degree of protection in law? I do not think that that should be the case.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Shadow Minister (Education)

Because certain ethnic groups are categorised in relation to their religion, there is an imbalance in the protection that they receive, which is an important issue to consider and bear in mind. My concern is that the Bill will be impractical to enforce, which will not help the current situation in which people express views hostile to a range of religions. There is an imbalance in the situation, and the hon. Gentleman is right to highlight it. However, I am not sure whether the Bill will resolve that imbalance to the satisfaction of people who want to express a view, or no view at all, on religious matters.

The second problem with the provision is the definition of religion. The Bill defines religious hatred as

"hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief."

It does not protect religion per se, and it does not extend the powers of the law of blasphemy. It protects people because they subscribe to a religious belief, rather than religious belief itself .

It will fall to the courts to decide whether a religion or belief falls within the definition in the Bill. That is drawn widely and, as the explanatory notes state, it includes:

"Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Rastafarianism", a range of branches within those religions, and groups defined by a lack of religious belief. There is a concern that that protection will extend to groups that express dangerous views.

I do not know how many hon. Members heard the exchange on the "Today" programme on Friday morning between the representative of a group called Catalyst, which helps people who have joined cults and who wish to leave, and a representative of an organisation called The Family, which was known as the Children of God a few years ago. The representative from Catalyst argued that some cults are dangerous, because they create problems between people and their families and because of some of the views that they express.

If one starts to go down the route of accepting cults as religions, organisations such as Catalyst may find it difficult to do their work challenging cults' beliefs and the practices that they adopt in propagating those beliefs. The issue is one of definition, and the courts will have to decide an issue—what religion actually is—that philosophers have failed to resolve over centuries. We may provide protection that should not be extended to such groups, particularly when they express dangerous views.

Religion is a matter for debate and discussion—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda is itching to intervene.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

I used to be a youth officer for the diocese of Peterborough, where we often dealt with youngsters who had been bruised and abused by cults in Northamptonshire. I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should not advance protection for many of the things that cults may want to do. However, to incite religious hatred against people who subscribe to a particular set of religious views is surely always wrong.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Shadow Minister (Education)

I will address that point in a second, because I want to discuss the dividing line between religious expression, freedom and activity, and actions that might lead to incitement of religious hatred, which is the third issue about which I am concerned.

Religion is a matter for debate and discussion. A wide range of activities would constitute religious activity. Where is the line drawn in debate and discussion between free expression, fair comment, causing offence—although it would not fall within the scope of the Bill's offence of inciting religious hatred—and statements that might lead to, or be deemed to lead to, inciting religious hatred? The explanatory notes define what hatred is not—

"The offences will not encompass material that just stirs up ridicule or prejudice or causes offence"— but do not go on to define what it is.

Let me give an example of where the issue may arise. As a practising Catholic, I am called upon to bear witness to Christ through my adherence to the values set out in the Gospel. I do not think that that is controversial or would in any way incite religious hatred. But I am also called upon to be a missionary—to evangelise by taking the Church's message out to others. If I seek to engage somebody in a debate about my faith, where do I draw the line between legitimate discussion and debate, and what some may deem an incitement to hatred? If there was a chance of converting somebody to my faith, I would stress the positive, or light, side of religion, to echo the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead. I do not believe that I would be inciting anyone to religious hatred. If I go further than that by emphasising the negative in other faiths instead of the positive in my own, where does that take me? Where does one draw the line between discussing the negative aspects of other faiths and inciting religious hatred? I might not intend to incite hatred, but my words could be interpreted in that way.

That is where the grey area starts to appear. What activities are to be defined as inciting religious hatred or deemed possibly to be doing so? It is difficult to define what constitutes an offence under the Bill. Different people might draw in different places the very fine line between emphasising the negative aspects of somebody else's faith and moving towards inciting religious hatred.

Let me make a more practical, less theoretical point that echoes remarks made by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead. Some people hold the view that Catholics' loyalty to the state and to the country is compromised by their need to follow the Church's teachings, set in Rome, and that where conflicts arise between the Church's teachings and our country's accepted morality, we are meant to follow the views of Rome because they take precedence. One might characterise that as, "Rome's orders are to be followed." Most reasonable people would agree that that is a matter of religious belief and a matter for vigorous debate.

What happens if one goes beyond the theological argument about to whom one owes obedience, to discuss the consequences of those beliefs for the actions of Catholics? The Bill is to do with inciting religious hatred against people who are defined by their religion. What happens if one starts to criticise the loyalty of Catholics to the state or to the Government? What happens if the Catholic Church decides that a war that the British Government seek to prosecute is not a just war?

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Shadow Minister (Education)

In some cases, the Catholic Church gave people the opportunity to exercise their own consciences to decide whether the war in Iraq was just.

If a soldier was serving in the armed forces when the Catholic Church had said that the war was unjust and the soldier should not be fighting in it, what would happen if his colleagues started to question his loyalty, commitment, dedication and willingness to carry out orders? The Minister has suggested that that would not be inciting hatred, but it would not need to provoke hatred or to have any physical manifestation to be interpreted by some people as inciting hatred.

