Equality Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 9th November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Spokesperson in the Lords, Scotland, Spokesperson In the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Civil Service Reform), Cabinet Office 5:15 pm, 9th November 2005

My Lords, this is my first intervention in the debate. I have been interested to consider the circumstances in which the Government's proposed new offence might be helpful. Starting from scratch, I am bound to say that I do not think it would be helpful in the kind of situation where it seems that this allegation might be most commonly made. That is where there are two communities living side by side, holding different religious views, and where the expression of their normal belief might be regarded as provocative to the other community.

I have thought back to the case of my late father, who was indeed a religious man. He ended up by being Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which was I suppose some recognition of that. He lived in a terraced house in Glasgow, which happened to be next door to a representative of Toc H—an organisation which I have not heard of recently—who was a descendant of Tubby Clayton's exercises. I remember distinctly when that organisation next door was wont to sing hymns loudly on several nights of the week. Whatever one may have thought of those hymns they became, in the mind of my father, something of a nuisance. It was a residential street, and when someone was just about to entertain some guests they would hear:

"Yield not to temptation for yielding is sin".

That might have been regarded as mildly irritating or even possibly provocative when it was repeated. So my father, having consulted a number of other neighbours who felt exactly the same way as he did—that this was a tiresome intrusion and almost too offensive—decided to retaliate. He played on his large gramophone a record of Mae West singing, as the Toc H followers arrived, "I wanna be evil". There was a suit for an accommodation. If either my father or the representative of Toc H had been dragged up on a charge of harassment, it would have been a preposterous state of affairs, and I do not believe that what the Government have in mind will alleviate situations of that kind.