HL Deb 14 March 2005 vol 670 cc1106-98

4.54 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords. I want to concentrate on the offence of incitement to religious hatred, which is once again before us. I do so partly because I had the privilege of serving on the Select Committee on Religious Offences set up following the removal of the clause on religious hatred from the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill of 2001 and the subsequent production of the Religious Offences Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

Although our committee agreed that, there is a gap in the law as it stands", we were unable to recommend how that gap could be filled. I suggest that disagreement arises because people have very different perceptions, for obvious reasons. Some believe that equal protection should be given to the cherished beliefs and practices of all religious groups—I shall return to that point later. The gap that the Bill addresses in Clause 119 and Schedule 10 is narrower, but the Bill is to be commended in its implications for the protection of religious as well as non-religious groups. The Bill proscribes actions which, by inciting hatred on grounds of religion, constitute a threat to the safety and wellbeing of those who find themselves the object of hatred. We are dealing here not with religious argument, which causes controversy or offence—and perhaps requires what is sometimes called a theological sense of humour, with which some of us are better endowed than others—but with words, behaviour and material that generate acute feelings of fear, insecurity and humiliation and which damage the fabric of society. That threshold is not always easy to define.

There is a sense of injustice at the legal anomaly that while Jews and Sikhs are afforded protection from incitement to hatred by their status as racial groups for the purposes of race relations legislation, members of other religions are not. It is important for the justice and cohesion of our society that protection against incitement to hatred should extend not only to adherents of religions but to people of all beliefs. That is offered by the definition of religious hatred in Schedule 10.

Some believe that the measure is unnecessary because existing public order legislation, including provision for religious motives to be taken into account as aggravating factors in various offences, already prohibit religious hate crimes. I confess to some perplexity about the apparent ineffectiveness of this battery of laws. However, experience shows that many minority groups, particularly in our cities and especially, though not exclusively, in Muslim communities, suffer intimidation and feel vulnerable because of a persistent stream of vicious verbal attacks on their religion—a point made to me in conversation by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, reflecting the minds of his local faith leaders' forum.

According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, religious identity is often being used as a cover for attacks on racial grounds that would be illegal if mounted in those terms. I am aware that an amendment to the schedule devised by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, attempts to meet that point by introducing the notion of religion as a pretext for racial hatred. On balance, although I am prepared to lock horns with his silver tongue—if that is not mixing metaphors—I am not sure that the amendment covers all the cases with which we should be concerned. Incitement to hatred on grounds of religion is always wrong, whether or not religion is functioning as a proxy for racial antagonism.

Some people, both inside and outside the Churches, believe that the provision will seriously inhibit freedom of speech and induce self-censorship on the subject of religion. That is an understandable concern which has received recent press comment. It is for the health of society, and for the health of religions themselves, that religious beliefs and practices should he subject to criticism, debate, humour and satire, even where that is deemed unfair or even offensive whether by the religious adherents in question or in a changing climate of public opinion—they are not always the same thing.

I am encouraged by the recent conclusion of the eighth report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights that the measures proposed in the Bill are unlikely to give rise to any violation of the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention, partly because Article 17 denies the right to engage in acts destructive of the rights and freedoms of others.

The committee also noted that the definition of the offence in the Bill sets a higher threshold than the equivalent Danish legislation. I add that the threshold is also higher than that in the Racial and Religious Toleration Act of the state of Victoria, which has caused anxiety as a result of the conviction of Christian pastors for anti-Islamic statements. That law proscribes words or conduct with the effect of inciting not merely hatred but, severe contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule". That threshold is dangerously low, and I am relieved that the proposal as drafted takes us well beyond that, though it could do with being higher.

There is one further matter on which I must touch in conclusion. The existence of the laws on blasphemy, which apply only to Christianity, and in particular to the Church of England, is a product of history that has become an anomaly in today's society. The notion that the blasphemy laws should be extended to protect all faiths is incoherent, because blasphemy has meaning only within the context of a particular religion, or a society with a single religion, and it is inappropriate, because it is not beliefs and practices that should be protected from attack, but people. That is a distinction cogently argued by the British Humanist Association, which I am delighted to quote on this particular occasion.

Repealing the laws of blasphemy and blasphemous libel at the same time as we pass this measure, suitably amended—I made my position on this clear in a helpful conversation with the Home Secretary—would send a clear signal that incitement to religious hatred is not about shielding religion from criticism, vilification or mockery, but defending people from real harm done in the name of religion. That is why I regard this part of the Bill as meriting our attention and scrutiny, rather than being dismissed out of hand.

5.1 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, this Bill is an attempt to give everyone in the community the right to live in a safe and secure environment free from the fear of crime. I can deal in the time allowed with only a few points, but as a general comment, I should like to say that in a democratic society everyone has the right to voice their opinion and to demonstrate, but human rights and freedom of speech and assembly must be balanced by citizens' responsibilities to others. No one has the right to incite hatred against religious groups, to intimidate or harass others going about their lawful business, or indeed to disrupt the working of Parliament. All faith communities and those working in the bioscience industry deserve the full protection of the criminal law when their human rights are threatened.

I know from mail received that many Christians are concerned that in some way the provision on incitement to religious hatred will adversely affect them. I am sorry that they are so concerned, but I believe that when they look at this provision closely, as it has emerged from another place, they might be reassured that their fears are unfounded. This provision is about protecting people, not about protecting the religion itself. Because of the contents of the letters that I have received, I think it is important to emphasise what these provisions do not do. They do not prevent criticising the beliefs, teachings or practices of a religion or its followers; proselytising one's own religion or urging the followers of another religion to stop practising theirs; telling jokes about religions; expressing dislike of one particular religion or its followers.

This provision is needed to curb the activity of extremist organisations. ACPO has said that the hatred stirred up by extremists such as the BNP contributed to the Bradford and Burnley riots in 2001. It is also intended to have a deterrent effect. The Board of Deputies of British Jews believes that having the offence of incitement to racial hatred has reduced the amount of anti-Semitic literature. It removes a loophole where mono-ethnic faith groups, such as Sikhs and the Jewish community, are protected under the incitement to racial hatred provision; whereas multi-ethnic groups, such as Muslims and Christians among others, are not protected, as the right reverend Prelate has just explained.

It will also, it is to be hoped, reassure Muslim communities in this period when many feel vulnerable that they do have protection in law from acts of racial hatred against them. Much was said during our discussions on the Prevention of Terrorism Act about signals being sent to our Muslim communities. Well, this is surely a very positive signal, as well as being the right thing to do. Support for this provision has come from ACPO, the CRE, Justice and the Law Society. If time had permitted, I would have quoted from the excellent statement of last January from the Churches' Commission on Inter Faith Relations in support of this provision. That statement, signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow, and by representatives of many other faith communities, which time prevents me mentioning, is an excellent statement of the case for such a provision, and I commend it to your Lordships.

The Minister will be aware that the Scottish Police Federation has various concerns about this Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, has already enumerated, and it does not support SOCA operatives being given the powers of a constable in Scotland. The Law Society of Scotland seeks confirmation that those so designated to operate in Scotland will have knowledge and training in Scots criminal law and procedure. I would be very grateful for the Minister's comments on that.

I now turn to a subject that is not in this Bill, but which was debated during its passage in another place and in the media. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, raised it today. It is the question of the use of intercept evidence in court. As I said in the debates on the Prevention of Terrorism Act, I am extremely worried about the growing clamour for intercept material to be produced in court. The whole area of intercept is much more complex and sensitive than most people, including fortunately the targets, ever imagine. The slightest exposure of intercept product risks blowing for good that particular operation with its techniques, as well as in some cases putting at risk human agents. It is often said, "other countries use intercepts in evidence; why can't we?". Well, there are actually many reasons, but I will just be able to touch on three.

Our sophisticated expertise in this field is quite considerable, and in fact I would venture to say outstanding, which of course means that we have much more to lose. A national police force operating on its home ground in a straightforward telephone tap really would usually have little to lose in terms of giving away techniques or endangering sensitive sources. Our legal system, with its adversarial roles for counsel, means that the defence counsel can range far and wide on evidence or with someone in a witness box. In other countries, where there is an investigating judge or magistrate, things can be different, and sensitive material can be used without the risks involved in using it in a British court. In this country we have a very close relationship between our security and intelligence services and our law enforcement agencies; a relationship which, if not unique, is very rare when you look at other countries. To use material from the services, which have to take more risks and use sophisticated techniques sometimes involving agents, is to endanger much more than most people realise.

As I have said before, I have rarely come across a lawyer who did not want intercept material in court, but they almost all believe that there is nothing a court cannot and should not deal with. It is perhaps understandable that the legal profession should think so, but from my own different professional experience, my judgment is different, and I am extremely disturbed at the idea of sensitive intercept material going into court proceedings.

This is a Bill, of course, in which we will hear much legal opinion, and we have in the House many representatives of the legal profession, some of them extremely distinguished. Speaking from experience of some nine years in this House, and especially from recent debates on Iraq and on the Prevention of Terrorism Act still painfully fresh in all our memories, I should like to submit, with respect, that lawyers are not the only people in our society who care deeply about justice and liberty and civil rights. They have chosen a profession that means that they know the detail of the law and the rules and practice of its procedures, but it does not give them a monopoly of wisdom about what is justice and what are human rights. The world does not begin and end at the door of a courtroom. It would well become lawyers if just occasionally they acknowledged that. Just as war is too important to leave to generals, I believe that in a democracy, justice is too important to leave to lawyers and judges. My Lords, I support the Bill.

5.9 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords, it is obviously a superb opportunity to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, and I am the first to acknowledge that lawyers have no monopoly of wisdom in this area. It is therefore important that this House is made up of a number of groupings—and lawyers are but a small, although quite an important, part.

I wish to address only the part of the Bill that deals with incitement to religious hatred. I should declare an interest as patron of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, as president of the Scottish Bible Society and as one who seeks to practise the Christian religion—although I do not succeed as much as I would like.

My impression is that much of the difficulty that has arisen in this area relates to confusing what one group within a faith wants or does with the whole faith. For example, I have always felt uneasy when a particular outrage is described as the work of "Islamic extremists" or "Islamic terrorists". It might be interesting to look at a description given by the Prime Minister in a speech to his constituency about this matter when he described how he was galvanised into the war on terror. He said that the actions which killed 3,000 were the work of religious fanatics. He said that they were pleased that they killed 3,000, they would have been more pleased if they had killed 30,000 and they would be still more pleased if they had killed 300,000.

I ask myself, if this provision in this Bill had been the law at the time, would the Prime Minister have been transgressing it? I have looked carefully at the words of the provision and I would find it difficult to mount a defence. That does not tell me that what the Prime Minister said was wrong, because most of us, probably all of us—certainly I for my part—would strongly agree with what he said. But it indicates to me that the words chosen to describe this particular offence in this provision are not adequate for the purpose.

There is already a good deal of law in relation to this matter. I simply mention the prosecution of Norwood for putting in his window a notice suggesting that Islam should be banished from the United Kingdom and associating Islam with the 9/11 outrage. He was successfully prosecuted. ACPO has indicated that there might be difficulties, but there was a successful prosecution in that case and it seems to me that the principle in that case covers a great deal of what is found offensive at present.

It is said that there is a loophole in the law because Sikhs and Jews are protected as races whereas other religions are not protected. But of course the Jews and Sikhs are protected as races because they are races. It does not follow that because a person is a Jew by race, he is a Jew by religion. We may have an example of that quite soon. It does not follow that because a person is a Sikh by race, he is a Sikh by religion. Hatred based on race is an issue there—and race is not chosen, but is determined by one's antecedents. For example, it may well he a term of racial abuse to describe someone as a "person of mixed race" or "a mongrel".

The situation of religion is quite different. Religion is chosen. A person can change his religion, can embrace a new religion and can, as far as he is concerned, modify the views that he expresses.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, that argument is constantly repeated and I have never heard it pursued. In other words, people make an ex cathedra assertion, if people do not choose their race, that that is a legitimate subject for a law on incitement, whereas if they do choose their religion, it is not. Can the noble and learned Lord say what the difference is, from the point of view of a victim of incitement who is harassed, intimidated or has acts of violence against him on the street, whether he happens to be a Jew, a Sikh or a Muslim?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords, it does not matter whether you are a Jew, a Sikh, a Muslim or have no faith at all. Violence against you in the street is an offence under the present law and it may be aggravated if it is done on religious grounds. in view of the law that has recently been introduced. So I do think that there is a valid point of distinction between race on the one hand and religion on the other. I would not engage in a conversation with someone seeking to change his race, but one might well do so with someone seeking to change his religion. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, pointed out that the Bill attacks not only the people but religious practices. Practices are carried out by people and if you are criticising, and are entitled to criticise, religious practices, that would involve the people who practised them. The attempt to distinguish between practice and people is a thin distinction indeed.

This is an issue of great importance and, as far as I am concerned, it is a threat to free speech, particularly in the investigations that might precede any attempt to obtain the consent of the Attorney-General to a prosecution. The Attorney-General does not determine the scope of the law; his discretion relates only to whether or not, if a breach of the law has occurred, it should be prosecuted. I should like to see Clause 124 deleted from the Bill.

5.16 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, with whose speech I agree in its entirety. Unfortunately, I cannot sit down, because there are one or two other things that I need to say. I also very much agree with the thrust of the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, especially in relation to the pressing need to repeal the common law offences of blasphemy. In view of the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, perhaps I should declare that I am, indeed, a lawyer, a secular Jew and I have worked in race relations for some 40 years. I am not sure whether I am speaking more as a lawyer, as a campaigner for equality or all those things, but I agree with her that no one has a monopoly, whether as a former member of the Security Service or as a former or practising member of the Bar in all these difficult questions.

I am grateful to the Minister and her team and to the Attorney-General and his team for having discussed with me my concerns about the proposed new offences of stirring up religious hatred. I have also benefited from discussions with representatives of the Muslim community and other faith and secular groups with very different points of view.

I draw the attention of the House to the important article by Rahila Gupta, in Saturday's Guardian, which illustrates some of the unintended adverse consequences if these offences were to become law. Ms Gupta wrote that, if the Government mean to extend a hand of friendship to embattled Muslim communities, they would surely do better to tackle the poverty that so many suffer, or the low level of educational attainment among their children, or to ensure that the Government's antiterrorist legislation respects the human rights of those people—mainly Muslims—who are subject to its operation.

In Ms Gupta's well-informed view, the very presence of the proposed law would strengthen the voices of religious intolerance and choke off women's right to dissent in male-dominated religious groups. All the groups that I have met have been dominated almost exclusively by males. In his wise article in today's Times, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, explained why the new law would be likely to stir up disharmony, rather than to resolve it. I agree with that, too.

On these Benches, we regret that the Government have decided to include in an important Bill, designed to tackle serious organised crime, provisions which are sweepingly broad and ambiguous in their reach and divisive in their effect.

The Colville Select Committee, which did such valuable work, drew attention in its report to the observations of the distinguished Attorney-General of India, Soli Sorabjee, which I shall, with the leave of the House, briefly quote. He stated that, experience shows that criminal laws prohibiting hate speech and expression will encourage intolerance, divisiveness and unreasonable interference with freedom of expression. Fundamentalist Christians, religious Muslims and devout Hindus would then seek to invoke the criminal machinery against each other's religion, tenets or practices. That is what is increasingly happening today in India. We need not more repressive laws but more free speech to combat bigotry and to promote tolerance". The Divisional Court in this country came to the same conclusion in Choudhury's case when rejecting an attempt to extend the offence of blasphemy to religions other than Christianity. I acted as counsel for Viking Penguin, the publishers of Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses. As the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, will recall, it was a painful experience. It illustrated the danger of keeping blasphemy as a criminal offence because it encourages followers of other faiths to seek a blasphemy law to protect their faith against gross insult at the expense of free speech. One religion's faith is another's blasphemy.