The further we go into this religious debate, the more strident and vitriolic the argument becomes, and the more the loyalty of people serving Queen and country is questioned, for example, the closer we get to what might be deemed a grey area. The Bill is not clear about exactly what constitutes incitement to religious hatred. Could its provisions actually set one soldier or sailor against another? We also need to be aware that if they were applied to certain groups of people engaged in religious activity, those people might be deemed to have fulfilled some of its criteria. The Bill is very quiet about what constitutes hatred. People might think that this is somewhat fanciful, but it is not that long since we heard the slogan, "Home rule is Rome rule," and some of those sentiments might still be around today.

There is also the issue of intent. In the context of the existing offence of incitement to racial hatred, "Halsbury's Law Direct" says:

"It is merely required that the defendant should intend to stir up racial hatred by his conduct or that such hatred is likely, having regard to the circumstance, to be stirred up thereby (whether or not the defendant realised this would be likely)".

So someone could, for example, create an art work that they felt was a powerful polemic against religion, but they could be caught under the provisions of the Bill if that art work were deemed by others to incite religious hatred, even if there had been no intention to do so.

There are many grey areas involved in trying to determine how the provisions should be applied to religious activity. There is also a broader point, however. Where does this leave freedom of speech? How do we reconcile freedom of expression with laws that prevent incitement to religious hatred? Religion is a legitimate area for public debate. My concern is that, consciously or unconsciously, legislation of this nature would curb the freedom of speech. The threat of being prosecuted, of vexatious litigation or of the police being summoned to investigate a religious meeting or the activities at a stall where religious literature was being handed out, for example, could be enough to make people think again, and stop them undertaking the legitimate expression of their views.

The Home Secretary referred to the Salman Rushdie test: would Salman Rushdie's book be banned under the terms of the Bill? He was clear that it would not. However, one man's free speech might be another man's legitimate debate, or another's incitement to religious hatred. This is a matter of perception and perspective. Not everyone sees these issues from the same liberal perspective that judges them on their merits and sees them as intellectual arguments. Certain writing, for example, might be intended to provoke and stimulate debate, or even to cause offence. However, we do not all share the common starting point of that liberal perspective, and some people will seek to use this law to curb freedom of expression. Although a number of Church groups have supported this legislation, other voices have been raised in opposition to it, expressing concern about its impact on freedom of expression.

This is an important and sensitive issue that we need to consider carefully. We cannot divorce it from existing legislation on religiously aggravated crimes in terms of blasphemy. We ought to consider such legislation separately rather than as an add-on to an important Bill, so that we could have proper and full debate— not just on the Floor of the House but in Committee —on how to give proper protection both to religion and to freedom of expression.

Clause 119 and schedule 10 will not help to promote that free religious debate. I believe that they will be used to curb freedom of speech and to undermine much of what is already said in this country that represents matters of religious debate, about religions and creeds of all types.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West 6:01 pm, 7th December 2004

I welcome this wide-ranging Bill. I must admit that even when I realised how wide-ranging it is, I did not think that the debate on it would encompass issues so far afield as 16th-century Calvinists and 21st-century Jedi warriors, but so be it.

It is perhaps unfortunate that much of the debate has concentrated on the one major contentious issue, although that is the nature of debate. Before I make my contribution on that issue, I shall draw out other aspects of the Bill that will be enormously welcome. My first thought on reading the Bill was that it contains a huge range of measures. David Davis, who led for the Opposition, commented that there are strategic elements and a whole lot that has just been thrown in. However, all the provisions have a commonality of aim.

The Bill is designed to put the law, those who support it and law-abiding citizens one step ahead of the criminals so that their values prevail over those of the criminal. The Home Secretary, when introducing the Bill, commented on the effectiveness of many criminals as capitalists. When I consider the ingenuity of major criminals, and indeed of some of the most antisocial young people causing havoc on local streets, I cannot but feel that we and they would all be immeasurably better off if they only turned their effort to socially productive purposes. In many ways, the legislation is designed to make their preferences and preferred lifestyles more difficult to achieve and perhaps to give them and society a greater incentive to abide by the law.

The Bill will change the balance of advantage of behaviour in favour of the law-abiding citizen. It might not seem obvious why one piece of legislation should deal with a strategic organisation and the collection of strategic information, which are designed to curb the activities of the super-gangs, drug smugglers and people smugglers, while also giving local community support officers and local legislative bodies the right to combat localised crime in the form of antisocial behaviour, but there is a common theme that is designed to reinforce the Bill's ultimate objective.

This Bill is about giving confidence in the law. Every time a crime goes unsolved and every time a person indulges in antisocial behaviour but is not apprehended, it reflects badly on the law, law agencies and public agencies, and reinforces the intent of those who want to disregard them.

I want to single out one or two elements in the Bill that are worthy of particular mention. First, on financial reporting orders, I and other members of the Northern Ireland Committee did quite a lot of work examining the effectiveness of the Criminal Assets Bureau in the Republic of Ireland, and made a number of recommendations on the Assets Recovery Agency in the Proceeds of Crime Bill. Certainly, assets recovery is an essential weapon in the fight against organised crime, and financial reporting orders are a logical extension of the principles that underpinned the proceeds of crime legislation.

