New Forest East


Dr Julian Lewis: Is it not obvious, from the Under-Secretary's difficulties on the "Today" programme this morning and in the House this afternoon, that specific examples cause him immense difficulty in explaining how the Bill would catch any case that should be caught but is not covered by existing legislation? Why is the Bill being introduced? Is it because the Government would have liked several cases to be brought to court but that could not happen? If so, how many such cases have there been? If the number is significant, why does the Under-Secretary find it so difficult to give examples that people find acceptable?

[The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): Over a period of time, we have received representations from the police and religious leaders that we take seriously. I emphasise that current legislation on incitement to religious hatred protects Jews and Sikhs. We have always sought to ensure that there is parity in the law so those who follow other faiths – including Christians, Hindus, Muslims and people of no faith at all – are also covered.]

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Dr Lewis:Will my hon. Friend [Dominic Grieve] consider a slightly different angle on the problems that the Bill is likely to create? If a group of people following a particular form of undesirable activity set themselves up as a cult or religion, could they not use the Bill to claim protection from criticism? It is gradually dawning on moderate Muslims just how restrictive the Bill could be. For instance, a group or people with bizarre sexual preferences might say that those practices were part of their religion. [Hon. Members: "Like the Liberal Democrats."] I was not referring to the Liberal Democrats. Could someone criticise that group of people without falling into the trap that the Government are blunderingly setting out for the House?

[Mr Grieve: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Earlier in the Bill's passage through the House, we debated the real possibility that people of extreme political views could claim that their views were part of their articles of faith. In that event, they could use that to prevent criticism of their beliefs. I am aware that the definition of religion can be brought before a court, but religions can be created quite easily. They are not confined to the principal, monotheistic faiths.]

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Dr Lewis: Is not the reason why the Minister cannot give examples [of cases which should be caught but are not covered by existing legislation] the fact that there are few, if any, examples to give? The Government are caught on the hook because they know the Bill to be bad, but feel that they must go through with it simply because it was offered as an electoral bribe to a part of society.