The law of blasphemy is discriminatory. It prevents a Muslim speaking about the sacred entities of Christianity in ways that would not be criminal if a Christian were to speak in similar terms about Islam. The Colville committee rightly found that hard to justify, as did the Law Commission. I was surprised and very disappointed by the DCA's recent Written Answer on 3 March suggesting that it might be appropriate to prosecute and convict someone whose material or conduct was, in its words, "gratuitously offensive to Christians". That can only encourage a body such as Christian Voice in its ignorant campaign against the BBC over "Jerry Springer—The Opera" or Sikh militants objecting to Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's play. Our approach is significantly influenced in this debate by the Government's unwillingness to abolish the offence of blasphemy.

The Government wish to extend the existing offences of stirring up racial hatred, as has been explained. I accept, of course, that the stirring up of hatred—especially ethnic hatred—against groups of Muslims or Hindus is as offensive as stirring up hatred against groups of Sikhs or Jews. But if the hatred is ethnic, that is largely covered by the existing offence of inciting racial hatred and the pretext cases could be covered by a narrow amendment.

Because we on these Benches strongly believe in the equal protection of the law, we have long campaigned for comprehensive equality legislation to tackle religious and other forms of invidious discrimination and harassment, including discrimination and harassment against gay and lesbian people, who are not to be protected by this new offence.

Although the Government say that the proposed offences are designed to protect people, the definition links people with their religious belief or lack of religious belief. "Religious belief" plainly includes belief in the teachings or practices of a religion or its followers. "Religious" means concerned with religion, and religion may include a multitude of belief systems, old and new, and not only the theistic but also the non-theistic religions, as well as sects within religions and cults—for example, scientology and the Moonies.

"Religious hatred" means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief. "Hatred" is not defined. The proposed offences are not confined to hate crimes akin to violence; nor do they deal, for example, with stirring up hatred against people because of their sexuality, even though that is a serious social evil.

Hatred is not an activity; it is an emotion or a state or mind. The deliberate stirring up of hatred—that is, the intense dislike—of members of a racial group is an offence, even though it creates no immediate risk of stirring up violence. That is an acceptable use of the criminal law because criminalising incitement to racial hatred does not normally threaten the right to free speech. A verbal attack on members of a racial group is an attack on their common humanity and ethnicity.

However, in answer to my noble friend Lord Avebury, a verbal attack on members of a religious group, expressing intemperate criticism of, or hostility to, the beliefs, teachings or practices of their religion, is not an attack on their common humanity unless, in reality, it involves an attack on their ethnicity, origin and biology—for example, when it uses a religious attack to stir up racial hatred against Jews, Sikhs, Hindus or Muslims of Asian descent. A verbal attack on the followers of a religion involves an attack on religious beliefs, ideas and practices in the exercise of the right to free speech. Subject to narrow exceptions, the right to free speech applies not only to information and ideas favourably received or inoffensive but those that offend, shock or disturb.

The proposed offences are sweepingly broad in their reach. The Bill would make it an offence to stir up religious hatred by using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or by displaying or publishing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, or by publicly performing a play or distributing, showing or playing a recording, or broadcasting a programme involving the use of such words of behaviour. It would also make it an offence to be in possession of religiously inflammatory material intended for publication.

Those offences would be committed not only if the defendant deliberately intended to stir up religious hatred but also where religious hatred was likely in all the circumstances to be stirred up. The offences could be committed in a public or a private place. They would be punishable on conviction on indictment by up to seven years' imprisonment or a fine, or both.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has already indicated, a wide range of offences incur higher penalties if they are motivated or aggravated by religious hostility. One is the offence in Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, which involves using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour, or displaying any writing, sign or other representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, with the intention and effect of causing harassment, alarm or distress. Section 5 covers similar conduct within the sight or hearing of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.

Those offences cover all forms of harassment—not only racial or religious harassment but any harassment. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 also creates a criminal offence, as well as providing civil remedies for the victims of harassment, including alarming a person or causing distress to that person. The Norwood case, which one can read about in the JCHR report, illustrates the very broad reach of the existing Public Order Act.

In the light of this wide armoury of offences and the existing robust case law, what exactly is the gap in the criminal law which needs to be filled by further criminal offences, and where is the evidence of a serious social problem which cannot be dealt with under the existing law?

I asked the Home Office to answer that question. It explained, first, the gap whereby Jews and Sikhs are covered by ethnic discrimination but not Muslims. It also stated that if the conduct is not likely to cause anyone present harassment, alarm or distress, then Section 5 of the Public Order Act will not apply. The Home Office gave me the following hypothetical examples of the only gap that it has been able to identify. The first is of a leader of a far-right group who gives a speech in the back room of a pub that encourages his followers to hate Muslims. The second example is of a radical Islamist preacher who circulates tapes to his followers encouraging hatred of Christians. In both situations, religious hatred is likely to be stirred up but not covered by the law. Those narrow examples could, if necessary, be dealt with by narrow and carefully tailored exceptions, but the Government have rejected that proportionate response.

The other vice is lack of legal certainty—not over breadth, but lack of legal certainty. The former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, wrote an article in the Observer on 12 December under the title "Why we'll outlaw the persecution of belief". He asked: Can it be right that hatred based on deliberate and provocative untruths jabout a person's religion remains unchallenged? So David Blunkett, the original Home Office architect, apparently believes that the offences are designed to protect beliefs against what he terms "untruths". In similar vein, Mr Khalid Mahmood MP apparently thought that Salman Rushdie could be prosecuted for his novel under these provisions. I am sorry to take—

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, perhaps I may respectfully say to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that every Back-Bencher so far has kept within the eight minutes proposed by my noble friend the Chief Whip, which would enable us to leave the Chamber at 11.30 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I apologise. I was encouraged by other Members of the House to make a single speech dealing with these matters, which is why it took slightly longer. If I may make one last point, I shall then sit down.

Faith in the Attorney-General's discretion is in my view misplaced because, in law as elsewhere, context is everything. Expectations will be raised by extremists on both sides. When the Attorney-General refuses to consent to prosecutions, that will be a recipe not for more tolerance and harmony but for the opposite. I apologise for having taken so long.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness D'Souza

My Lords, I, too, want to speak briefly about the amendments set out in Schedule 10. Words are powerful; they cause injury, often as hurtful as physical attack. Equally, they form the best defence against ignorance, bigotry and intolerance. In those countries where hate speech laws, whether directed at religious or racist hate speech, prevail, the underlying conditions of discrimination and hatred do not seem to have improved.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, has, with his customary clarity, exposed the confusions in the Bill as it stands, in particular pointing out the anomalies in the current blasphemy laws. I should like to refer briefly to the wider experience of such laws and the real dangers to freedom of expression that they pose.

Schedule 10 rests on at least three assumptions: that offence and even insult are measurable forms of expression; that the suppression of ideas and communication, however outlandish and/or unacceptable to others, will make for greater peace and harmony—in other words, that laws alone will make for a more gentle and humane society—and that broadly defined laws will not adversely affect the expression of difficult and controversial views inherent in democratic society. I believe those assumptions to be wrong. Offence and feelings of insult are subjective states of mind and feeling. What is offensive to me may not be at all offensive to you, so why should I be able to prevent you from seeing or hearing what is not offensive to you?

Of course, there are conditions to that kind of freedom, the most important being that we are able to avoid offence. That introduces the whole question of context. We must be free not to see the play or film, not to buy or read the book or not to turn on or hear the broadcast. If we are unable to avoid seeing, hearing or reading insulting material, as has already been pointed out by several speakers, existing laws on the statute book, such as the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the 1986 Act, provide protection.

There is no attempt to define religion precisely, but, instead to regard a group sharing common beliefs to be legitimate targets of insult. There is here the opportunity for mischievous cases to be brought and for some disreputable cult groups to claim the status of religion and for extreme factions to speak in its name. The phrase in the Bill, material is likely to be heard or seen by any person in whom … it is … likely to stir up racial or religious hatred", is chilling. For example, who is qualified to define culturally sensitive notions of threat, abuse or insult? When does dislike or antipathy become hatred, and who defines that turning point?

Unwitting denigration of a particular religious belief or practice on, let us say, a public broadcast system, could well fall foul of the law. The lack of clarity will undoubtedly increase self-censorship, which is already practised by journalists and in the arts.

Although the Home Office Minister, Fiona Mactaggart, considers it unlikely that many prosecutions would occur, that is not good enough. We cannot rely on the view of one Minister in a letter to safeguard fundamental freedoms. Broadly defined and restrictive laws, once on the statute book, have a tendency to be used by authority to maintain power, to stifle criticism and to dampen undercurrents of discontent. An exhaustive study, admittedly carried out in the 1990s, demonstrated how hate speech laws, where enacted, have had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and, even more seriously, have in some cases been a barrier to public debate on how best to resolve tensions within society.

For example, hate speech laws in Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and the Netherlands are based on the premise that human dignity, quite apart from any question of safeguarding public order, must be protected. It cannot be argued that those laws have resulted in a decrease in insult directed towards Jews, Muslims, Turkish workers, immigrants from the Maghreb and the rest of Africa or other minorities. In fact, there has been a growth in support for extreme Right-wing parties in those countries. In France, it has been suggested that Monsieur Le Pen, who was convicted of hate speech under the 1972 Act, was forced to temper his message. Recruitment to his party increased significantly in subsequent years—some say because he was prevented from preaching his real aims and policies and came across as less extreme than he actually was and is.

Also, in Schedule 10, there is an unhelpful blurring of the distinction between advocacy and incitement. The latter is generally taken to imply both the intention and means to commit a criminal act such as race hatred. Advocacy, on the other hand, is a tool for persuading others—even with the use of hostile language—of a cause, religious or ethnic, and as such is a vital aspect of free speech.

A society that has a more civil tone to its discourse is pleasant and welcome, but some of the issues in society are unpleasant and difficult. We cannot afford to ignore those tensions. I shall cite a distinguished Sri Lankan lawyer, whose country has been torn by racist violence for decades, but who still argues: Dissent and indeed hate will eventually be expressed; sadly in Sri Lanka, we have witnessed far too much evidence that censoring hate from public discourse only banishes it to more deadly fora". Liberty is better protected by less legislation. A focus on laws to curtail expression surely distracts attention from the vital need to invest in education and debate to address the root causes of religious discrimination. In my view, the Bill should proceed without the existing Schedule 10 which, if it ever reached the statute book, would constitute a serious hostage to fortune for many years to come.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Turnberg

My Lords, this is a large and important Bill but, having listened carefully to the debate so far, I shall not chance my arm by speaking about the parts of it that deal with religion; and I shall certainly not take on the lawyers. I hope that your Lordships do not think that I am lowering the tone if I focus on just one topic, which is the part of the Bill that deals with the protection of those who undertake research using animals—a part of the Bill that I strongly endorse.

In doing so, I shall declare a number of interests. I am chairman of the organisation called NC3Rs, which is the National Centre for the Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of Animals in Research, and which is an arm's-length body set up by the Office of Science and Technology to promote those aims. I am also a scientific adviser for the Association of Medical Research Charities and, in a previous existence, I was an academic physician.

NC3Rs is very conscious of the existing tight regulatory controls that we have in the UK over animal research—probably the most stringent in the world. Nevertheless, we are keen to encourage research into new ways to achieve some of the aims of science either without animals, with fewer animals, with better animal welfare, or all three. In all that, we try to work closely with animal welfare organisations, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments, as well as the research community.

I must say that the animal rights extremists go far outside the interests not only of NC3Rs but the animal welfare organisations with which we co-operate. Furthermore, not only are the extremists, who are really quite close to terrorists in the way in which they go about their business, a danger to society, they are a danger to the very animals for whom they purport to be acting. I am here talking not about straightforward protest, which is the accepted right of everyone, but that behaviour which threatens the health, well-being and lives of others.

In NC3Rs, although we are keen to explore ways to replace and reduce animal use in research where possible, we are well aware of the vital role that animal research plays in investigating the nature of disease; the development of new treatments; and in the testing for safety of new drugs before they can be given to man. Those are all essential if we are to be able to conquer disease, and they are likely to be needed for some time to come.

For all of those reasons, I strongly endorse the provisions in the Bill, which offer reasonable protection from animal rights extremists. That protection is provided to most of the relevant groups which require it; that is, researchers in academic institutions, and in industry, animal breeders and their families and so on. One group that should be included, but is not, is the large number of medical research funders—namely, charities such as the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council and the research councils.

I hope that it will be possible to include research funders during the passage of the Bill. Apart from that omission, I should like to reiterate how much I endorse this very important—indeed, essential—provision.

5.40 p.m.

Lord Baker of Dorking

My Lords, there are several things in this Bill that I support. I strongly support the creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency where police, immigration and Customs officers and the National Crime Squad will come together. When we set out on this path a long time ago there were a lot of turf wars. It took a long time to get to that stage. The time was then not ripe, but it is ripe now. I congratulate the Government on that.

However, I do not congratulate the Government on their proposals for religious hatred. I agree entirely with the comments made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. It is not often that a former Home Secretary and a former Lord Chancellor agree if they come from the same party. Certainly, as regards the Labour Party, I do not think that Mr Blunkett and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, would find much to agree about. But I agree with my noble and learned friend, and I liked his article in the Times today which reminded me of the difference between Pharisees and Sadducees. It is a distinction that, sometimes, I miss on a Monday morning. I was glad to be reminded of it.

First, as regards the argument that racial hatred and religious hatred are different sides of the same coin—they are not. Incitement to racial hatred is rightly a crime because race depends on habits and customs, and, perhaps, colour, habits of dress and eating. If you are born into a race, you cannot abandon it and change it: you have it for life.

That is not the case with religion, which is a set of ideas that, in some cases, are reinforced by faith. Like any set of ideas, it can be challenged, criticised, vilified, satirised and mocked. It is capable of being changed—there is a choice. That is the important and vital distinction, which, 1 believe, is supported by the Select Committee, chaired by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville.

So why are the Government doing this? The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, has teased out of the Home Office two extraordinary examples, which are so extraordinary that to have legislation to meet them is ridiculous. I am drawn unfortunately to the conclusion that the real reason why we are having this debate is because there will be an election in about eight weeks' time. Very clearly, the Bill will not make progress in this House. Therefore, the Labour Party in its manifesto will be able to say, "We intend to bring in a law to change the law on incitement to religious hatred".

That will go down very well in those constituencies where they are trying to regain the Muslim vote. The noble Baroness sighs and signals her disagreement, but she has never stood for elective office. Some of us have done that repeatedly and we know perfectly well the importance of an election address that appeals directly to an important group in one's constituency. I am quite sure that that is the main reason.

I have many objections to this legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, said, the phraseology is extraordinary. The Bill states that an offence will be created, having regard to all the circumstances the words, behaviour or material are … likely to be heard or seen by any person in whom they are … likely to stir up religious hatred". As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, there is no definition of religious hatred. Religious hatred will be in the eye of the beholder. It is the beholder who will say, "I consider that to be an act of religious hatred".