I have a query, however, which I hope that the Minister will clarify. While financial reporting orders relate to convicted criminals, who, having finished their sentence, might readopt their lifestyle and criminal activity and seek to regain the assets that they lost previously, it is not mentioned whether they will apply to someone who has been subject to the Assets Recovery Agency procedures, which require a lower standard of proof and may not involve a prison sentence. If we are to curb crime, particularly highly organised and lucrative crime, we must make it clear that crime does not pay at all, and not just if someone has been to prison. It must be clear that once a process has been implemented to recover ill-gotten gains, that process will continue throughout the person's life if they do not curb their lifestyle. That is an important element in law enforcement.

Secondly, there is the issue of impounding uninsured cars, about which my hon. Friend Chris Bryant, who has unfortunately left the Chamber, made some valuable points. It is symbolic to those 19 out of 20 motorists who do pay their car insurance and accept all the responsibilities of motoring that action is taken against those who drive uninsured. Many people on local estates know who is driving around uninsured, and seeing them get away with it day in, day out, with all the danger that that involves for other motorists and the expense that it generates for law-abiding motorists in terms of higher premiums, is infuriating. It is important that this legislation deals with that issue. Seeing people who engage in such antisocial behaviour losing out as a result, even if the full panoply of the law is not implemented in terms of court appearances and sentencing, will give local communities a degree of reassurance.

Another element that will be extremely popular is the additional power to search for illegal fireworks. Perhaps that was an omission from the previous fireworks legislation, and like my hon Friend the Member for Rhondda, my experience was that the antisocial use of fireworks was not as bad this year as in previous years. Anecdotally, however, I have still had complaints about people using fireworks which had noise levels that would appear to be illegal. We would welcome any move that gave increased powers locally to stop and search people, including retailers who are selling such fireworks.

The issue of incitement to religious hatred has exercised many Members today. We had a mini-debate about it earlier, in the form of interventions on the Home Secretary. I must confess that I am old enough to remember our debates on race relations legislation in the 1970s. Although I was not here then, I read a great deal about it, and many of the arguments and statements that I have heard over the past couple of days reawakened vague memories of the arguments and statements that were produced then.

Although some of the issues may be slightly different, looking back on that race relations legislation and its implementation I feel that a number of things must be said. First, it should be said that despite all that was said in the 1970s, the implementation of the legislation has been proportionate and there have been few prosecutions. Secondly, I think it can be said that most would agree that although there has been little recourse to prosecution, the existence of the legislation and the climate of opinion created by it have made a valuable contribution to race relations and to more moderate debate on the issue. Notwithstanding the foreboding expressed by some in the 1970s, I think that the legislation can be described as a success. I certainly do not know of many people who would advocate its withdrawal.

It is obvious from the debate that I have heard so far that there are party differences on this issue, and differences within parties. I have heard some robust statements, and some interesting points have been made. I feel that if we can make race relations legislation work, there is no reason why we cannot make religious relations legislation work.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

All human beings are equal, which is why we have race relations legislation. Not all beliefs are equal, which is why this proposal is inappropriate.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour/Co-operative, West Bromwich West

My hon. Friend tempts me down a philosophical path that I will not follow. I want to talk about the application of religious relations legislation that concerns me, as a practical politician dealing with community problems in my area.

Some groups and political parties with specifically racist agendas are undoubtedly using the present lack of legislation on religion as a way of fulfilling those agendas. Attacks on Muslims that are designed for specifically racist purposes have nothing to do with a religious debate. I do not believe it is beyond the wit of man, woman or lawyer to create a legislative framework to prevent that.

My hon. Friend Mr. McWalter made a valid reference to the attitudes of disaffected young Muslims, and that concerns me just as much; but I am chiefly concerned about the people who teach them and feed them those attitudes. It should not be beyond our wit to devise legislation to prevent that as well. We can talk about anti-terrorist legislation and the like, but there is still an area that it does not cover.

There will be a substantial debate on this issue in Committee and during the Bill's subsequent stages, and if I am satisfied that the provision meets the relevant requirements, I will be happy to back it. Nobody in this House would condone people who deliberately try to provoke interracial or inter-religious hatred, or one community's hatred of another. The acid test will be whether the provision fulfils its objective, which is why I am not inclined to be tempted into philosophical or theosophical debates on it.

I shall listen to the forthcoming debate with great interest. I am anxious that this important legislation work, and I shall reserve my judgment until the debate develops. The Bill deals with a range of issues that the public expect the Government to deal with. It will help us in our fight against organised crime and antisocial behaviour, and it will shift the balance of power towards communities and away from criminals. In particular, I hope that the religious relations provisions will lead to a climate of greater tolerance and understanding, and that in 25 years, Members of this House will wonder what the fuss was about, all those years ago when we introduced this legislation, just as Members today look back and wonder what the fuss was in the 1970s, when we introduced race relations legislation.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:16 pm, 7th December 2004

I want to begin by apologising to the House for not being present for some of this afternoon's debate; I was speaking in a Westminster Hall debate that was taking place at the same time.

