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

I would like to make that assumption, too, but I wonder if the hon. and learned Gentleman and I are both slightly naive in proceeding on that basis. The Minister can tell us whether the guidance exists in draft form. If so, perhaps he will be able to furnish members of the Committee with it before we start next week. It would certainly illuminate our proceedings if that happened.

I turn briefly to those who fear for artistic, as opposed to religious, expression—the comedians rather than the clerics. The Home Secretary has said that they will not be prosecuted. I do not have a problem with that; the right hon. Gentleman is probably right that such prosecutions are unlikely. Nevertheless, I remain concerned about the degree of self-censorship, and fear that the Bill will have some impact. If we are mainly about sending signals, prosecutions are unnecessary, and one signal that has clearly been picked up by the artistic community is that its freedom will be curtailed. The Home Secretary will have to give more serious thought to that problem than he has hitherto.

It is incumbent on us as parliamentarians, in passing any piece of legislation, to consider the worst-case scenario. I am looking forward—in time, rather than in the sense of wanting something to happen—to circumstances in which we do not have a liberal Government and in which the Law Officers are substantially less liberal than at present. At that stage, the opportunity for abuse becomes immense. At some future stage, the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General might have a particular agenda or a beef with some religious group and in those circumstances the legislation would be open to abuse.