To the Front Bench opposite, I say that any group of people who are passionate and devout about a religion, who have been brought up in the framework of that religion, who have been taught to respect the leaders of that religion, who worship the leaders of that religion and who accept every word from the holy books of that religion will believe that any attack on their faith is an attack on that group. Many members of such a group will define their personalities and shape their lives in relation to that religion. So I do not believe that a distinction can be drawn by an attack on a faith and an attack on a group of people who follow that faith. The courts will not be able to do that. Many Muslims, in particular, will see it that way and their hopes will be dashed. That is the sort of trouble you can get into when trying to criminalise a state of mind.

The other problem is that expectations will be raised. In all fairness to the Minister, she touched on that in her speech and recognised that it was a possibility. But those expectations will be dashed because the Director of Public Prosecutions, in evidence to a Select Committee in the other House, said that this Bill will keep the freedom to insult Islam. Many people who observe Islam in this country, particularly the fundamentalist Islamists, will not accept that.

The Minister referred to a leading member of the Muslim Council who said that he does not think that he has changed his view on that. But he is on the record as saying, Defamations of the character of the Prophet Mohammad is a direct insult and an abuse of the Muslim community". Whether he is resiled on that, I do not know, but I know that many Muslims feel that. Their expectations will not be met. This is a measure that will create tension, dissention and frustration, and will leave a belief that the Government who bring it in are deceiving the country.

This is a bad law in the same sense that the law against pornography was a bad law. Your Lordships might remember that the definition of the word "pornography" under the old legislation was that a matter was pornographic if it depraved and corrupted. No one could decide what that meant, because everyone had a different view of depravity and corruption. As the Home Secretary, I had to pick up the last remnants of that Bill, which proved totally and utterly unworkable because depravity and corruption are in the eye of the beholder. Religious hatred is also in the eye of the beholder. So the same confusion and dissatisfaction will arise.

The Bill will encourage extremists because they will believe that they now have what they want. Perhaps I may say something about the way in which Christianity has treated this issue over the centuries. I am a mild, middle-of-the road Anglican—not too enthusiastic, but there on the important days. Over the centuries, Christ has been described as a paedophile and a homosexual. In The Da Vinci Code, the very basic concept of Christianity—that Christ did rise from the dead—is denied. In fact, it suggests that he kept on living and married a harlot.

Last year, there was an exhibition at the Tate where there was a picture of the Crucifixion made out of discarded Marlboro Lights cigarettes. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords what Nietzsche said: I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great innermost corruption, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means is poisonous, stealthy, subterranean, small enough—I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind". I shall not ask the Minister whether Nietzsche would be arraigned before the court, because she may say, "Of course, no. He is just attacking a faith. Of course, he would not be. No, no, no".

But if the word "Islam", instead of the word "Christianity", was inserted today, would the Minister be quite so sure? I do not think so. I regret to say that this is an erosion of the free speech of our country. We should be free to say things that cause offence and that many people find distasteful. That has been the tradition over the past 300 years in our country. More than three centuries ago we stopped torturing and burning people for their heresies against the Christian faith. We have moved on. Voltaire came to live in this country in the 18th century to escape persecution for scepticism in France. We have a very long tradition. This law will create a straitjacket on the freedom of expression. It will make people very anxious about saying what they intend to say. Will they be arraigned before a court?

Censorship is on the march. I deplored what happened in Birmingham when certain Sikhs stopped a play being performed earlier this year. I thought that it was an absolute outrage. I was amazed that no Minister of the Crown stood up to condemn it—not one Minister did that. It was an outrage against free speech. Under this law, performance is specifically mentioned in Schedule 10. I am quite sure that some of the more resolute, determined or extreme Sikhs would certainly use this law to try to stop such a performance being put on again. My remedy for such Sikhs would be to make them sit through several performances of "Murder in the Cathedral" to realise—

Lord Avebury

My Lords, Sikhs are a racial group and if they had wanted to, they could have sought to invoke the incitement against racial hatred provisions, but they did not do that.

Lord Baker of Dorking

My Lords, it is very difficult to prove racial hatred when a Sikh playwright writes a play about a Sikh community and performs it in a Sikh community. I would have thought that rather astonishing.

I conclude by saying that western liberal society has to accommodate itself to Islam and it is doing that slowly over Europe and in our own country with scarves, turbans and all the other issues. But at the same time Islam has to accommodate itself to western liberal societies. The acceptance of criticism and of things which may sound very repugnant, is all part and parcel of living in our country.

I believe that over the past 300 years we have built up a general tolerance in our country. I remember Matthew Arnold's phrase, We half believers of our casual truths". That has been one of the things which have made us less extreme in this country. Many immigrants come to this country because they like our religious toleration, the way in which we treat women equally, our rule of law and our freedom of speech. Let us not lose the last.

5.51 p.m.

Lord Alli

My Lords, this is an important Bill. Like many others, I would like to focus on the clauses dealing with incitement to religious hatred contained in Schedule 10.

This debate can be characterised by a conflict of freedom: the freedom to say what you like in a fair and democratic society, and the freedom to live your life without the violence that flows from what a person says about the colour of your skin, your religious beliefs or your sexual orientation. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, I believe that society has to balance the rights that we have as citizens with the responsibilities to exercise those rights in a way which protects and cherishes other people's rights and freedoms.

This House has often been instrumental in resolving difficult questions on a conflict of rights. For my part, coming from the Muslim community, I find it hard to understand the logic of those who say that freedom of speech will be under threat if we extend the provisions already in place for race to religion. How is it that the protection of the Sikh community or the Jewish community does not infringe freedom of speech, but the extension of those protections to the Muslim community or other vulnerable groups does?

It is patently absurd to assert that freedom of speech is somehow impaired in a different way when applied to Muslims as opposed to Sikhs. Those who oppose these measures on the basis of freedom of speech will need to work much harder to convince me, and many people from the Muslim community and other religious faiths, that this is not a question of, "Do as I say and not as I do". I look forward to seeing the narrow amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, when it is published.

Having dealt with the points of principle in these provisions, I feel rather like Oliver Twist. I want more. I hear the noble Beadle on the Front Bench from the workhouse saying, "More! You want more?". Yes, I want more. I would like the Government to go further. I have written to the Minister asking her to give consideration to the extension of the provisions to cover gay men and lesbians through a new offence of incitement to homophobic hatred. I have given her notice that, in Committee, I shall be bringing forward amendments to that effect.

If the law is extended as currently intended, it will be able to tackle hatred against me because of my religious beliefs. It is already able to tackle hatred against me on the basis of the colour of my skin. But it will be unable to tackle hatred against me on the basis of my sexuality.

Perhaps I may give some practical examples of what I mean in three extracts of homophobic lyrics in popular, contemporary rap music. I have no idea who Beenie Man is, but he sings, Hang lesbians with a long piece of rope". In another song he sings, I'm dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays". Another current popular rap song states, Step up to the front line, burn the men who have sex with men from behind. Shoot queers". With rights come responsibilities. Advocating through popular song hatred of the kind expressed in those lyrics is unacceptable in a civilised society.

I conclude with lines which I am sure will be familiar to noble Lords: First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out Because I was not a Jew Then they came for the communists And I did not speak out Because I was not a communist Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out Because I was not a trade unionist Then they came for me- and there was no one left To speak out for me". So to my Christian colleagues and all the Church groups who filled our postage bags, and to my Jewish and Sikh friends, I say that it is time to speak out for us. I will be looking to my Muslim brothers and sisters, too, and hoping that they will support my extension of the Bill to cover homophobic hatred. In the end, we all have to speak out for each other.

5.56 p.m.

The Earl of Rosslyn

My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police and as someone who has worked operationally with both the National Crime Squad and Customs and Excise, two constituent parts of the proposed Serious Organised Crime Agency.

The new agency will, I believe, deliver a more co-ordinated and creative approach to tackling organised crime, building on the strengths Or the existing agencies and significantly enhancing operational and intelligence capability.

The increasing domination of organised crime groups in criminality most threatening to our national interest provided a compelling imperative for action. Operating across force boundaries, often at a national or international level, such groups are sophisticated and well resourced. The scope of their criminality is wide ranging, such as drug trafficking, organised immigration crime, fraud, counterfeiting and intellectual property theft, while the links between organised crime and terrorism are well established.

But if the pattern of their offending is diffuse, they share at least two common features: an inclination to corrupt and intimidate, including the intimidation of witnesses and victims, and a capacity for extreme violence. They increasingly demonstrate a growing understanding of law enforcement methods, using themselves elaborate counter-surveillance techniques and highly complex money laundering arrangements.

The economic and social costs of their crimes may be as great as £40 billion a year, approximating the GDP of New Zealand. Few markets are more profitable to them than drug trafficking and people smuggling, with the UK heroin and crack cocaine markets estimated to be worth £3 billion a year, while the global profits from people smuggling are estimated at £5 billion annually. Europol believes that 70 per cent of illegal migrants are facilitated by organised crime groups. Such groups are in effect businesses that exist to make money and do so by creating markets for their trade, which in turn create victims of crime. They base their activities on the twin priorities of maximising profit and minimising risk, the most sophisticated operating across commodities to do so.

It would be right to acknowledge the achievements of existing law enforcement agencies in addressing these challenges. The links between them have improved. They are widely respected abroad, generally effective operationally and the co-operation between them and the intelligence agencies is almost unique internationally. Nevertheless, institutional responsibilities are not always clearly defined. The collation, assessment and sharing of intelligence is not consistently achieved and ill-conceived perceptions of each other's role still remain.

At its worst, such an arrangement leads to operational compromise. At best, the national law enforcement effort is less cohesive than it might be. The capability of these agencies has not, in short, kept pace with the sophistication and flexibility of organised crime groups.

A response predicated on nothing more than an amalgamation of the existing agencies would, in my view, have been a lost opportunity, less likely to lead to fundamental improvements, more likely to prolong existing inefficiencies. I therefore welcome the more radical proposal outlined in the Bill, where the new agency really does have the opportunity to be much more than the sum of its parts by linking intelligence, investigation and intervention and by providing a single point of contact for international partners.

However, to be effective, the agency requires a radical new strategy, one in which law enforcement, though important, is just one of a wider range of integrated measures aimed at reducing harm with equal attention given to reducing profit opportunities, hardening targets, disrupting businesses and their markets and preventing new enterprises from gaining a foothold in a market thus destabilised.

To measure the success of such an approach, an entirely new performance management framework will be required which focuses less on numbers and more on how effectively the agency is disabling career criminals, using whatever technique is most effective.

However, the national response to organised crime cannot be considered in isolation from other aspects of law enforcement and must link effectively with local policing. Organised criminality has both national and local dimensions and to overlook the relationship between criminals and levels of criminality is to ignore those loose structures that exist between those operating in the criminal environment.

Serious organised crime at a national level is the mirror image of criminal enterprises to be found in many urban communities. National and international crime often has its roots in local crime, with criminals learning their trades in local communities through dysfunctional role models. Even when operating at a national or international level, they are still based in local communities, so any strategy for tackling serious and organised crime should recognise those interdependencies.

The new agency will need to rely on the infrastructure of local forces to support it and to be a productive source of criminal intelligence. The agency may wish to engage its assets at a local level and then work its way up the supply chain. Local forces in their turn need the agency's intelligence products to tackle organised crime at force level and its specialist support for complex operations.

The management of these relationships will, I believe, be a key determinant of the agency's success and I wonder whether the Minister agrees that more needs to be done to give local forces and police authorities a stake in the new agency, something which goes beyond the somewhat passive provision in Clauses 6 and 7 to provide them with copies of the agency's annual plan and report.

Finally, any national strategy must recognise the importance of community engagement. The nature of urban communities is changing and with those changes come vulnerabilities that can be exploited by organised criminals.

The public are unlikely to distinguish the actions of one law enforcement agency from another and if the new agency gives insufficient consideration to neighbourhood engagement, that will in turn degrade the ability of local police to operate effectively in key vulnerable communities.

Perhaps I may end by commenting briefly on Clause 125 which proposes an offence of trespassing on designated sites. I currently command the Metropolitan Police Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Department and am very proud to do so. Apart form the responsibilities self evident in its title, we also provide policing for the Palace of Westminster and Downing Street, sites all susceptible to designation under the Bill.

Mine is a predominantly armed command with officers, male and female, accepting the profound additional responsibility which attaches to those carrying a firearm. They know that the armed engagement of any suspect will lead to the meticulous and often prolonged scrutiny of their actions whether through an independently supervised internal inquiry, a coroner's inquest or in some cases with the officer a defendant in a criminal trial.

However sincere their beliefs, those who seek to exploit iconic protected sites by using trespass as a campaign tactic do so at immense and wholly unnecessary risk to themselves and to my officers, not to mention the significant diversion of other operational resources. I believe that the proposal in the Bill would provide a degree of deterrence similar to that which has existed in respect of diplomatic premises since 1977 and I hope that this measure will enjoy the support of the House in due course.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, I start by welcoming the Bill in principle. Crime and policing are second only to anti-terrorism in the important work being done by the Government to protect the public. I declare an interest as one who joined the police more than 40 years ago. The 1960s were a different era from the one we inhabit today. Indeed, when I joined we had a police force and a postal service, whereas now we have a police service and a Parcel Force. 1 suppose that that must tell us something.

To be more serious, we live in a world which is becoming smaller. A criminal act can be committed in one country and the perpetrators can be at the other side of the world within hours. Identity theft is becoming more and more prevalent and the public have a right to demand a response by the authorities.

It is absolutely crucial therefore that the police and other law enforcement agencies are organised to operate in modern times with all the powers and technology that is available. This Bill sets out to achieve that by establishing the Serious Organised Crime Agency which will bring together officers of the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which includes the investigative arms of Customs and Excise and the Immigration Service.

My noble friend the Minister is aware that there are serious concerns about the terms and conditions of the police staff transferring to SOCA to such an extent that the Police Federation has recommended to its members that they do not join the new organisation until they are satisfied with the terms and conditions of employment. It is absolutely essential that this new important organisation gets off on the right footing. Can the Minister reassure the House that agreement is being actively pursued because co-operation between the new agency and the police is critical?

I am satisfied that the Minister has answered the point about the agents not being police officers. The police are proud of the office of constable, which, as your Lordships know, is independent of the Executive and answerable only to the law. A chief constable cannot be ordered to do this or that and cannot be removed on a political whim, as can happen in the United States, where I spent some time training with the FBI.

Another advantage of using sworn police officers is that they cannot take industrial action. That point has been touched on already. It last occurred in 1919, after which it was outlawed. What safeguards are there in relation to the new agents? Will they be allowed to join a trade union, as is being suggested with the new civilian custody officers? If so, will there be a no-strike clause in the agreement? Will they have police powers or greater special powers such as those which are presently held by Customs and Excise?

Another issue is the question of complaints against the new agents. The police service is overseen by the new independent Police Complaints Commission. Can my noble friend assure the House that similar arrangements will be put in place with regard to these investigators who, like the police, will come into conflict with the public by the very nature of their job? Will there be a discipline code similar to that of police officers? These are not inconsequential issues.

Going back to the central purpose of the Bill, it makes eminent sense to bring the national bodies dealing in criminal intelligence and national and international crime under one roof. I recall the problems in the United States with the different agencies competing with each other. On the ground, there was a myriad of law enforcement bodies vying for jurisdiction. Small village police departments competed with the county sheriff or the state troopers, challenged by the specialist departments in transport, universities, housing complexes and the like. There are literally thousands of different agencies with overlapping jurisdiction in the United States. In my view, this is a mess and leads to inefficiency. Thank God, we do not have that problem in the United Kingdom.

In the United States, we saw the competing interests at federal level following the 9/11 incident, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation working to the Department of Justice; the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agency working to the Revenue; and of course the overarching Central Intelligence Agency—all failing to share and act on critical information that may have prevented the tragedy that occurred.