It is the proper function of a responsible Opposition to applaud the Government when they get things right, as well as criticising them and suggesting alternative proposals when they get things wrong. It is acknowledged in all parts of the House that almost everything in the Bill is welcome, and quite properly so. I do not intend to go through all its provisions, but I should point out that those relating to uninsured drivers are particularly welcome. I know from my constituents the anxiety and upset that this issue causes; indeed, I am myself the former victim of an uninsured driver, so I know from personal experience how upsetting such an experience can be.

Like many Members who have spoken this afternoon, I want to discuss clause 119 and schedule 10, and I make absolutely no apology for doing so. It is the proper function of this House to discuss, debate and tease out controversial issues, and it is clear that these provisions are the subject of a great deal of public interest.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

As the hon. Gentleman says, he is one of several Members who have chosen to concentrate on clause 119 and schedule 10, which leads me to think that we have had a rather unbalanced debate on this large Bill. Indeed, this confirms my view that the right thing for the Government to do is withdraw the clause and schedule and reintroduce them in a separate Bill, in order to accomplish the specific purpose for which they are intended.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman makes an eminently sensible suggestion, with which I agree. Perhaps the Government could detach these provisions in some way and subject them to a free vote.

It is always important to acknowledge good motives in politics, and certainly on the part of one's opponents. The Home Secretary referred to his having a noble motive in introducing the provision relating to the incitement of religious hatred. It is deeply hurtful and upsetting to be attacked because of one's faith or to experience one's religion being vilified and ridiculed. Many Christians in this country would probably say that they are the butt of adverse humour and believe that many aspects of public life challenge the faith that they hold dear, so I understand the Government's motives in including the clause in the Bill. We should all be moderate in our use of language, but it is especially important for people who are in positions of public prominence. We should not overlook the value of censure. We do not always have to resort to law, and public opprobrium can be used to rebuke people who do not use moderate language. Recently, some comedians experienced public censure when one of them overstepped the line.

This is clearly not a party political matter, as Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about clause 119 and schedule 10. There are three reasons why we should be wary of those provisions and treat them with circumspection. First, the existing criminal law is fairly robust, and protects everyone from criminal acts and incitement to commit such acts. Since 2001, religiously aggravated offences have been introduced, further strengthening the law. Viscount Colville of Culross, who chaired the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales, said:

"There is a very substantial amount of criminal law relating to incitement . . . It is much more positive and less abstract than some people may think . . . a good deal of criminal law is available . . . I do not believe that it has all yet been tried out before we invent something else."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 April 2004: Vol. 660; c.4467.]

That is an important point. There is already a vast amount of legislation on the statute book. The problem is enforcement. To digress for a moment, I am particularly pleased that my party has policies to recruit an extra 5,000 police a year. That is the right approach; we do not always need to introduce more laws. The existing law on incitement is much stronger than we have been led to believe by Ministers.

Secondly, on freedom of speech, there have been a number of worrying incidents. Recently, the Bishop of Chester was reported to the police for remarks that he made in a sermon in the normal course of his business. It is worrying that the thought police are already investigating what happens in the pulpit. Furthermore, a pastor in Scandinavia was recently sent to jail for a month for making certain remarks in a sermon. It is a paradox of religious faith that it has the power to offend and upset but, at the same time, to give great comfort, satisfaction, joy and contentment to many people. Because of the exclusive claims of many faiths, they inevitably cause upset and offence to many other people. It is in the nature of many faiths to evangelise, which may also cause offence. It is incredibly important that we do not restrict the freedom of people of faith to express themselves fully in the way that they believe their faith calls them to do.

We need to look at what has happened in other jurisdictions where Governments have introduced a similar type of law. In March 2002, a Christian group organised a seminar in Australia. It was a private meeting at which three recent converts to Islam sat at the back and took notes. What they heard caused offence to them, although one can argue about whether what was said was offensive. The Bill refers to words, material or recording

"likely to be seen or heard by any person in whom it is likely to stir up racial or religious hatred"— a similar situation. As a result of a complaint, the case was taken to court. It has been in the Australian courts for seven months and has become bogged down in the Australian legal system. It is a worrying precedent that we ought to bear in mind.

I conclude by quoting from the executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee, Amir Butler, who said:

"Who, after all, would give credence to a religion that appears so fragile it can exist only if protected by a bodyguard of lawyers?"

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 6:27 pm, 7th December 2004

We have had an interesting and useful debate. It lacked the party political controversy of some of our discussions, and some extremely interesting speeches were made. I shall try to respond to a number of points made in the debate, but I start by emphasising that in the past, when there has been substantial agreement between both sides of the House, there has often been acute danger ahead for us.

