Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Stirring Up No Support for Religious Hatred Bill

The Government Loses Again.

The Government has clearly lost all the arguments over their inane religious hatred Bill. In the Lords, unlike the Commons, this results in them also losing the vote. Yesterday, they lost very heavily, 260 to 111.

The venality and stupidity of the Bill is surely unique. It is deliberately vague, so that the public would not know if they are committing a crime. To emphasize the point, the offender does not need to intend the harm that the Bill purports to address to be convicted. It only has to be likely that someone - anyone - might react to their actions in such a way as to have hatred stirred up within them.

Lord Plant of Highfield expresses this: .. “It is curious that, according to Ministers and Government supporters, some of the brainiest lawyers in the House—I am not a lawyer; I have been called many things in my time, but not a lawyer—seem incapable of understanding the Bill. If that is true of such eminent lawyers, how much more evident is it going to be to people outside this House who are dealing with these matters at a less elevated level?”

The Government offers assurances that the ordinary public don't need to know if their acts are criminal or not, as prosecutions will not occur without the consent of the Attorney General. I assume we are supposed to trust that this future AG will judge at all times wisely, as opposed to unwisely.

Lord Lyell gives an example:

"If one takes the example of what the Prime Minister said after the bombings of 7 July, which, in my view, was entirely reasonable, he said that religious teaching that encouraged the bombings was vicious and appalling. I do not believe that the Prime Minister intended thereby to stir up racial hatred. I feel confident myself that he had no such thought in his mind. On the other hand, his comment was entirely reasonable in the circumstances. Nonetheless it may well have been likely to stir up some people to hate those who had carried out those vicious and appalling acts as a result of what my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay called their perverted religious beliefs. In those circumstances, it seems that the Bill as it stood prior to the amendment passed by the Committee about an hour ago—the Bill as proposed by the Government—renders those words an offence and that the only thing that would stand between that offence and prosecution would be the opinion of the Attorney-General."

One would assume that the AG (a political appointee) would be 'wise' enough if this case arose. But less august accused may fair less well. A young military officer (Winston Churchill) famously wrote that "The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine‹must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men."

Noone could argue that these views would be immune from the risk of falling into the ears of one in whom they might stir up hatred! Seven years for young Winston.

But enough about the Bill. The vote was a very heartening result. It shows that not everyone in Parliament is on the theocratic bus. As does this EDM (812) published today:

"That this House questions the need for a Faith Communities Liaison Group, with the remit to `lay the foundations for the effective long-term involvement of the faith communities perspectives and needs in policy development across Government', given that faith communities already have the same rights as others to respond to public consultations, to seek to influence public policy, to initiate contacts with Government, and to lobby honourable Members and Ministers; notes that people with no religious beliefs are the second largest faith group shown in the recent census figures, but are generally excluded from Government meetings with faith groups; and concurs with the British Humanist Association that allowing faith groups disproportionately to influence the Government in this way is undemocratic and discriminatory and can help to perpetuate the erroneous idea that religions have a monopoly on moral values or social concerns."

Well done them.

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