I recall President Bush recently being asked whether he intended to oversee all these different intelligence organisations by the appointment of an intelligence tsar. There is no truth in the suggestion that he replied in his own inimitable way, "No, it's far too important a job to be left to a Russian". I jest of course, and it is an important co-ordination job which has now been filled.

In conclusion, I address the civilianisation of the custody sergeant, which has resulted in a powerful campaign waged by the Police Federation against the loss of this important post. It is an important role and one that police sergeants do not always welcome. It requires the courage to take on senior officers, at times, to conform to the codes of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

My noble friend the Minister mentioned that it would be a matter for chief constables to appoint civilians to this role. She said that some chief constables were in favour of such appointments. The Police Review notified me that it had telephoned the various forces alleged to be in favour and all had denied that. I should be grateful if my noble friend could give me the names of those forces that agreed.

I have for many years been concerned that a regular police sergeant had to be taken from the streets to perform the task of custody officer. When it was introduced, it led to a considerable diminution of supervision on the streets. However, whether a civilian can fulfil that role with the same authority is arguable.

Perhaps I may make a constructive suggestion to the Minister. The Metropolitan Police used to have a separate rank of station sergeant. It was a rank between sergeant and inspector and was a well respected figure, exemplified by George Dixon, who many of your Lordships will remember on the television from his days in Dock Green. He must have been the only serving octogenarian police officer in the Met. He was the epitome of wisdom and experience—dare I say it, rather like Members of your Lordships' House. My point is that bringing back this rank of "station sergeant" or "custody sergeant" would solve the problem. Ordinary sergeants could be back out supervising on the streets, whereas the new rank of station sergeant could fulfil the important role required by the PACE Act, and he or she would still be a sworn officer. I ask the Minister to consider my proposal, which I am sure would find favour with the Police Federation.

In conclusion, I would emphasise the importance of taking the police service with you in implementing the provisions of this important and necessary Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

6.13 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, in concert with the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, I wish to address the part of the Bill concerned with animal research organisations. I declare an interest as a patron of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments—often referred to as FRAME.

This country has some of the most rigorous regulations concerning the use of animals in research. Recently, the Science and Technology Committee of this House examined in detail the use of animals for experimental purposes and concluded that such use was ethical. It also made a number of recommendations to enhance the public understanding of animal experimentation, including the setting up of a committee to promote further use of the alternatives to experimentation, generally called the three "Rs"— reduction, refinement and replacement. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, mentioned, he is the chair of this committee referred to as NC3Rs.

All experimentation using animals in this country is performed under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. It is administered by the Home Office. It is a legal activity and as such must be protected against the unlawful activities of animal rights extremists. It is, to my mind and that of many others, extremely important that this Bill reaches the statute book, for the following reasons.

The Bill would ensure the progress of biomedical research in the search for and development of medicines and vaccines for the control and prevention of disease in man and his animals. So much of this requires the use of animals in research.

The Bill would protect the welfare of animals used in research. Regulation is far less rigorous overseas, which is where the activities of animal rights extremists could drive animal-based research. The direct action of extremists includes the so-called "liberation" of animals from animal holdings into environments that are completely foreign to them where they would have difficulty surviving, and the intimidation of veterinary practitioners who provide veterinary help and care to animal breeding establishments. Those practitioners may then not be available when animals fall ill.

The passage of the Bill would protect the UK science base, which is world class and ranks in the highest echelons of scientific endeavours globally. It is necessary to protect that too. That research is worth more than £3 billion per year.

Those who would oppose the Bill will claim that adequate legislation already exists to deal with animal rights extremists. That is not the case. Intense harassment and intimidation can and does occur. directed against personnel working in research establishments, supply companies servicing such establishments, the banks that provide the financing, the children of employees as they go to school, and the wives of employees as they go to supermarkets. Indirect harassment occurs in telephone calls, e-mails and abusive letters.

As has been pointed out, while Clause 143 seeks to protect a broad spectrum of persons connected with animal research, it fails to make provision for charitable institutions that fund animal research. There are many such institutions, from large ones such as the Wellcome Trust, to small charities that are interested in forwarding animal research. My hope and expectation is that Clause 143 will be amended to include those charitable institutions.

Many will be aware of the continuing activity against organisations such as the Huntingdon research laboratory, Huntingdon Life Sciences, by the organisation known as SHAC—Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. Huntingdon Life Sciences has been able to carry on despite the withdrawal of funding by certain banks. It has an animal facility in the United States to which SHAC has extended its activities. it is interesting to note that seven of SHAC's personnel face US domestic terrorism charges.

SPEAC—Stop Primate Experiments At Cambridge—has provided a further example of the cumulative effect of harassment and intimidation. Its activities have resulted in the decision of the University of Cambridge not to proceed with a primate laboratory facility that would have worked on some of the most disastrous neurological disorders of man—such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disorder, motor neurone disease and others.

The University of Oxford has now obtained an injunction against several of the animal rights organisations opposing its plan to build a research facility. That facility would involve experimentation on living animals. It was opposed by organisations such as SPEAC, SHAC and the Animal Liberation Front, all of which plead that they do not support violence or illegal acts on the part of their members. The record of these organisations totally belies that claim.

Extremists have been ruining the lives and livelihoods of people and local communities where animal experimentation takes place. They have hindered the progress of biomedical research and compromised the welfare of the very animals they purport to safeguard. There are very many people concerned with biomedical research who very much welcome this Bill.

6.20 p.m.

Baroness Henig

My Lords, I should start by declaring an interest as chair of both my own local police authority in Lancashire and of the national Association of Police Authorities, which represents all police authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This is an important and substantial Bill which contains many far-reaching changes. I want to focus mainly on the proposals for the new Serious Organised Crime Agency but then speak briefly on certain other aspects of the Bill.

We have heard already that there is strong support within the policing community for the proposed new Serious Organised Crime Agency. It is not that long ago—1997—since the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service were set up. Both will now make way for the new agency. I could not let this opportunity pass without paying tribute to the excellent work done by NCS and NCIS, and to the valuable contribution made by my police authority colleagues on the service authorities overseeing those squads, including in a former life, as we have already heard, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, who I am delighted to see in her place on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench.

However, despite the good work done by NCS and NCIS, a step change is now needed to tackle the substantial challenges posed by international organised crime. SOCA is rightly not a re-badging or merging of existing national bodies; it is about creating a new body with the capacity and capability to tackle the highly sophisticated and professional criminals who trade globally in human misery such as drugs and people trafficking.

I know that many in the service, including the Police Federation, have argued strongly and passionately that police officers transferring to SOCA should retain their status as constables. The office of constable is rightly highly valued but I am not convinced that that is the way forward. SOCA needs to be able to bring together a wide range of expertise and specialist skills into a cohesive whole. It needs to be a modern 21st century body with a new culture able to work across traditional roles and boundaries.

But in removing horizontal barriers to defeating serious crime we must take care not to create vertical ones instead. There is no doubt that the formation of NCS and NCIS led to what is known as the "level 2" gap which has opened up in tackling crime that crosses command unit and force boundaries. It is important that the creation of SOCA does not exacerbate that. Much as it would be convenient for us if they did so, criminals do not organise their activities into neat compartments.

Last week, I welcomed on behalf of all police authorities the Government's commitment to revitalising neighbourhood policing. It is in our neighbourhoods that the impact and effects of serious organised crime are most acutely felt. If SOCA is to succeed in reducing that harm, it will need to work hand in glove with local police forces, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, rightly emphasised.

There needs to be a seamless approach to tackling criminality at local, force and national level. As we have seen from the hard lessons learned in the United States, community intelligence is often key and will be crucial to SOCA's effectiveness. We need to be sure that SOCA goes about its business in a way which supports local efforts to build cohesion and confidence within our diverse communities in policing and law enforcement.

Unfortunately, police authorities are not persuaded at present that the proposed governance arrangements for SOCA will secure the connectivity needed. There is no provision for local policing to have a direct voice on the SOCA board. Instead, we understand that the non-executive directors will be appointed on a personal basis. There would be much greater confidence about this among police authorities and forces if there was credible and current representation from local policing interests on the SOCA board.

Disappointingly, the Bill does not even make explicit provision for SOCA to consult police authorities and forces in setting its annual priorities or plans, as a previous speaker has already pointed out. The chairman designate is on record as saying that SOCA needs to take account of the public's concerns in developing its priorities. But rather than, as has been suggested, using media column inches as a proxy for this, why not seek the views of police authorities who represent those communities and know the impact of serious crime locally? We are assured by the Government that such consultation will take place, but in that case, why not say so on the face of the Bill?

These are constructive criticisms intended to improve the Bill. The Association of Police Authorities will, whatever the outcome, work closely with Ministers and the chairman and director general designate to ensure a smooth transition and to get SOCA off to the best possible start.

I now want briefly to mention a couple of issues which have caused some controversy in policing circles, the first being the provision in Part 3 of the Bill to enable the functions of custody sergeants to be carried out by police staff. Civilianisation is not new to the police service, but it was given impetus by the Police Reform Act 2002. The most visible embodiment of this, in every way, has been the introduction of police community support officers. There is no doubt that community support officers are enormously popular with our communities, providing as they do a visible and accessible presence on the streets.

A key plank of the police reform agenda, in which government, police authorities and forces are jointly engaged, is workforce modernisation. This is about making the most effective use of the skills and expertise of the whole workforce in a more holistic and unified way.

I absolutely agree that the custody role is an extremely important one, encompassing as it does the need to protect the welfare and the civil liberties of detainees, to challenge the decisions of investigating officers and to secure the integrity of evidence. I know that the proposals have provoked strong opposition from the Police Federation and many serving officers—and the concerns of practitioners should not be dismissed lightly—but I am still not convinced that there is any reason why a suitably trained and skilled member of staff could not take on this role and exercise the same independence and integrity as a police officer.

Certainly in relation to the need to work more effectively in bringing offenders to justice, my experience as a magistrate indicates that what matters is that those who take on this role are able to ensure that the right charge is laid and that there is proper liaison with the CPS.

The key point here is that the clause is an enabling one. It would allow this approach to be piloted, as my noble friend the Minister has already pointed out, and would give police authorities and chief officers who wish to do so the flexibility to move in this direction. I believe that gradually that is what will happen.

Secondly, the Bill makes provision to extend the powers available to PCSOs. As I said earlier, they are a great success and the recent additional resources for more of them have been welcomed by all my police authority colleagues. However, there are mixed views about giving PCSOs more powers, prompted by concerns that we risk losing their distinctive value—their capacity to be out and about on the streets and accessible to our communities. As has been said already, this aspect of the Bill will need careful examination.

I want quickly to welcome Clause 152 and the proposed new duty on police authorities to give local people information about policing in their area. Indeed, this simply codifies good practice already happening around the country. While there may be a need to discuss the detail of the provisions to ensure that they support authorities' efforts to reach as widely as possible into our communities. the principle has strong support.

I shall not touch on any other aspects of the Bill. There is much to be commended in the Bill, but there is also much that will benefit from your Lordships' usual rigorous and careful scrutiny in its subsequent stages.

6.29 p.m.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood

My Lords, I agree with much of the core business of the Bill. However, I should add that I agree with the main range of points made in the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Baker, and the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza.,lb/> I begin by asking for the indulgence—and possibly the forgiveness—of the right reverend Prelates who are normally in their places on the Benches designated for them. It is not sufficient to plead that some of my best friends are bishops—true though that be, perhaps. There is a story told of a bishop who rose to preach in a very distinguished city church and, almost before he could utter the opening words of incantation, a voice cried out—not from the wilderness, this was a city church, but from the right-hand aisle—"All bishops are charlatans and conmen". Before he could think of a witty and, of course, humble rebuff, a voice called out from the left aisle: "That is an insult and lie." His relief and gratitude spilled over. To the voice from the left he called, "I didn't know you were a bishop!". To which the reply came: "I'm not. I'm a charlatan and a conman".

The point of the story is that offence perceived is not always the same as offence given or intended. That lies at the centre of some of the problems I have with aspects of the Bill. Criticism is easily perceived as enmity, and remarks made by way of criticism are as easily perceived as attacks against the holder of those beliefs as against the beliefs in question.

It is argued that the Bill distinguishes between the person and the beliefs. I look, not as a bishop, a politician or a lawyer, but as a simple philosopher of religion, at the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, and I am encouraged when I read that the offences are designated to include hatred against a group where hatred is not directed against the religious belief. That almost reassures me.

I turn to Schedule 10 to the Bill, however, and read: In this Part 'religious hatred' means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief". The Bill specifies that the persons in question are defined by reference to religious beliefs. I submit that these are not separated in ways that are clear and manageable under law. For example, if you criticise my belief that one day Scotland will win the Grand Slam, I can live with that, because such a belief does not define me in any essential way. However, if you criticise my belief in democratic processes, in the importance of education and in the essential distinction between truth and falsehood, then it is I who begin to feel criticised and indeed threatened, not my system of beliefs alone. Mutatis mutandis, the same applies to religious believers, be they Christians, Muslims, Sikhs or Jews.

The Bill depends upon a clear distinction between the beliefs and the believer, and yet, at the heart of the Bill, the believer is defined with reference to the religious beliefs they hold. It is not conceivable that one can mount a reasonable analysis and perhaps criticism of the beliefs of specific religions and not run the temptation that many will take these to be criticisms of the believers in question. That is because—rightly, the Bill implies—the two are intimately bound up. Religious belief is such that the character of the belief defines the individual in a way that many other peripheral beliefs do not and thus can be cast aside, chosen or rejected.

The same is true of religious beliefs. Once adopted, the character of the individual is defined in very deep ways, which this Bill runs the risk of pulling to the surface in a possibly disruptive fashion.

The conclusion of my argument runs thus: insult and offence can be taken when not intended, and, as a consequence, will often be assumed to have been intended. Furthermore—this is a point in the Bill that I have not gone into, but it may well come up in Committee—someone's religious hatred may be stirred up by reading or hearing of opinions that are not sourced in religious hatred. Who, in terms of the Bill, can predict when that is likely—not least in the days of the Internet and the worldwide web?

Criticisms of the beliefs of someone whose dominant group is defined by those beliefs is ipso facto implied criticism of that group, and will be read as such by both believers and, perhaps worse, by those whose motives and intentions are seriously unworthy. I submit to your Lordships that the composite of issues surrounding this proposed legislation will inhibit the reasonable, constructive and free expression of criticisms of religious belief, and, in so doing, will impoverish our culture and our community.

6.34 p.m.

Lord Harris of Haringey

First, my Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and of the executive of the Association of Police Authorities.

This is a Home Office portmanteau Bill. It deals with the important issue of establishing the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and then a whole series of other issues only tangentially related, if at all, to the main purpose. I suspect that the other issues will command more time in today's debate than the core material of the Bill. That is not surprising, as among them are some significant and, in a number of cases, controversial proposals.

Clauses 121 to 123, together with Clauses 142 to 146, are intended to deal with the problems posed by animal rights extremists. The context of these provisions is that this country has some of the strictest rules in the world governing the use of animals in medical research, only permitted when there is no non-animal alternative, and with clear guidelines on the welfare of animals involved. In these circumstances, the behaviour of some extremists, which goes way beyond the right to legitimate and lawful protest, cannot be tolerated. These clauses are therefore welcome and proportionate.