The Bill, which we will not oppose on Second Reading, is something of a Christmas tree, as Mr. Heath, who speaks for the Liberal party, described it in his opening remarks. I agree and place on record our gratitude to NCIS and the National Crime Squad for what they have done. I also underline what he said about the national witness protection scheme. When I recently visited Nottingham to meet Mothers Against Guns, they eloquently stressed the importance of the scheme.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome expressed reservations about the new powers for community support officers and cited the 50 measures on law and order that have been introduced by the Government in the past seven years. It is clear from what he said that in Committee he and I will have much in common on our agenda.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews spat out his support for those on his Front Bench and looked much better once he got that off his chest. He warned us not to over-flatter the criminals' success and inveighed against the Government's plans to deal with religious hatred, praising the motivation but pinpointing the dangers in practical terms. I very much agree.

Rev. Ian Paisley, who must be preoccupied today with his other duties, in which we all wish him wisdom and judgment, pointed out that religion is a matter of choice, whereas race is a matter of fact. He stressed that the two concepts should not be confused.

Brian White made a wide-ranging speech in which he dealt with matters such as the proceeds of crime. My hon. Friend Mr. Shepherd said that there had been far too many measures on law and order—50—since the Government came to office. He accused the Government of confusing activity with progress.

Vera Baird made a really interesting speech. She agreed with the formation of SOCA and talked about people trafficking and drugs. She made two key points, on funding and on the danger that SOCA would act as a magnet for the best of our police forces. I shall return to both matters later.

The hon. and learned Member for Redcar also made a number of technical points about disclosure notices. We are concerned that clause 56 goes too wide and that it allows powers to be exercised by a constable, whereas previous legislation required authorisation to be obtained at a very high level. We shall want to look at this matter in Committee. She also mentioned the pivotal role of the custody sergeant and spoke of the dangers of civilianising that post. I thought that she completely demolished the Government's case, and I hope that Ministers will consider what she had to say very carefully.

My hon. Friend Mr. Brazier made an excellent and moving speech in which he inveighed against people trafficking and the vile trade in children, women and men who are exploited and degraded by it. He said that the trade was worth nearly £20 million. He made clear how serious it is and said that the UK was a particular magnet for it, with 2 million people trafficked across our borders each year. In a speech that I have no doubt will be read with care by Ministers, he also set out the case against the clauses on incitement to religious hatred.

Mr. Prentice also spoke about religious hatred and advised us that there are no fewer than 390,000 Jedi knights in Britain. He also dealt with the question of definition. Rowan Atkinson was in the House only yesterday and, like him, the hon. Gentleman talked about the "chilling" of the climate of free expression. That is an excellent phrase.

My hon. Friend Bob Spink and Mr. McWalter concentrated on the issue of religious hatred. The hon. Gentleman treated the House to a philosophical and historical perspective on religion, and attacked the Government for their anodised view. He urged the Government to resile from their support for the relevant clauses.

Mr. Weir gave a Scottish dimension to the debate. He supported SOCA, but expressed some concern about the difficulties inherent in implementing it in Scotland.

Chris Bryant took a view that was rather different from the one adopted by the more senior cleric on this side of the House who preceded him. Apart from him, only one other speaker supported the Government's proposals on incitement to religious hatred. He complained that my right hon. Friend David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, did not give him a peroration. I shall see whether I can give him one towards the end of my speech.

My hon. Friend Mr. Hoban also spoke about clause 119, and pointed out the flaws in the Government's case. Mr. Bailey talked about financial reporting orders and said that crime must not pay. He was the only other speaker on the Government Benches to support the religious hatred clauses in the Bill.

The final contribution from the Back Benches was made by my hon. Friend Andrew Selous. He opposed the religious hatred clauses, and underlined the importance of using moderate language in these discussions. I am sure that all hon. Members will be pleased by the moderate language used this afternoon.

The Opposition want to help the Government with this Bill. We want to identify various matters that we shall raise in Committee, and I hope that the Minister winding up tonight will take a fancy to some of the amendments that we expect to propose.

The first issue that we will want to discuss is the structure of SOCA. Although we support its formation, we understand that recruiting the brightest detectives and the best police from existing forces could damage those forces.

There is already evidence that some key leadership elements are likely to be removed from the police. We hope that the Minister will explain in Committee why she did not consider secondment as an option for staffing the agency, as happens in the Army with the special forces. We hope that she will put our fears to rest about the danger of a leadership vacuum as a result of the brightest and the best being recruited to SOCA.

We shall also want to be satisfied that SOCA, by dealing not with terrorism—we understand that argument—but with level 2 crime, including prostitution, drugs and people smuggling, will find a natural position between other law enforcement agencies. Considerable confusion could be caused, for example, if one agency is dealing with terrorism and another with people smuggling, as they are natural bedfellows. We will want to explore the relationship that SOCA will have with the intelligence agencies.

We shall also want to be clear that there will not be confusion in any particular region in which SOCA is responsible for the fight against drugs but the police are responsible for enforcing the law. We fear that if a failure resulted, each side would blame the other, which would not be good for policing.

We also want to be satisfied that the drive towards localism, local performance and local accountability will not be damaged by the new structure and that it will not have any unintended consequences. We want to be sure that addressing the regional vacuum will not cause problems elsewhere, especially in the relationship between SOCA and the local police forces.

