CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

BUSINESS QUESTION – RELIGIOUS HATRED – 5 April 2005

[Mike Gapes: Will my right hon. Friend clarify something that will, I suspect, cause much disappointment to many of my Muslim constituents? Is it the case that we could lose the provisions on incitement to religious hatred, and can he explain why?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Peter Hain): I very much regret that it looks as though we shall lose the opportunity to introduce the new offence of incitement to religious hatred that would have given particular comfort to the Muslim community. However, the Opposition made it absolutely clear that they were not willing to see that particular clause of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill go into law, so they bear full responsibility for blocking it. I am sure that Muslim communities throughout Britain will take careful note of that, and of the position of the Liberal Democrats on the matter. … ]

Dr Julian Lewis: The Leader of the House has been kind enough in the past to acknowledge the work that I have tried to do to reach out to the Muslim community. Will he therefore, on reflection, withdraw the remarks that he made earlier? Plenty of Conservative Members, and possibly even Labour Members, believe that there are many good reasons not to support the incitement to religious hatred provisions. Those reasons have nothing to do with hostility to the Muslim community, but rather with the concern that under the terms of that ill-considered, although well-intentioned legislation, any charlatan or exploiter who chose to define his activities as a religion would be able to prevent anyone from criticising him.

[Mr Hain: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I was not suggesting in any way that he – or any other hon. Member – was seeking to turn his back on the Muslim community. [Hon. Members: "Yes, you were."] What I was saying was that the Muslim community – in particular its most respected voice, the Muslim Council of Britain – wants that legislation and that offence to exist, to give Muslims the extra protection that they do not enjoy at the moment. They are virtually alone as a group in not enjoying that protection. The hon. Gentleman, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats must confront the fact that they are denying the Muslim community's representatives the opportunity to get the protection for which they have asked, and which we as a Government are still willing to deliver if the Opposition will co-operate.]