In particular, I support Clause 122, which deals with demonstrations at private residences with the intention of causing alarm and distress, having been subjected to these on a number of occasions—not because of my involvement in animal research, but because of my then leadership of a local authority. While I, as a politician, may be used to abuse and aggressive demonstrating—I can certainly dish it out in return—it is not reasonable for the families of those against whom the demonstrations are targeted, or those who simply happen to live in the same house, or are neighbours, to be at the receiving end of early-morning chanting, late- night visitations, the dumping of ordure, or whatever else it might be.

Incidentally, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to confirm that Clauses 142 to 146 will also apply to charitable research institutions.

Clause 124 and Schedule 10 create the offence of "incitement to religious hatred". I have long supported this, and participated in the debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Ahmed on this subject in October 1999. It is inequitable that, while the offence against inciting racial hatred has been extended to Sikhs and Jews, the protection does not apply to other faith groups. Islamophobia has become more overt, with the demonisation in some quarters of all Muslims following 9/11.

Such demonisation, however, is not new. I remember from my childhood storybooks glorifying the Crusades, and depicting the infidel in the most unflattering terms. It has reached a new pitch in recent years, though, and this provision is long overdue.

There has been a vigorous campaign against the proposal on the grounds that it will inhibit free speech, and even stop comedians poking fun at religion. Like many of your Lordships, I enjoyed the monologues of Dave Allen, who sadly died a few days ago, but what he said about the Catholic Church could not be said to stir up hatred. Similarly, Alan Bennett's vicar in "Beyond the Fringe" may have punctured the pomposity of the Church of England—fortunately the Bishops' Bench is empty—but it did not bring about the religious hatred of Anglicans.

Like other of your Lordships, I too have received representations from the Police Federation about Clauses 116 and 117 and the creation of staff custody officers. I am in favour of using police officers to carry out those functions for which their training equips them, and I see nothing wrong in some tasks, which have historically been clone by police officers, being carried out by police staff if that police training and background are not needed. In bringing forward these clauses, however, it is important that my noble friend the Minister is able to convince the House, and those outside it, that the disappearance of custody sergeants will not lead to a diminution of performance as far as the number of cracked trials and the number of offenders brought to justice are concerned.

I am conscious that I am rapidly using up my time, and I have not spoken about the new agency. That is the consequence of portmanteau Bills. Indeed, so wide is the canvas of this Bill that, should we have any time to consider it in Committee, 1 will be sorely tempted to put forward amendments on a number of other topics, which would clearly be encompassed within the long title.

I would like, for example, to strengthen further the laws on airguns and imitation firearms. The death of Andrew Morton, the two year-old from Easterhouse, Glasgow, who was shot in the head with an airgun pellet, has once again shown in the most tragic way possible that airguns are lethal weapons. Airguns are not toys. They are dangerous weapons that have become increasingly sophisticated over the years. Legislation must take that into account. Despite a recent increase in the minimum age for purchasing an airgun, they are still too easily available, and too many are already owned and used by those who have no good reason to keep them.

Similarly, imitation guns are too easily available and, despite the recent changes in the law, too many crimes still involve their use, and armed police officers too often have to be deployed in response before it is known whether the guns are imitation or not, with potentially lethal consequences.

Finally—and, I fear, fairly briefly—I shall refer to the new Serious Organised Crime Agency. It is right and proper to bring together the different agencies that are intended to impact on serious organised crime. A fragmented approach is not sufficient for modern criminal gangs whose ruthlessness should not be underestimated. Nor should we lose sight of the corrosive effect that such gangs can have on communities: the drugs they deal in and import; the people-smuggling; extortion, and so on. Moreover, the money, resources and technology they can command require a much better and more co-ordinated response from the state.

The new agency is a critical part of that response. However, it cannot be created and expected to operate in a vacuum. It must work closely with the police service around the country. Local forces, after all, will have the local information and intelligence, and they will also have to police the communities before, during and after a SOCA operation.

For that reason, I believe it is important that the terms and conditions of those who work for the agency should be sufficiently flexible to enable a proper interchange of staffing between the agency and the police service. Indeed, I hope that anyone aspiring to be a senior detective in a police force will see it as an essential part of their CV to have done a spell at SOCA—and vice versa. And it is for those reasons also that the new agency must not be constructed to denude the police service of its most able and experienced detectives.

There is also a risk that the new agency will behave and have more in common with the security and intelligence services than with policing and law enforcement bodies. If this is to be avoided, governance issues will be crucial. The agency must be seen to be accountable, and it must be seen to consult—with the police service, police authorities and the communities most affected by serious organised crime.

The principle of policing by consent must apply to this new agency, and for that to happen, good governance must be a priority. But if this is properly addressed, then I am sure that all of your Lordships will want to see the new agency achieve its promise and deliver what the public want to see: an effective fight against the most dangerous criminal elements in our society.

6.43 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, if only to be able to put the case against the offence of religious hatred.

The amendments proposed by Clause 124 and Schedule 10, which amends Sections 18 to 23 of the Public Order Act 1986, are concerned with various types of conduct. Words or written material likely to be seen or heard by any person in whom it is likely to stir up religious hatred are all opposed. Without amendment, these sections are concerned with racial hatred and impose limits upon freedom of speech—and rightly so—to avoid insult to the common humanity.

In this context, when this offence was first rejected by your Lordships, Earl Russell said of the "reach across"—I use his concept and his words—from racial to religious hatred that dealing with both in a single statutory framework was dangerous and ill conceived because religion is a matter of belief and choice, and our racial characteristics are not. I refer to cols. 240 and 241 of the Official Report of that debate.

Earl Russell also said that the "reach across" would also compromise both freedom of expression and freedom of belief. Indeed, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has already advised that on the facts and circumstances of any particular case, certain articles of the ECHR could well be engaged—a matter on which the trial judge would have to direct the jury, as this is a matter of law.

As faith has ever been an emotive subject of potentially combustible proportions, it is the intention to stand by the wholly objective analysis of Earl Russell.

I declare myself as a wayward Anglican who respects the faith—or the absence of faith—of others. A trial under these provisions would not be welcome in any private interest or in the public interest. The proceedings in any court of law, irrespective of conviction or acquittal, could themselves but stir up— there is no question of likelihood—religious hatred and religious contention. The instigators of these proceedings would be the zealots who control the moderates by various forms of threat, intimidation and reprisals.

The consent of Mr Attorney to the institution of these proceedings affords absolutely no safeguard whatever. His involvement in such affairs is wholly unacceptable. He is in a totally hopeless situation either way; his administrative decision would be challenged on judicial review by the zealots.

On receiving a complaint, the police have to open investigations. They seize files and documents and take a series of statements. No doubt there will be some leaked media coverage. On this material, depositions are prepared for trial, but the statements will not have been tested by cross-examination, albeit that in these circumstances, there is a high propensity for error.

The police, on the advice of counsel, conclude on this information that it is proper to proceed if there is more than a 50 per cent chance of success. Then they seek the consent of Mr Attorney. Then Mr Attorney makes an administrative decision one way or the other for which he cannot give reasons. Obviously he cannot, pre-trial. So what happens on judicial review when the court wants to know why he did what he did? There is absolutely no way in which Clause 124 and Schedule 10 could be amended to enable a trial such as this to ensue without doing the very thing that is contrary to the intendment of these provisions: that is, stirring up religious hatred. It would be wholly contrary to the public interest in our multi-religious society.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the noble Lord acknowledge that the Select Committee on Religious Offences found that the Attorney-General was not subject to judicial review if he refused a consent to prosecution?

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord. Look at the clock. I cannot claim injury time. I cannot answer the noble Lord. Perhaps I may be allowed to finish with one sentence and sit down.

Such assuredly is the opinion of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, the Islamic Council (Human Rights) and Amir Butler, the executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee who was concerned with the case under the vilification law in the state of Victoria.

My time is up. I apologise for not being able to answer the noble Lord.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Plant of Highfield

My Lords, there are many things to welcome in the Bill. I broadly support Parts 1, 2 and 3 and certainly the animal aspects of Part 4. However, a couple of issues give me concern.

First, I refer to the restrictions on the right to demonstrate and protest in the environs of Parliament. I shall need some convincing on that. In an age when we all decry disengagement from politics, this is the wrong time to discourage deeply felt protest—which would be the effect of the legislation. In these two Houses of Parliament, we make awesome and, in some cases, awful decisions which affect the lives of millions of people at home and abroad. I see nothing wrong with those who feel strongly about these issues making their views known in a consistent and even relentless way in the environs of Parliament. It may be that there are ways of meeting these points in relation to Parliament Square by treating the frontage of Parliament Square—I mean no disrespect—as being like a parking meter. Individuals could mount their protest there for a limited time to be followed by others; but no individual should be able to feed the meter. I have to say that I owe this ingenious proposal to my close friend the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton.

However, I want to speak mainly about the part of the Bill dealing with incitement to religious hatred. In general, I take a liberal view of issues to do with civil liberties and religious freedom. As with most aspects of living in a liberal society, there is always a balance to be struck between freedom and equality. As the Minister said in her opening remarks, the Bill does not protect religions against ridicule, lampooning and so forth. Nevertheless the blasphemy laws do in relation to the doctrines of Christianity as understood by the Church of England. Therefore, if there is an argument in favour of extending the protection of the law to other religions without repealing the blasphemy laws, we are creating another inequality. I think that that would fuel problems about religious resentment because there would be two forms of protection for the Church of England and only one form of protection for every other form of belief. That is an important issue. It has been argued that there is an egalitarian case for protecting in particular the Islamic community on the analogy with racial identity which provides protection to Jews among others. I believe this analogy to be wrong.

What might be a liberal view of freedom of expression? The core idea surely is that I should be free to say what I want so long as I do not harm others. The crucial question is: what is harm to others? Reasons have already been mentioned by other noble Lords. It cannot be offence to the sensibilities of others. If we sought to criminalise what offends the sensibilities of others we would be issuing a wholesale charter for interference with individual freedom. It would be an entirely subjective test. I am the only person who can say that my sensibilities have been offended.

Harm has, I believe, to be something much stronger and more definite and objective than offended sensibility. I think there are two more objective accounts of harm: first, harm to physical security; and, secondly, harm in the sense of preventing someone else living their own life in their own way, or, putting it another way, exercising their own liberty. Those are more palpable and objective examples of harm than offended sensibility. So part of the liberal view is that the state can interfere with someone's freedom of expression when it causes harm in one or both of these senses.

There is a further condition; namely, that the harm to others cannot be avoided by the person claiming to be harmed. Hence, to utter extremely disparaging things about a religion from a church pulpit is private to those who attend. To write disparaging things about religion in a book which others do not have to read is not sufficient to cause harm. Saying disparaging things in a play does not expose to harm those who do not go to it. So the preaching of evangelicals from their pulpits about the wrongness of other religions, the publishing of The Satanic Verses and the performance of the play which exercised Sikhs in Birmingham do not cause direct harm. The harm can be avoided by members of these communities by not going to such churches, reading such books or attending such plays.

The fact that someone or some group finds what he or it understands to be going on in a pulpit, book or play as being deplorably offensive to his religion, even though he is not directly confronted with it, is not a good reason for seeking to ban this material. To seek to criminalise something to which you object without needing to witness it seems to me to be a form of moral egotism: assuming that everyone has to conform to your view of what is good. I can see no justification for that.

It is sometimes argued, as it was this morning by my honourable friend Fiona Mactaggart—I have very great respect for her—that there is an analogy with race in that for many people religion is constitutive of their identity and is not a matter of free choice. I do not deny—it is true of myself—that for many people their religion is, or perhaps in my case has been, the most important thing in their lives, as perhaps being a member of the Jewish race is to a Jew. However, it seems to me that there is always a choice. For some religious groups, exercising the choice to exit the group for those who belong to it may be very painful and the exit costs are high. There is, however, still the choice and if these groups themselves became more liberalised and less authoritarian through education and the accommodation of the virtues of a liberal society, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, the exit costs would be a good deal lower.

In addition, it has to be said, it seems to me, that religions themselves, at least implicitly, put choice into a central role in their faiths. They all have forms of encouragement and they have forms of prohibition on behaviour. There would be no sense in encouraging the adherence of a religion to do X and to abstain from Y unless people had the capacity to choose X or Y. If they have the capacity to choose X or Y then they can also choose whether or not to belong to the religion. Therefore, in my view it would be reasonable to regard some form of expression which could affect the physical security of individuals and which could prevent the freedom of those individuals to practise their own beliefs in their own way and to which exposure could not be avoided as falling within the criminal law, in principle, on a liberal point of view.

Those circumstances exactly match the case mentioned this morning in the Times by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. As he points out, where a banner was displayed saying "Islam out of Britain" the case was prosecuted under existing criminal law. So I think that the Minister will have to explain why the sort of case mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, which can be criminalised under liberal assumptions about freedom of expression is not adequately dealt with under existing legislation. But I plead with my noble friend to go forward on the issue of repealing the blasphemy laws on which my own position follows from what I said about offended sensibility. I agree with the ancient expression, which I shall not try to quote in Latin, that offences to the gods are the concern of the gods.

6.59 p.m.

Lord Bhatia

My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest as the chairman of the British Muslim Research Centre.

I should like to make a few comments on Clause 119 of and Schedule 10 to the Bill, which deal with racial and religious hatred. I believe that the clause is all about protecting vulnerable religious communities. I have at least two main reasons why I wish to speak on this subject. First, I was one of the Select Committee members considering the Religious Offences Bill, chaired by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. Secondly, I am a Muslim and am part of the community, which at the present feels very vulnerable and is constantly under attack in all kinds of ways. I will refer to the present conditions a little later. I wish to remind the House that we must never forget that today the Muslim community is under attack, but tomorrow it could be any other faith. Therefore our approach should be that of protecting all faith communities in this country.

The crucial issue in this Bill is about incitement. It is about dealing with people who are prepared verbally, communicating through writing or the Internet, to incite others to hate because of someone's faith. It is about ensuring that people out there who feel threatened are protected. The subject has come up for debate a number of times over the past four years. When the matter came up for debate under the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Bill in 2001, I recall hearing from all sides of the House that there was acceptance that such a protection was necessary but that it should be brought to Parliament not under an anti-terrorism label, but under a more specific one.

In 2002, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, introduced a Private Member's Bill that led to the appointment of the Select Committee whose report was debated the following year. As a member of the Select Committee, I heard the evidence of a lot of people of different faiths, a lot of institutions and faith community leaders, and above all the law-enforcing agencies such as the police, the CPS, the Attorney-General and Home Office officials. From all law-enforcing agencies the message was clear—that there was a gap in the law and it would make their job much easier if Parliament legislated to that effect.

A few other important facts came out of the report. First, that two faith communities were already protected—the Sikh and the Jewish communities. Secondly, that by extending similar protection to all other faith communities, we may not be infringing on the freedom of speech of anyone, that legislation on freedom of speech was not absolute and that it carried responsibilities with it. In the evidence given by Muslim community leaders, it was clear that they did not wish to propose that the blasphemy law should be removed or that the Sikh and Jewish communities which had protection should lose it. All that the Muslim community was asking was to be treated equally with other faiths under the law.

There are some 1.6 million Muslims, forming 3 per cent of the population of this country. It is the second largest faith community, a young community with problems relating to low education attainment, a high level of unemployment and a large percentage of the community living in some of the most deprived boroughs of this country. There is considerable evidence that such people in such communities feel vulnerable in a whole range of ways, but here is the double whammy: it is bad enough to be unemployed and suffering from deprivation, but to be victims of hate because of their faith becomes very difficult to cope with.