We also want to be clear about the adequacy of funding. How will SOCA's funding needs be addressed? We also want to be clear that the Home Secretary will not, under clause 9, arrogate to himself wide powers to determine strategic priorities. Parliament must be careful not to pave the way for an unscrupulous Home Secretary to determine strategic priorities with an eye to achieving a political purpose. The Home Secretary said today that a Cabinet Sub-Committee would guide him on that. My reading of clause 9 is that that is not in the legislation. I hope that the Minister will be able to persuade us that it does not need to be.

We need to explore also the apparent provision—in clause 38(1)—that any member of staff of SOCA can be designated as having the powers of a police officer. It takes considerable training to be able to exercise those powers and we will need to explore that issue in Committee.

The major theme of the debate has been the religious hatred clauses. It will not have escaped the Government's notice that the Opposition are deeply unhappy about them, and that feeling is shared on both sides of the House. We are keen to maintain the balance between religious freedom and freedom of speech, but the debate has shown that those clauses are confusing, will make bad law and will not work. The Minister should consider carefully the telling intervention by my hon. Friend Mr. Streeter, who asked precisely what threat the clauses were meant to stop. The Government have not answered that question. If it is the BNP, as many hon. Members have suggested, there are better ways to see off such dreadful people than introducing these clauses. My strong advice to the Minister is to have a word with the Home Secretary after this debate and to save the Committee and herself a lot of trouble by dropping those clauses now.

We shall also want to explore the issue of animal rights. My hon. Friend Mr. Djanogly will look at ways of strengthening the Government's clauses, which we support as far as they go.

We shall also want to know why the use of intercepts has not been included in the Bill. We are concerned by the lack of reference to them and we have called consistently for the Government to lift the ban on intercept use in courts. It is clearly odd to confine the fruits of intercepts to intelligence only. The UK is one of the few countries in which intercept evidence is not admissible and we hope that the Minister will explain why she is not changing that situation in this Bill.

We shall also want to look at the changes to PACE, in clauses 101 to 115. We shall want to look carefully at several aspects, including the concept—as set out in the debate—that everything is now arrestable. I shudder to think of the paperwork, let alone anything else that would be involved in that legal change, which must be carefully considered.

We need to look carefully into a number of aspects, including the power of a civilian to make an arrest in very much wider circumstances, which could be counter-productive. The all-premises warrant is a considerable extension of power and we shall want to explore precisely what its effects would be and whether they would be acceptable.

Police community support officers have been discussed. A considerable increase in their powers is advocated in the Bill. We are not opposed to CSOs, but there has been no independent assessment of their effectiveness and value for money. We think that there should be one. Some forces, including Hampshire, have already made clear their view on CSOs and we are concerned about the additional powers of search and arrest, the use of equipment and the lack of training. It looks like an attempt by the Government to achieve policing on the cheap and could undermine confidence in the professionalism of the police.

We should also like to consider the changes proposed on dealing with money laundering.

We welcome the Government's announcement today that they will make the parents of under-10s responsible for the cost of wanton damage. Parents should have responsibility for their children.

There are a range of views on dealing with behaviour in the vicinity of Parliament and the matter will probably be best left until Report, so that the House can have a considered look at it in a wider focus than in Committee.

Finally, I turn to the general context for the Bill, where I fear that I must be somewhat less obliging to the Home Secretary and his team. If they think that by carpet-bombing the Queen's Speech with tough-sounding law and order measures—albeit ones with which the Opposition broadly agree—designed to conceal the Government's lamentable failures in combating crime, they will evade the justified wrath of the electorate at the appalling nature of their record on crime, they are sadly mistaken. The public will remember that these measures are not the start of Labour's agenda for fighting crime, but the product of seven years of talk, seven years of being asleep on the job, and seven years of failure.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 6:42 pm, 7th December 2004

The debate has been interesting, with about 14 contributions from Back Benchers.

About 60 per cent. of the Bill deals with the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the powers that go with it. There are also several other powers that will help to develop neighbourhood policing and will help the police on whatever level they operate, whether local, regional or as part of SOCA. They will all help to tackle crime. As my hon. Friend Mr. Bailey rightly said, the measure is about ensuring that the law is one step ahead on behalf of those who support the law.

The creation of SOCA is not about setting up a new police organisation, but about bringing together the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Crime Squad and the immigration crime side of the Home Office, as well as the drug investigations of Customs and Excise, in a new organisation with a new culture. That is why we had to address the powers of that organisation. When people use phrases such as "the brightest and the best", they do a disservice to those who, for whatever reason, want to work in different forms of law enforcement. We should recognise their particular skills in what they do. Some people are more interested in local policing, while others are interested in regional law enforcement or national and international law enforcement. I would not make the assessment that anyone is better than anyone else; they are all helping to fight crime and to tackle those who are involved in it.

In relation to the operation of SOCA at regional and local level, systems are already in place to ensure that different parts of law enforcement do not engage in operations that frustrate or put in jeopardy the work of other agencies. That will continue.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I am sorry, I cannot give way. There is only a short time for my speech and my hon. Friend was not in the Chamber for the whole debate.

