Orders of the Day — Racial and Religious Hatred Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:41 pm on 21st June 2005.

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Photo of John Denham John Denham Chair, Home Affairs Committee 6:41 pm, 21st June 2005

The hon. Gentleman knows that time is limited, even if one takes interventions. Many hon. Members wish to speak, so I want to make some progress.

Although this will not be expressed in the Chamber tonight, let us face up to the reality that this issue is controversial in our society because the main group of people who have expressed the concerns addressed by the Bill is Muslim. People in our society ask why we should extend such protection to Muslims. Although we do not hear this in the Chamber, people say, "Well, if they want to come here, why do they need this protection?" Of course, that rather sublimely ignores the fact that the vast majority of Muslims in this country are British, were born here, have nowhere else to go and have every right to be here.

There is a pernicious argument that the Bill will protect a rather unpleasant faith. I have no faith and such criticisms of Islam seem to me to be as misplaced as characterising Christians as people who routinely abuse children for the purpose of casting out devils. Appalling practices can be found in pretty much every religion throughout the world but it would be absolutely wrong to characterise them all by those things that we do not like.

It would be right for the House to extend the protection of the law to religious groups, but there are concerns with which we must deal during the Bill's passage. I welcomed the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State implicitly accepted that the current problem with the Bill was not so much what it said as what most people believed it said. If most people believe that the Bill will make it impossible to have a reasonable discussion about religious belief, that is an objective problem.