Since 9/11, the Muslim community has been under attack both verbally and physically at times. Our women and our children have been attacked, spat on and abused in the streets and in public. It is no longer safe for many to walk on the streets without fear. I cannot believe what I hear from some of my community members; I cannot believe that in 21st-century Britain, a section of the population have fear for their safety simply because of their faith. Does it not remind us of the terrible days of the Holocaust during the Second World War? Does it not remind us of tragedies of the former Yugoslavia in recent years? Are we all waiting for a large number of Muslims to die or be maimed or damaged before we wake up?

Let me be a little more specific. We all hear about the possibilities of a terrorist attack on our country. Our security services are warning us about this possibility. If that was to happen, God forbid, the first faith community to be attacked within this country will be the Muslim community. Our police will, as always, have to defend the community and will also be in the front line of such attacks. Out there, there are people who are waiting to incite others to hate the Muslims, and the scenario that I have just described will be the best opportunity for them to do so. The current gap in the law will permit them to do so.

I must pay tribute to the Prime Minister and the Government in wishing to protect the Muslim community in this country. Immediately after 9/11 it was the Prime Minister who forcefully and clearly said that it was just a handful of Muslim extremists who had carried out the atrocities of 9/11, and that the vast majority of Muslims in this country were law-abiding British citizens who needed to be protected, and protected properly, against any attacks. The police and the law-enforcement agencies were advised to ensure that appropriate protection was given. Since 2001, the Government have made various efforts to bring in provisions to fill the gap in the legislation, and I hope that this House will support the passage of Clause 119 of this Bill.

Let us please find the reasons, the mechanism and the will to support this clause. Freedom of speech is not at risk. The Muslim community wants freedom of speech as much as any other citizens and communities in this country. The legislation as presented to us for debate complies with human rights legislation; in fact, the gap in the law currently breaches human rights legislation, because the state currently protects some faiths and not all the faiths in the same manner.

Lastly, I remind your Lordships how this proposed legislation will work in practice, if we support it. Whenever there is an offence of incitement to hate, the victims will have to go to police to report it and the following steps will be taken before a case is brought to the court. First, the police will have to be satisfied that there is a clear incitement to hate; secondly, the police will then have to convince the CPS that there is incitement to hate; thirdly, the Attorney-General will then have to exercise his fiat that this is definitely a case to incite people to hate a group or a community or a faith group. Only then could the case be sent to the court for prosecution. Fourthly, a jury will decide whether the charge is proven and whether there is clear evidence that incitement to hate a group of people has been carried out. Finally, the court itself has to see all the evidence before the judgment is given.

These are the hoops through which any case under this legislation, if we support it, will have to go. My own assessment is that very few cases will even reach the courts and those that do go to the courts will have to pass the stringent tests I have described. But what this legislation will do is to draw a clear line and send a message to those who wish to incite people to hate groups of people, that society, the state and the people of this country will not allow such trouble makers, hate merchants and bigots to damage vulnerable communities in this country.

7.8 p.m.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, on an important and thoughtful speech.

The establishment of the Serious Organised Crime Agency is a major step forward in combating crime. It seems a logical reorganisation. I have for more than three years served on European Union Sub-Committee F, which has undertaken a number of reports covering organised crime at a European level. During our deliberations, committee members met representatives and heard presentations from the NCS, the NCIS and other relevant organisations. I have been impressed by their diligence, expertise and dedication, and I am sure that under this new agency, their efforts will be even more effective.

I turn now to the harassment of those who work in biomedical research and veterinary research centres in this country. I recognise the heated arguments surrounding the issues of animal rights and animal research. I am a member of LAWS, the Labour Animal Welfare Society, and would be among the first to protest about unnecessary cruelty to animals. But I recognise the work carried out in research establishments which helps to overcome serious illnesses such as AIDS and Alzheimer's. As someone whose mother suffered from Alzheimer's, I know at first hand the pain that that illness can cause to the sufferer and his or her relatives and the need for research into it.

My trade union, Amicus, has many members who work in animal research and I know them as caring and sensitive beings. The homes of some of them have been attacked and their families and livelihoods threatened as a consequence of their work. I therefore welcome the Bill's proposals for the protection of those who work in the animal research field. Under the remit of other Bills, the Government have already taken positive steps to protect such workers against animal rights extremists who use violence and intimidation as tactics to prevent experimentation. Such violence and intimidation does nothing for the cause of animal welfare. It is irrational and counterproductive.

I particularly welcome the extension of protection to individuals who are targeted and harassed and who feel isolated and vulnerable during such harassment. Being picked upon and bullied is always a nerve-wracking experience, especially when it is part of an organised campaign. The victims suffer, and fear and unease spreads to the families and friends of those who are targeted usually by a small but vociferous group of extremists. Peaceful leafleting against animal experimentation is one thing; threats and violence are another. I am pleased that the UK already has some of the strictest licensing in the world for the use of animals in medical research. Long may that last, and long may the search to find alternatives to animal research continue. But until animal research can be abolished, workers in research establishments need the legal protection that the Bill provides.

I have listened very carefully to all the contributions on the incitement to religious hatred. I was interested to see the positive response to the Government's proposals from the Commission for Racial Equality. It states that, these are necessary legislative measures to ensure that all are treated equally before the law", and that, these provisions will protect the believer not the belief". That is a strong and unequivocal statement.

The CRE points out that its response is informed by more than 40 years' experience of monitoring and using the existing laws against incitement to racial hatred and discrimination. With that in mind, the CRE believes that the proposed law would have a powerful deterrent effect and would set down an important societal marker to make clear that such behaviour is unacceptable in a free and democratic society. Obviously, debate will continue around these proposals.

The question of abolishing the law of blasphemy, which has already been mentioned in the Chamber tonight, has exercised the mind of the CRE. It believes that abolition would send a clear message to those who fear that a wish to curtail their freedom to criticise or make fun of religion is behind the proposed legislation. I know that the Government are aware of the anxieties expressed about the blasphemy law. I hope that my noble friend will reassure the House that the Government will give careful consideration—possibly not in immediate legislation, but for future reckoning—to any proposals on blasphemy when amendments are tabled, as I know they will be.

Last week, I received an interesting letter from the Open Spaces Society. Its members are worried about the effects of Clauses 125 to 128, which cover trespass on designated sites. The society was founded in 1865 and is Britain's oldest national conservation body. The society's main concern is that these clauses appear to make simple trespass—currently a civil offence—a criminal offence on certain sites. It believes that, as worded, the clauses are far too wide-ranging, especially in relation to land owned by the Crown, and that innocent people who want to enjoy freedom to roam over an area may far too easily be made into criminals. I welcome my noble friend's comments on those genuine worries.

Finally, 1 wish to raise issues on behalf of my noble friend Lady Thornton, who is unable to be here this evening because of family commitments. Because of the new arrangements for SOCA, the future of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit is bound to be profoundly affected. I understand that a decision has not yet been made about whether the investigation of online crimes against children will be part of SOCA's remit. Currently, a significant part of the resources of all the agencies involved are deployed in fighting online crimes against children. To be clear, I am referring principally to child pornography and to grooming in chat rooms. It is essential that the funds currently devoted to this work and the expertise that has been developed are not lost.

The Virtual Global Taskforce, led by the UK's National Crime Squad, has recently been established. It brings together the national police services of the UK, Canada, Australia and the USA. Other countries are soon to join. In its embryonic form, the VGTF is the beginning of a new and reassuring police presence on the Internet. As such, it has been widely welcomed and supported by the Internet industry, children's charities and others. In these days when the Internet makes national boundaries irrelevant, it seems clear that we must maintain a clear national focus for all the work in this area, and I hope that my noble friend will be able to comment on these issues.

7.18 p.m.

Baroness Flather

My Lords, I intend to speak entirely about the new offence of incitement to religious hatred. I came to this country more than 50 years ago. I was very fortunate because I joined UCL. I did not know its history at that time but noble Lords will know that it is not affiliated to any Christian church. It was the only college not affiliated to any Christian church and it was the first to take in women. It had a profound effect on me. The whole atmosphere was inclusive and liberal. It was a very long time ago, more than 50 years, but in my entire university career, I never felt that I was an outsider, a woman or that I had a different religion. I just felt part of the college.

That feeling and that ethos has remained with me since then. My vision of society in this country is different from the one that we are talking about today. I do not foresee divisions that focus on someone's religion or race. I hope that one day we will not need the crime of inciting racial hatred. We should be moving towards not needing it. I fear that we will need equal opportunities legislation, whether for race, gender or disability. We will always need that because, unfortunately, we are weak and sometimes we do not treat people as we should. But I hope the time will come when public order offences will cover all different forms of incitement to hatred, as they should.

I have been impressed by the speeches of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, and my noble friend Lord Baker. They have all made extremely good points and very clearly—far better than I could ever do—to say why we do not need this new offence to protect the Muslims.

I am well aware that there is a feeling that the Muslims are at the receiving end of a lot of unfortunate treatment, but we also have to find the best way of making them part of this society rather than creating yet another offence of religious hatred and separating them from ourselves.

I am sure that your Lordships are well aware that of all the groups that have come to this country, the one that has remained more separate than the others is the Muslims. We have heard about race in terms of Sikhs. I cannot understand why they are supposed to be a different racial group. Every Sikh was a Hindu like me and was converted to Sikhism: there is no difference. In fact, all Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims were also Hindus and were converted to Islam. It becomes nonsense: it is a by-product of something like distinctive headgear or wearing turbans and so on, but that was not the intended effect. They are protected in the same way as the rest of us are under the racial hatred legislation.

Some 20 years ago I nailed my colours to the mast in the Swann report, which is about the education of children from ethnic minorities. If your Lordships ever get to read the second chapter, entitled the "Nature of Society", bear in mind that at that time I had a vision of Britain as a society in which we do not have separateness and separate groups practising culture and religion separately. We are all together, with the mainstream British culture undergoing a change to include us. I never thought that it would happen as quickly as it has.

We have only to look around us to see how much the mainstream British culture has changed and how much the influence of people who have come to this country has made it more vibrant, interesting and fun. Long may that continue. I do not want to see separate groups developing separately in this country.

I have chosen to live here and I would like to think that every other person who has come from another country has chosen this country. No one forced us to come here; no one is forcing us to live here. If there is such a big problem in this country, could I just—this might be incitement—say to people, this is not a prison. There are many other countries that we can all go to. If we do not like it, we can all leave.

I know of certain countries that have a religion of their own where one cannot practise any other religion at all: one must have no overt sign of any other religion. I cannot understand why we have so much talk about blasphemy. It is a dead law. Last time there was a trial was in the case of Oz, such a long time ago. That was a fiasco. It is not being used at all, so why do we worry?

I would like to ask the right reverend Prelate why the Anglican Church is so much in retreat all the time. This is an Anglican country. I am willing to accept it.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, I would not say that the Church of England or the Anglican Church is in retreat. What I said earlier was carefully balanced in a productive way. If we have this law for religious hatred, our specific protection needs to be unravelled. If we do not pass this law, let us leave the blasphemy law to gather dust generously, if that is the mind of the House.

Baroness Flather

My Lords, gather dust it certainly will, or we can lose it—I do not think that it will matter at all. I do not want to see separate schools in this country. I do not want to see women treated worse than women in the mainstream. I want this country to remain the country I came to, and to improve: to be more cohesive and to have a central ethos that binds us all to which we owe our allegiance.

7.25 p.m.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the marvellous speech of the noble Baroness. I am afraid that what I have to say will be regarded as a dull interlude in a fascinating debate.

When the Bill was going through the House of Commons, an amendment was tabled by Andrew Mitchell to repeal Section 17 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, commonly known as RIPA. That is the section that prohibits the use of intercept material in legal proceedings. In the short time that Andrew Mitchell was allowed—I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, 'whom I am not sure is in her place, that he is not a lawyer, but he seemed to show a mastery of the subject of interception—he made a very convincing case.

I shall be tabling a similar amendment in Committee, as I did five years ago when RIPA was being enacted. I will say a word or two about why that amendment should be agreed to. At the outset, I wish to pay the warmest possible tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, from whom I learnt all that I ever knew about the sophisticated techniques employed in interception. She was a marvellous teacher and I must have proved a slow-witted pupil: probably even more slow-witted when she sees the terms of my proposed amendment.

The noble Baroness made an important point this afternoon and a few days ago that interception is about more than telephone tapping, of which we have all heard. It is always important to remember that. On 26 January, as the Bill was going through the House of Commons, the Government published a Written Statement on interception, for which we had all been waiting a long time. I shall return to it in a moment.

I remind the House—I am sure the House has riot forgotten—that we are the only country in the world apart from Ireland that does not use intercept material to convict serious criminals. When I was preparing my report on terrorism in 1995 I visited the United States of America, Canada, France and Germany and talked to the intelligence agencies in all those countries. They were astonished that we did not use intercept for evidential purposes: for convicting as well as catching criminals.

Of course it would not make a difference in every case, but it would make a difference in perhaps a large number of cases and in some cases it would prove crucial. In Australia it has been found that when defendants are faced with the transcript of an incriminating telephone conversation they are more likely than not to plead guilty straight away. Why cannot we use the same technique here?

I will not dwell on the many absurdities that arise in practice in the law as it now stands, but I can give just one example. Suppose there are two drug dealers engaged in a telephone conversation in England. If that conversation is intercepted in Holland—and these were the facts of a case that reached the House of Lords not very long ago—that intercept could be given in evidence in English proceedings to convict one, other or both of the defendants; but not if that conversation had been intercepted in England. That seems to me to be a crazy result that we have reached.

I come back to the Written Statement. The first thing to notice about it is that the review team could not reach an agreed conclusion, which might explain why it took so long. It was left instead to the Ministers to make the decision. It is important that it did find that evidential use of intercept material would be "likely" to convict some serious criminals who would not otherwise be convicted. Surely, that tilts the balance in favour of admitting the evidence, unless there are very strong evidence the other way.

What are those arguments? The report refers to the unique relationship that exists between the intelligence agencies and the police. It hints that that relationship might be prejudiced, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, made the same point earlier this afternoon. I know that the relationship is indeed very close, but is it unique? In Australia, intercept material is used both for evidential and intelligence purposes, and there has been no difficulty.

Then it is said that sophisticated techniques now in use might be compromised. That is an important point, which weighed heavily with the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, as was clear from her speech. There is now a well established procedure in the courts—I wish I could assure the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, of this—whereby such techniques would be protected from the public gaze. It is known as the public interest immunity certificate. It was explained by the noble Lord. Lord Thomas of Gresford, a day or so ago in the debate on the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and it is working well currently in the courts. The sophisticated techniques of which the noble Baroness spoke would not be at risk, and the more ordinary techniques of telephone tapping could be used to convict criminals.

I have one last point. As I said, I shall be tabling an amendment in Committee. I wonder whether it would be possible for me to see the report before the Committee stage. I am aware that the report is classified, but I wrote to the Home Secretary on 4 February asking whether I might, as a former chairman of the Security Commission, see the report. I wrote again on 16 February, pointing out that I still have the security safe in which my top secret documents used to be kept. I am afraid to say that I have not yet had a reply, although I do not complain about that, because the Home Secretary has clearly had other things on his mind in recent days. I wonder whether it might be possible for me together with the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, to be allowed to see the report. It may be that if we did. we might be able to resolve some of our differences.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Before he concludes, I am sure that he is aware that in other countries, such as Germany, this problem is well catered for by specially vetted judges who sit in camera and who do not have to show sensitive material at all to the accused or his lawyers. Could not those rather stringent conditions be imposed as the quid pro quo for ensuring that the judge sees everything?