The Bill is also about ensuring that we deal with the operation of middle markets. That is why I was pleased to attend the launch in London just the other week of the middle market drugs unit, which has been established by the Metropolitan Police Service and Customs and Excise to tackle middle market drug organisations.

I shall try, if I can, to get through the contributions made during the debate. The shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, raised a number of issues about the powers that the director general will be able to confer on those who work for SOCA and the powers of constables, Customs officers and immigration officers. It goes without saying that, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the members of staff will need training in all those powers. That is certainly part of our thinking, and we will ensure that that happens. That also deals with a point made by my hon. Friend Brian White.

We are not persuaded of the need for an annual parliamentary debate on SOCA. Hon. Members have many opportunities to debate policing and wider law enforcement issues in the House.

SOCA will not have a direct role in combating terrorism; but as has been said, terrorism is often funded by organised crime. SOCA will investigate such cases and seek to bring the offenders to justice, but in doing so, it will work very closely with the intelligence agencies and others.

I wish to make it clear that no clause relates to intercept powers. There is ongoing discussion about that complex issue, but we do not intend to introduce any such clause in the Bill.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden also talked about borders, as did a number of other hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Angus (Mr. Weir) and my hon. Friend Mr. McWalter. Border controls are exercised by the three main border control agencies—the immigration service, Customs and port special branches—for a variety of reasons, not only to control immigration, but to facilitate genuine visits, detect contraband, collect revenue, prevent fraud and protect against terrorism. Those functions are distinct from the new agency's remit and will not be subsumed into it. The e-borders programme will help to create a modern, integrated and intelligence-led immigration control system that uses advanced passenger information, passenger name records and emerging technology to best effect.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

No. I am afraid that I have not got time to give way.

On the comments made about small ports, we will run pilot schemes at sites across the UK during 2005, with a view to rolling out new ways of working across most ports from 2006. We shall consider the points that the hon. Member for Angus made about that issue.

On the suggestion that there has been no evaluation of the effectiveness of CSOs, 27 local evaluations have shown that CSOs have been well received by the public, with significant potential to reduce low-level crime and antisocial behaviour. Initial findings of the national evaluation will be published before the Bill is considered in Committee. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden said in his speech that the Hampshire force did not want its allocated number of CSOs. If that is the case, I suggest that the force let us know and we will redistribute those CSOs. I do not believe that such a redistribution would be supported by MPs for the area or, for that matter, members of the public.

Mr. Heath asked how SOCA will work in relation to other forces. As I have said already, SOCA will enable local forces to focus on level 1 and 2 crimes, while the agency will address national and international criminality. The Bill will allow SOCA to provide mutual support to forces. SOCA will be a UK-wide agency, and it will work closely with Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency in discharging its functions. I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Angus, who also made this point, that SOCA staff will be expected to have knowledge of the relevant Scottish law when operating in Scotland.

The NCS and NCIS have a service authority—a point made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome—because they were clearly police-type bodies and therefore established along the lines of the police authority model. SOCA will not be a police force, but the SOCA board will exercise the strategic oversight of SOCA in similar ways to the service authorities.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the granting of immunity to someone under clause 65 or 66 would be drawn to the attention of the court where that person testified. The answer is, yes, that will happen in the normal way.

My hon. and learned Friend Vera Baird asked whether the witness protection provisions would apply to someone subject to a disclosure notice under clause 56. The majority of people subject to disclosure notices are covered by the new witness protection provisions, as they are possible witnesses. Our intention is not that disclosure notices will put anyone at risk, and I will consider that issue further to find out how it is covered.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked about complaints. The complaints procedure, including oversight, will be carried out by the IPCC and it will apply to all SOCA staff, not just those designated with police or other powers. We are planning to have direct recruitment into the organisation, but I shall check on how secondees might continue to operate or assist in the future.

Power of arrest was mentioned and we were asked why the change is necessary. The findings of the PACE review were published more than two years ago. Since then, we have published detailed proposals in consultation papers on police powers. The Bill's provisions are fully supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers and others. It is important to bear in mind the fact that under general arrest conditions in PACE, it is already the case that in practice all offences are arrestable.

My hon. and learned Friend Mr. Marshall-Andrews was concerned about people who are involved in serious fraud. The White Paper consulted on plea bargaining and we accept that it is desirable for all defendants to seek an indication of the likely sentence should they plead guilty. We will take the detail of that forward with the senior judiciary shortly, but I shall look further at what he said about that in Hansard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East raised issues to do with SOCA and how it would engage with the private sector. He may be interested to know that an article on high-tech crime and the use of the internet in a trade magazine for those working in that industry resulted in a number of people e-mailing the Home Office seeking to become special constables to assist in that area because of their expertise in the internet. In some respects, SOCA is all about looking at the particular skills that we need to tackle high-tech crime.

I also welcome my hon. Friend's work on the all-party group on the internet. I have told him that we will table amendments to strengthen the Computer Misuse Act 1990, including the penalties that he mentioned. As others said, the Bill contains a number of provisions, and we take the view that adding to it at this stage is difficult and we shall not pursue it. However, we are looking for a suitable vehicle for that legislation.

