Orders of the Day — Racial and Religious Hatred Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:50 pm on 21st June 2005.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:50 pm, 21st June 2005

If an offer has been made. We already have the precedent in Scotland of the Solicitor-General being a solicitor, rather than a member of the Faculty of Advocates. I have no doubt that a solicitor could easily perform the functions of the Attorney-General and of course, if the opportunity arose, I would give it appropriate consideration.

To return to the serious point, the hon. Gentleman highlights the very political pressure that can be brought to bear on someone who is supposed to be a Law Officer. As I said earlier, we have already seen that political considerations are weighing much more heavily on Law Officers. As the Hutton and Butler reports have shown, the Attorney-General and other Law Officers are being asked for their advice in a manner that is much more political and much less objective. In fact, they are being asked to answer questions that lead in a particular direction, rather than being asked to give a definitive statement on the law, which was the traditional way in which such matters were proceeded with.

The cutting out of the Attorney-General in relation to racial hatred has been effective, but the House would be wrong to conclude that the same would necessarily be true if the principle were applied to religious hatred on the same basis. If we are not to deal with this issue before we consider the Bill in Committee, and given that we are likely to deal with the Report stage after the recess, we need to see the terms of the draft guidance that will be given by the Attorney-General on the operation of this provision. It seems to me that since the Government's case rests on saying that we should not worry about the theoretical position because they will make it work in practice, the ultimate judgment can be made only when we see the guidance that they intend to produce. I accept that it will not be available in Committee, which is regrettable. It makes me wonder why we are dealing with the Bill so early stage in the Session when it would have been possible to leave it for a few months to facilitate a more mature consultation with those affected and revisit the issues again in the autumn if necessary.