Orders of the Day — Racial and Religious Hatred Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:13 pm on 21st June 2005.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 5:13 pm, 21st June 2005

My right hon. Friend, as always, predicts my argument. He is entirely right, as a notable feature of our debate is the fact that the law is so vague that even the Home Secretary cannot get it right. When he said that intent was required, he was wrong. The law does not say that—he missed out the word "or" in the relevant provision.

As my right hon. Friend said, the Government propose to limit the debate. They say that that is not the case and that the Attorney-General will decide if someone has gone too far and broken the law. That is their lock, as they call it. Before it reaches that stage, however, an individual can be investigated and have his character called into question. It is not clear why anyone should face that prospect, or why anyone should continue to pursue activities, whether writing, comedy or science, that put them at such risk. Inevitably, we will end up with a situation where serious debate and freedom of speech are limited. Our society and our tradition of tolerance will be poorer as a result.

There are a number of problems with the Bill. First, it is not clear what the real intention is. When we first debated these proposals in the original Bill, the previous Home Secretary said:

"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."—[Official Report, 7 December 2004; Vol. 428, c.1054–55.]

That is a confusing definition, to say the least, and it is not made clear in the current draft of the Bill.

Let me give a first case example, to meet the suggestion of my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer. The remarks that I shall quote came from the Prime Minister when he was justifying his decision to undertake the war in Iraq. He said:

"But what galvanised me was that it was a declaration of war by religious fanatics who were prepared to wage that war without limit. They killed 3,000. But if they could have killed 30,000 or 300,000 they would have rejoiced in it. The purpose was to cause such hatred between Moslems and the West that a religious jihad became a reality"— the words of the Prime Minister, justifying his decision to start the war in Iraq. It is entirely possible that those words could have been caught under the definitions in the new law—so much so that a former Lord Chancellor, debating the Bill in the other place earlier, said that he would find it difficult to mount a defence of the Prime Minister under the proposed law.