Lord Lloyd of Berwick

My Lords, I am not sure that I was aware of that, but Germany was certainly one of the countries that I visited some 10 years ago, and there seemed to be no difficulty then.

7.35 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, I particularly welcome Clause 92 of this excellent Bill, which, in enabling mutual assistance, does away with what I hope is the last obstacle to the UK's ratification of the UN Conventions against Transnational Organised Crime and against Corruption. I remind your Lordships of my interest in Transparency International. Can my noble friend assure the House that the UK will now be able to ratify the Convention against Corruption? It is important that a number of OECD countries are among the first 30 countries to ratify, as these will determine the implementation systems; none of the 19 which have ratified so far is from the OECD. We shall lose out if there is not a balance and, also, surely the UK should be seen among the leaders in combating international corruption.

To turn to SOCA, which is a big step forward, I have one concern; that likely to focus on drugs and people trafficking, as it should, and created as it is from the absorption of other elements, it may take the lion's share of precisely those skills and resources which are used on economic and financial crimes. Corruption and other economic and financial crimes tend to be left out of policing targets, because the view persists that there are no victims. The report of the Africa Commission testifies otherwise, to the millions of victims among the poor of the world, and to our obligation to reduce this scourge of their economic growth and democracy, as well as of our reputation.

We lack a single, well resourced body, charged with investigating and prosecuting these crimes. The Serious Fraud Office has too few resources to be able to handle other than very serious or high-profile cases. So. I ask my noble friend, what will be the consequences for the SFO and local forces of this reorganisation? Will the SFO have less recourse to the criminal intelligence work at present undertaken by NCIS, or the covert policing undertaken by the NCS, after these have been absorbed into SOCA? I also hope that my noble friend will consider extending the list of offences to which the investigatory powers of the DPP will apply to include corruption offences.

I want to welcome the new offence of stirring up hatred against people because of their religion. Much eloquence has been deployed to say that this provision harms freedom of speech. I fear I may not be let back into Hampstead tonight, but I do think that my friends are confusing two things. We need to ensure that the wording is tight enough to allow books, plays, films, programmes to attack, challenge, ridicule and make jokes about beliefs safely. The Bill needs some work on that. To send that signal clearly, I agree with all those who say that it would now be right to do away with the offence of blasphemy.

But we should not forget that it is a common occurrence in this country for people to experience the incitement of hatred because of their religion or belief. Very telling evidence from your Lordships' Committee on Religious Offences of actual incidents, and the personal accounts that I have had from senior police officers, speak of the inability to prosecute serious incitement to religious hatred, which threatens community cohesiveness, corrodes values and puts people in fear and embittered isolation.

I do not think that religious hatred can quite be regarded as a proxy for race either, because it is white British Muslims who have testified to by far the most discrimination, as a survey of over 1,000 British Muslims carried out by the Islamic Human Rights Commission shows.

This provision should encourage us to put ourselves in the place of others. I was a child when my grandfather's relatives were killed in Auschwitz and in my old age I have seen the slaughter at Sarajevo only on television. I have very rarely experienced personal hatred on the grounds of my presumed religion, still less for my humanist beliefs. And I think few of your Lordships may have experienced that kind of hatred. But it happened extensively in Bradford and Burnley and there is evidence that the propagation of hatred is increasing.

We need to make it clear that free debate through all the vehicles of art and humour, to be valued, is a different matter from intimidating, public hatred of the people who hold ideas we may repudiate. Twenty-first century world history should remind us of the difference.

7.40 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Baroness, whose speech ranged over such wide and meaningful issues.

I should like first to express sympathy with the Minister in her complaint about the after-effects of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. I almost feel as though I have to pinch myself to be sure that it is not still Thursday and the clocks have not been restarted. Once again we are groping with the problems thrown up by an underworld tired up by shady deals and modern technology and frequently operating on an international scale.

Noble Lords seem to agree that the Bills currently before Parliament or promised by the Government for the next Session represent a major new construct for policing, crime detection and justice. If these Bills represent the only way that we have to deal with these issues, it will be a major task for all of us to get it right.

I notice from a briefing supplied by the Police Federation, and referred to by my noble friend Lady Anelay, that the Bill will change for ever the unique characteristics that have defined policing for over 175 years. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, gave a fairly full description of the concerns voiced by the Scottish Police Federation about the Bill's proposal to remove the total independence of the authority of chief constables.

The Bill talks of the drive for consistency of approach, but that could so easily be frustrated if the relationship between the new agency and the existing police forces is not satisfactorily thought through and defined.

It would appear that one of the ideas in the Bill is that politicians should be architecting and driving the programme, rather than mainly supervising the activities of the various police forces. Does that not mean that if you are on the receiving end of some law officer's activities, in the final analysis it will not be much use hoping that you can appeal to the Secretary of State for a review should you think that you have suffered some injustice? Does this not represent a further erosion of the separation of powers which has been such a feature of our freedoms but which has appeared to be a rather low priority for this Government?

As we progress through the Bill, I hope that it will become a little clearer, for the Scottish context, what the relationship is to be between the Lord Advocate and the Scottish Ministers. The Lord Advocate currently has the responsibility for the prosecution of crime, the direction of prosecuting authorities and the investigation of sudden and suspicious deaths. Under Clause 23, he is to have responsibility for the direction of SOCA in Scotland. But then we have the Scottish Ministers, who are to be involved in the annual plan, in how SOCA intends to exercise its functions, and in determining the strategic priorities, the performance targets and the codes of practice. Finally, there is the Secretary of State, who will have chatted to the Ministers, but will have power to impose "a requirement" relating to any of the functions or activities of SOCA. It seems to me that there could be quite some grounds for considerable confusion among all those directors.

If there is to be any discretion over the powers and the circumstances in which they are exercised, one has to ask whether there should not be a role for the Scottish Parliament. Given the propensity of the Scottish Parliament to stop and discuss almost any subject, I am sure that it will take the chance to look at the matter, anyway.

I thank the Minister for her assurance that the training of officers who will find themselves operating in different spheres is in the forefront of the Government's thinking. It is important, as was voiced earlier, that those who have to come from other parts of the UK to operate in Scotland will have to know how to operate under a different system of law.

The Law Society of Scotland has expressed some concern on a number of these issues and no doubt will wish to see amendments brought forward in Committee. In particular, it has a worry about the different duration of sentencing powers in the Bill—in Clause 49, in relation to assaults, obstruction or deception—as opposed to those that are available for the protection of police officers in similar circumstances under the Police (Scotland) Act 1967. Can the Minister tell us whether there will be any provision to bring measures in other Acts which are analogous into line with what is proposed in the Bill, or is the agency to have special protection as well as special power?

There is a sense of approval for the proposal to extend the Private Security Industry Act 2001 to Scotland, but there is a need to clarify whether the Security Industry Authority will act as the designated body to receive and deal with complaints about the abuse of powers by precognition agents?

The advantages of such a body as we are being asked to consider were most usefully elaborated particularly by those Members of your Lordships' House who have had intimate police experience. I was most interested in the improvements suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, in her most interesting speech. There are aspects that will need close attention, but I am prepared to welcome the Bill.

7.46 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I welcome the proposals on the incitement to religious hatred, which go back a long way—much earlier than the 2002 Act, which has been mentioned, and at least to 1981, when the Law Commission examined religious offences and observed that the concepts of a "racial group" under the Race Relations Act 1976 and membership of a group which is distinguished by a common religion were "closely linked". It said that if, in future, there appeared to be a substantial problem relating to material which was in substance an attack on those holding particular beliefs. it would be a relatively simple matter to amend the Public Order Act accordingly. It was not a proximate matter for consideration at that time, because there were no attempts at that time to incite hatred against groups belonging to any religion, which was not also a racial group in law.

That situation has changed, unfortunately, since the extreme right has now targeted the Muslim community. That was amply demonstrated by the evidence given to the Select Committee on Religious Offences by the Home Office, the Attorney-General, the DPP, the Metropolitan Police and the West Yorkshire Police. Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, acknowledges that he can make statements about Muslims that would be illegal if he said them about black people. Nevertheless, it is argued, and has been repeated several times today, that there is no need to grant the same protection to Muslims or Christians as we have for years to Sikhs or Jews, because, they say, race is determined from birth, while religion is a matter of choice, as if that justified the distinction.

Yet in Northern Ireland the law treats race and religion identically in the law on incitement; and in Great Britain a range of offences attract higher sentences if they are racially or religiously aggravated. To make a distinction that allows incitement to hatred of some religious groups and not others is not only absurd, as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, said, but is manifestly irrational and callous. We would be saying that incitement to hatred of Jews or Sikhs should be a criminal offence, but incitement to hatred of Christians or Muslims is okay. as a result of hatred being incited against Muslims, individual Muslims are attacked in the street or in their mosques, will you then say that it is of no consequence, because they chose to be Muslim? The effect on the victims is the same, as I sought to argue in my intervention in the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

Noble Lords will remember the case of Abdullah el-Feisal, who was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in March 2003 for incitement to murder under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The offence was that he urged his listeners to kill non-believers, Americans, Hindus and Jews. He got an extra two years for incitement to racial hatred because three out of the four groups he wanted people to murder were protected by the existing law. It is okay to incite hatred against non-believers and, if he confined himself to that group, he would have received a sentence two years less than he was given.

As the Minister said at the beginning of this debate, when these proposals first appeared, the main thrust of the criticism was that they would stifle free speech. Evangelical Christians said that they would be unable to attack other people's religious beliefs; comedians said that they would be prevented from making jokes about religion; and Nicholas Hytner, the head of the National Theatre, said that certain plays would become illegal. He claims the right to he as offensive as he pleases about what other people think and implies that plays challenging people's religious beliefs, such as one by Howard Brenton to be presented at the National later this year, are at risk.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, said, I believe that it would have helped to clarify the law if the Government had agreed to abolish blasphemy at the same time, as was proposed in the Religious Offences Bill in 2002. I shall be tabling an amendment for that purpose, which I am sure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and perhaps also the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, will agree to support.

We are not about protecting beliefs but believers, as has been said. If we get rid of the remnants of blasphemy, that will underline the "right to offend", as Rowan Atkinson has called it, which is protected by the Human Rights Act. Subject to the law on blasphemy, which is better left for discussion in Committee, you can say whatever you like about another person's beliefs or sacred objects, the only limits being those of taste.

The opposition now appears to centre on the opposite assertion that expectations have been aroused, when the area of conduct dealt with here is very narrow. One or two speeches today, including, I think, that of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, have somehow managed to combine the two criticisms—that is, on the one hand, that we are going to stifle freedom of expression and, on the other, that expectations have been aroused by the magnitude of the coverage of this Bill, which is unjustified. The new offence is bounded on one side by the Human Rights Act, although none of those who spoke against Schedule 10 even mentioned that Act and nor did any of those who spoke at Second Reading in the Commons, and it is bounded on the other side by the common law offence of incitement to commit any other crime.

In between is the use of language which does not call on people to commit a specific offence but which is threatening, abusive or insulting and intended to incite religious hatred or is likely to do so. The tests are identical for incitement to both religious and racial hatred. We would create enormous difficulties for the police, the CPS and the courts if we decided to enact different tests according to whether or not the group being targeted consisted of Jews or Sikhs on the one hand or Muslims or Christians on the other.

I agree that some people had an inflated idea of what was proposed on religious incitement, as shown by the evidence to our Select Committee. We obviously did not manage to dispel the misunderstandings, but there were years of discussion—not only here but in Europe, where a Council framework decision on racism and xenophobia would have required comprehensive legislation against incitement to hatred against groups, defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin". I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alli, that we should extend that to groups defined by their sexual orientation. It would be useful to know whether the Government are considering the resuscitation of that proposal during the UK's presidency after June.

The magnitude of what we are proposing here is indicated by the fact that only 10 prosecutions for incitement to racial hatred were commenced in the past five years. The problems of bringing offenders to justice would be the same for religious hatred. But, as the Select Committee pointed out, the law may have been successful in deterring far more offences than have been prosecuted. That surely is the point of this provision.

Turning to another matter which has been discussed, from the debates that we had on the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, it was clear that the existing powers of the police to deal with harassment and intimidation of persons in some way connected with lawful animal research organisations, which, as has been said, operate under one of the strictest licensing regimes in the world, are being targeted by well coordinated groups of extremists who set out to damage and, if possible, bring to an end their legitimate activities. They threaten people's lives and make them a misery and, in 2004, the extremists persuaded 100 suppliers to sever their connections with Huntingdon Life Sciences Company.

The UK has so far led the world in the development of therapies for diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's and AIDS, and only last week the Commission for Africa focused on the need to increase spending on combating AIDS, which killed 2 million people in sub-Saharan Africa in 2004 alone, to $10 billion a year. Earlier this afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, gave details of the universities and laboratories in the UK which are working on the commission's priorities, including the development of microbicides, TB drugs, AIDS and malaria vaccines, paediatric ARV and malaria drugs, and drugs for paediatric diseases. If the United Kingdom is to play a significant role in implementing the commission's report, our scientists need the protection that they would get from this legislation.

7.56 p.m.

Lord Imbert

My Lords, I shall not keep your Lordships long with my contribution to this most important debate, but I hope that what I do say may have desirable and useful effects and give us pause for thought on the future hierarchical structure of a national Serious Organised Crime Agency and on its methods of working, selection of targets and processing of suspects and persons arrested for crime.

If it is necessary for me to establish my credentials in respect of this subject, I point out to your Lordships that it is now some 16 years since the then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police—a chap called Imbert—in the annual police research foundation lecture in London's Guildhall called for the establishment of a countrywide organisation responsible for the investigation and resolution of serious cross-border national and international organised crime. Inevitably, on the following day the press headlined it as: Commissioner's Call for a British FBI". That was not what had been called for, but neither was a call made for a major law enforcement agency that could effectively be directed by a politician—both now or at any time in the future.

I still fully support the creation of a national, single coordinated investigative agency, which would undoubtedly enhance this country's ability significantly to reduce serious and organised crime. But I will briefly outline the concerns that I hold about some provisions in the Bill. I reiterate my concern that a politician who will appoint both the chairman and the director-general of the agency will, or may have, influence—indeed, amounting almost to direction—over the selection of targets and the use of agency personnel.

The first chairman of the agency is to be the former head of the Security Service, MI5. Although I hold this man in very high regard, one can but wonder whether the selection of targets may lean towards those whom that service might wish to investigate by agents, who, under the provisions of the Bill, are invested with the power of constables. Of course, at this time of grave terrorist threat, that may be both sensible and desirable, but such fundamental changes must surely be done with our eyes wide open. It is also worth asking whether this hierarchical structure is in fact the first political chipping away of the dictum of Lord Denning, when he spoke of chief constables and, by extension, of the power of constables. I shall not weary noble Lords with the whole dictum because the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, has already touched upon it, but the important part was: No Minister of the Crown can tell him"— that is, the constable— that he must or must not keep observation on this place or that … The responsibility of law enforcement lies on him. He is answerable to the law alone". The first director general of the agency is to be Mr William Hughes, a senior police officer of wisdom, professional ability, experience and integrity, but we are surely bound to reflect that, under the Bill, a future Home Secretary could select whomever he wishes. That is nothing less than the political appointment of a person who will have the vast resources of the agency at his disposal to be used as he, the chairman of the agency and/or the Home Secretary may decide.

I will conclude on one other point, which has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie. It relates to Clauses 116 and 117, which make provision for the post of custody sergeant to be held by a person with no police experience whatever. I note what the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said in opening the debate: that that is not compulsory on chief constables but a matter for them; the Bill them the opportunity to do that if they so wish. But the reality is that police authorities will seize on that and, erroneously, think that that will save them money or get more supervisors out on the streets.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, suggested the rank of station sergeant as senior sergeant, and I support the return of that, having held that rank in the Metropolitan Police about 150 years ago. He is the person who has responsibility for those under his command in an operational situation. That should be carefully considered.