My hon. Friend also mentioned powers. There was a bit of a misunderstanding. SOCA staff will not be restricted to the powers that they held in a previous organisation. All powers of customs and immigration officers can be made available to designated SOCA staff, subject to the necessary training and accreditation. We are still ensuring that forces are aware of RIPA. A dedicated team in the Home Office provides support to practitioners on how to use the powers appropriately. We are considering whether there is a need to address problems further.

A number of hon. Members referred to uninsured vehicles. I welcome the comments by my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for West Bromwich, West on uninsured vehicles and fireworks. We have the opportunity to tighten legislation and tweak it in some respects. I make no apology for that. It is one thing to pass laws in this place, but as we know, we only see how they work on the ground when they are implemented. That is why we sometimes have to return to the issues.

Mr. Shepherd was worried about the implications for human rights. As he said, the face of the Bill states that it is our view that

"the provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill are compatible with the Convention rights."

We have been careful to ensure that we seek advice on those issues throughout the process.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar also mentioned the two-tier work force. There will be no two-tier work force. Following consultation with unions, it is our aim to establish a unified set of terms and conditions for all SOCA staff. We will not have police officers on police terms or customs officers on customs terms. She also asked about disclosure notices issued against those who have information rather than those who are suspected of having information. Clause 56(2) provides that notice can be issued against a suspect, and that will be the exception rather than the rule. In either circumstance, it is authorised by a senior prosecutor.

My hon. and learned Friend also raised a number of issues on Queen's evidence. We have not made it a requirement that a person entering into a co-operation agreement has legal advice before doing so, but they usually will. As she said, they will be well advised to do so. However, it is not appropriate to legislate to force every individual to get legal advice in those circumstances.

My hon. and learned Friend also mentioned human trafficking. She will know that, in addition to my other duties, I am engaged in a review of prostitution. Human trafficking was also raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury. I am very concerned about it. We will see how we can use the prostitution review to tackle that. We should also not forget what is already on the statute book in respect of labour and sexual exploitation. SOCA will, of course, have a role to play in these matters, too.

Questions were raised about custody officers and I have to say that the Northumbria pilot scheme found that custody sergeants were champing at the bit to get out of the stations and be with the public. It has been greatly welcomed, and I see no reason why properly trained police staff cannot undertake the role to the same standard as police officers—a view shared by ACPO.

The hon. Member for Canterbury raised a number of issues about people smuggling and trafficking in women and children. We are very concerned about that. He also made a point about paedophiles. He will know that the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad have, in their different ways, assisted operations to tackle paedophile rings. There is no reason not to do so and we ensure in our international contacts with practitioners and Ministers in the EU, for example, that matters of cross-border crime are understood and dealt with by many different countries, not just ourselves. It is a global issue that we must look into.

Bob Spink raised a number of issues, including the effect of SOCA on the funding of Essex policing and local policing generally. A 3.75 per cent. increase in funding for Essex police was announced last week for 2005–06, up to £176 million, and police numbers have increased by 145 since 1997, with an additional 75 community support officers. It is all about added value for policing in this country. The hon. Gentleman referred to protests outside Parliament. We must ensure that we can safeguard the workings of Parliament in its unique surroundings. To that end, we believe it right and proper for the police to attach proportionate conditions on any protest.

Several speeches were made on the subject of incitement to religious hatred. For example, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, my hon. and learned Friend Rev. Ian Paisley, for Aldridge-Brownhills, for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Canterbury, my hon. Friend Mr. Prentice, the hon. Member for Castle Point, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead, and of course the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, all spoke about it. They all had concerns about it or were against the provisions, though my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda and for West Bromwich, West also made good speeches in support.

There are many issues and I would draw hon. Members' attention to a statement published this morning by the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General, which clearly outlines the basis of the offence and why it is necessary. It said that the proposals

"will make it an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words, behaviour or written materials with the intention or likely effect of stirring up hatred against people targeted because of their religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs, as well as their race."

I believe that it will close an unacceptable loophole whereby mono-ethnic faith groups are protected, but multi-ethnic faith groups are not. It will ensure that there is still a clear difference between criticism of a religion and the act of stirring up hatred against members of religious groups. This provision was supported by ACPO, which said that it sometimes wanted to prosecute but could not, and it provided evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences. It is right to move forward on this issue. It is not about stopping jokes, and it is not about stopping Rowan Atkinson or anyone else from expressing a point of view either to raise a laugh or engage in serious debate on these issues.

I was interested to hear from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome that the Liberal Democrats would vote against this measure. I remind him that the Liberal Democrat shadow Home Secretary said on 7 July this year:

"This plan closes a loophole that has allowed inflammatory language to go unpunished, and the Liberal Democrats will give these plans their support."

Perhaps it will be the same as with antisocial behaviour orders: the Liberal Democrats were against it and now they are for it; on this occasion, they were for it and now they are against it. We will wait with bated breath to see what will happen.

Finally, the Bill is about tackling crime on a local, regional or national level. It comes from a Government who have put in more money than ever before, more police officers and more support on the ground for the people we represent.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.