If we are to civilianise that post, we must remember that police have a duty of care towards those who have been arrested and it is the custody officer's responsibility to decide whether the arrested person should be detained or released—in fact, to make decisions affecting an arrested person's human rights. Theoretically, a person with legal training and well-versed in the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 with full knowledge of the rules and regulations relating to the detention. care of, access to and questioning of detained persons could pass a paper examination to qualify them for that post.

That is not enough. The rank of sergeant was not selected by accident. He or she has passed the necessary exams to show knowledge of police and criminal law and procedures, but the real qualification for such a responsible job is learnt at the college of hard knocks, where officers, in their careers, have dealt with violence, drunken louts, domestic disputes and abuse and vicious criminality. Intellectual ability and academic qualifications are no substitute for experience.

Should that provision be implemented, the safety and well-being of detainees will be placed in jeopardy if the role of custody sergeant is given to an undoubtedly intelligent but grossly inexperienced member of civil staff. I am aware that those clauses were opportunistically inserted in the Bill following comments by the previous Chief Inspector of Constabulary about the civilianisatian of police posts. Both he and the present chief inspector, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, are fine fellows. But I would wager that if they were still chief constables, they would treat the provision warily and find other, more suitable posts to civilianise.

I am pleased to support the creation of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency. I fully support that, but I hope that the Government will take note of the points made by me and other noble Lords. I only wish that I was young enough and bright enough to compete for one of the senior detective posts in that agency.

8.4 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, my all-too-brief career as a government loyalist is about to come to an end. Although I shall come to that, let me first say that, along with my noble friend Lord Turnberg and the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, I support the animal rights clauses in the Bill.

I very much dislike Clauses 129 to 135, which will restrict protest in Parliament Square. I am by nature a protester and I do not like my right to protest being circumscribed. Also, the fact that some people have been demonstrating against the Iraq war—I supported it—may give people offence, but so what? If people feel deeply about something, they have every right to demonstrate. One problem with the Bill is that people have to give notice about how long a demonstration will last. It may last for ever. What is wrong with that? It is extremely dangerous for parliamentarians to say, "You can protest elsewhere, but not in my neighbourhood, thank you very much". Free speech is circumscribed in the neighbourhood of Parliament.

I want to get on to my pet hate, which is Clause 124 and Schedule 10. All that can be said on the legal side has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and various other noble Lords. I shall echo what my noble friend Lord Alli said. He said that he wanted more; I want less. I shall of course support his amendment about gay and lesbian harassment. I have no problem with that whatever. I do not how many of his fellow Peers will follow him, but I will follow him.

Why has the anomaly arisen whereby Jews and Sikhs are considered both mono-ethnic religions and a race? The Jewish case is gilding the lily. There is perfectly good protection for Jews as a race, because, for most Jews, race and religion coincide. The two exceptions are Karl Marx and Liz Taylor. Karl Marx was born a Jew. His father got him baptised, but for all of his life he was considered a Jew. If you are born a Jew, you are for ever a Jew. Miss Elizabeth Taylor became a Jew when she married Mike Todd. But absolutely no one thinks that she is a Jew, whatever her religion may be. It is really gilding the lily to say that Jews are both a race and a religion—there is not much to be got out of that.

As to Sikhs being a mono-ethnic group, I am absolutely astonished. Footnote 12 on page 8 of the Select Committee report cites the case of Mandla v Dowell Lee, which is about wearing turbans. Only Sikh men wear turbans; Sikh women do not. So I presume that Sikh women do not have protection under this law and that only Sikh men will. Sikh men also have a right to wear a dagger. Is that allowed? I doubt it very much.

But Sikhs are not a mono-ethnic group. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, already has said something about that. But worse than that, a number of Canadians have converted to Sikhism. Are they—good, strong, white, tall, blonde people—covered by this? Sikhism is a religion: it is not a race.

Perhaps I may even accuse the Law Lords of being ignorant—maybe I will get it for contempt of court. People get intimidated when judging other races and religion. They say, "Oh dear, my God, if I don't say this I will be looked on as racist" or something like that. Only profound ignorance, in the face of another religion and another culture, could have allowed this to get into our law books. If I was smart enough, I would like to move an amendment to remove the protection for Sikhs and Jews on the grounds of religion.

That is an anomaly in our law. It is not that all the other faiths in the country need a protection under this law. If those two things were removed, life would become so much simpler. Faith communities would not be regarded as deserving special protection. As many noble Lords have already said, protection is available against harassment, against violence and even against a lot of incitement. But by putting religion in the Act, we will do two things. First, quite a few faith communities will get uppity about their being insulted. If that is done, I guarantee that the complications of the south Asian subcontinent—the tension between Hindus and Muslims—will be revisited with much greater violence. I am telling noble Lords that.

Secondly—the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, referred to this point—I do not intend to cause offence, but someone may take offence. That has happened to me. About four years ago, just after the Act of 2001 had removed the religious hatred clause, I was invited to a festival of comedy. There was one serious session about comedy and religious hatred, or something like that. Unfortunately, the comedians did not turn up and those that turned up were very serious. So I thought that I could say something mildly amusing. I said, "I know lots of jokes about Christians, a number of jokes about Jesus Christ, and quite a lot of rabbi and priest jokes. I do not know a single joke about Islam. There must be something funny in the Koran, after all. Why has nobody found it?"

I was accused of having said that the Koran is a funny book. There was a lot of agitation in Muslim newspapers in this country. My noble friend Lord Ahmed told me that I would have to apologise for saying what I said. I said, "I will not apologise. I will cite exactly what I said. There ought to be something funny in the Koran". The fact that there is not is my loss. But if that was that serious then, now, I could be taken to be inciting religious hatred.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he referred to taking religion out of the equation of our law. But is he aware that religion is out of the equation? Currently, Jews are protected only against racist incitement. I agree with what the noble Lord said, even though it was a bit disrespectful of the Law Lords. Sikhs are protected only on the grounds of their ethnicity. Religion is entirely out of the equation, apart from blasphemy.

8.13 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne

My Lords, I suspect that my intervention will be rather more supportive of the Government than the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, which I greatly enjoyed. I, like the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, and my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, will confine my remarks to the parts of the Bill that refer to redressing the damage and the dangers caused by animal extremists and the problems that they cause particularly to the biosciences and to those even loosely connected with research using live animals.

I refer to the excellent Select Committee on Scientific Procedures of which my noble friend Lord Soulsby is a member, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, which took place about two or three years ago. It reported on the evolution of regulation of animal experiments.

It has been noted earlier that there was the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which is the bedrock on which the present legislation is based. There has been increasing interest in the need to legislate, which has taken place in this House from time to time, led by advice from the Animal Procedures Committee. That is a body which includes a wide range of interests.

It is greatly to the credit of this country that we have the strongest regulation as regards animal experiments of any country. That is borne out in the Select Committee report. Paragraph 1.15 of the report states, Virtually all witnesses agreed that the United Kingdom has the tightest system of regulation in the world". So it is not surprising that this committee and Parliament and the vast majority of people in this country conclude, according to the report, It is morally acceptable for human beings to use other animals, but it is morally wrong to cause them unnecessary or avoidable suffering". But the problem is that we are a compassionate nation and that those who quite rightly lobby, protest and try to make their views quite legitimately known on animal welfare issues, very often give succour to those who have no intention of doing it legally and who have—as is quite clear from the evidence of what has happened at Oxford and Cambridge universities, the Wycombe Laboratory and many other places— flouted the law. If justification is required for the provisions in this Bill it is the failure of the present criminal jurisdiction to deal with these very effective extremist campaigns. It is the fact that in many ways they are setting the agenda, demonstrated by the need to legislate further in this Bill.

I refer to another report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology which appeared about four or five years ago. The committee was chaired by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. The report was entitled Science and Society. It drew attention to the frequent lack of transparency and the need for a much better understanding of the benefits that society can derive from science, particularly in the pharmaceutical field and biosciences. The fact is that so many extremists appear to get away with harassment and criminal activity without being taken to task by people who would otherwise be expected to give support to upholding the law.

I quote once more from the Select Committee report on animals and scientific procedures. It said, We consider that the availability to the public of regularly updated good quality information on what animal experiments are done and why is vital to create an atmosphere in which the issue of animal experimentation can be discussed productively". Since that committee reported the situation has got worse. Therefore, I wholeheartedly support the Government in bringing forward these measures. It is clearly quite unacceptable that people can be harassed and intimidated not just for being employed by the companies involved in research using live animals, but for supplying them or for being related to employees. The case history is now becoming long and extremely sinister.

The expression "co-ordinated home visits" is very sinister. Groups of people are targeted because of their connections with animal research. This Bill seeks to recognise the reality of what the visits mean. It is a very intimidating experience.

Because the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, and my noble friend Lord Soulsby have said with much greater authority than I can just how welcome these provisions are, and because every person who has spoken in the debate so far has referred to these clauses and welcomed them, including the spokesmen on the Front Bench, there is nothing more that I need say but to give the Government my wholehearted support.

8.18 p.m.

Viscount Colville of Culross

My Lords, it will not surprise the House to hear that I want to speak about Schedule 10. First, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Bhatia to whom I always listen with very great respect when he says that there is a problem in relation to the Muslim community in this country. I believe that we were all persuaded by what he said and by the witnesses who came to the Select Committee to explain further what the problem was.

We have also had a great deal of wisdom from the highest level spoken about the law as regards this matter. I do not want to go over any of that again, particularly if we are to have amendments at Committee. But there is one point that has not been dealt with either in another place or here today. That is the workability of the proposed new offences in Schedule 10. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, made a point about that, as did the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking. I want to explore with the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, with reference to her experience of sitting as a recorder, how she thinks it will be handled. I do not think that it is at all easy.

In another place, the noble Baroness's honourable friend, Ms Blears, the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety, explained what Articles 9 and 10 contain. She said: The court—if it gets that far after the matter has been considered by the Attorney-General—will have to consider both sets of rights and, where necessary, balance one against the other. The courts have a great deal of experience in carrying out that delicate balancing act and considering the way in which those provisions interact, and they will continue to do so in this area as they do in many others".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D, 20/1/05; col. 400.] That is all very well if one is operating at the stage where the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, used to operate in the High Court. It is not altogether the same in the Crown Court where these trials are to take place. They are serious offences and carry a maximum penalty of seven years, so I imagine that the Crown Court will he the venue.

Let us assume that there has been a complaint about incitement to religious hatred and let us suppose that the police have decided that the matter falls within the gap described by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury; that is, it is not covered by the common law of incitement and therefore something else must be done. The matter is sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, which considers the ordinary rules; whether it is in the public interest or whether there is more than a 50 per cent chance of obtaining a conviction. Presumably, the CPS must have a potential defendant. As the British National Party, among others, has shown itself acute in how to avoid criminal offences in this area, what would happen if the material that has been complained of came on the Internet from Holland? I doubt whether there would be a defendant within the jurisdiction.

Let us assume that that matter has been overcome and that there is a defendant and that the Attorney-General decides that the matter should go ahead. I am relieved that the noble and learned Lord will be dealing with this, because that will be an answer to the kind of point made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, on intercept and inter-cult complaints, actions and private prosecutions. That will not happen because the noble and learned Lord will stop it.

The matter will then go to trial. I am not expecting the Minister to answer the case today, but I would like her to think about it. The matter has been placed in front of a jury who will have to decide, among other things, whether the expression that is complained about was within the realms of freedom of speech under Article 10, particularly whether Article 10.2. which allows a restriction of freedom of speech, will be applicable. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, referred to a divisional court case called Norwood. It arose under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 in which there is a defence available that it was reasonable in the circumstances. The district judge took that as a peg on which to hang a discussion about Article 10 and freedom of speech. He was upheld by the divisional court, which decided that he had been correct to convict and had properly taken account of the provisions of Article 10.

When I first saw this Bill as it was introduced into another place, I thought that the original provisions in Part III of the Public Order Act 1986, which talk about taking account of all relevant circumstances, might provide a similar peg on which to hang Articles 9, 10 and possibly 17. It would therefore be possible to direct the jury. I think the Judicial Studies Board might need to produce some assistance about how to do that, but it might be possible to introduce to the jury's mind the concepts in the European Convention. They would then be able to take them into account. What they would make of them is another matter. Nevertheless, it would be properly placed before them.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, that there is a similar problem when one is dealing with obscene publications. The test there is the tendency to deprave and corrupt. As a judge, one is not allowed to explain any further what that means. Juries look with glazed eyes when the direction is given to them. That is all you are going to be told. You have to decide on that basis. That is what the statute says.

A similar situation is going to arise when they are confronted with Articles 10.1, 10.2 and, possibly, 9 and 17, of the European Convention. I believe that there is a serious technical problem here, which needs to be thought about.

One last thought before I sit down is that we also need to account for the degree of certainty. Article 7 of the European Convention—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who mentioned this—requires that people should know what it is they are allowed and not allowed to do. Nobody knows why a jury decides anything. You can get nothing out of it except the facts of the case. This is going to be a very difficult problem for compliance with Article 7. I hope the Minister will think about these matters; perhaps we can return to them later.

8.28 p.m.

Lord Drayson

My Lords, I rise to speak in support of the clauses in the Bill that aim to address the growing threat of animal rights extremism. I declare an interest, in that during my career I have experienced this problem in my past roles as chief executive of a biotechnology company and chairman of the BioIndustry Association. I am no longer active in business, but I remain convinced of the urgent need to tackle this problem.

These extremists are targeting many diverse types of organisation, either those involved directly in animal research or those in a business or support relationship to institutes carrying it out. These have included universities, many pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, contract research businesses and their suppliers. These have included banks, stockbrokers, insurance companies and couriers. Other establishments, which one would not normally ordinarily associate with this problem, have also been targeted and include airports, newspapers, a cinema and even a girls' school.

Bioscience has made an enormous contribution to improving our health and quality of life. The UK bioscience industry is the second most successful in the world, indirectly and directly employing over one-third of a million people. Only the United States has discovered and developed more important drugs. This success is built upon the excellence of the science in our universities, where over 65 per cent of all medical research is carried out. However, animal extremism is undermining this success and casting a dark shadow over this vital work.

I will not repeat the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Turnberg and Lord Soulsby, and by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, with which I agree. I would like to highlight that a lot of progress is being made by the biotech industry in developing alternatives to animal testing, such as tissue cell cultures and computer modelling. In fact, since 1987 the number of animal procedures has reduced by 22 per cent and in the commercial sector has halved. However, despite this, the elimination of animal testing is, regrettably, not possible and it is unlikely to be so for some time yet.

When I was chairman of the BIA three years ago, animal rights extremism was regarded as the single biggest threat to the bioscience industry and one that was undermining our ability to develop it further. Since then, the problem has got worse. Many scientists, both in the public and private sectors, in business and in academia, live in fear. They are afraid to speak out in case they become targets; many that are targeted often quietly capitulate and resign; and one by one the suppliers to research companies are picked off until there is no one left who will work with the company. Few have the courage and resilience to fight against this level of sustained attack.

Let me give your Lordships some data. In 2002, 113 companies were targeted by extremists in the UK; in 2003, the number had risen to 203 companies; and last year it was 313 companies. In January of this year, the latest month for which figures are available, six companies stopped supplying the industry following threats; there were 20 incidents of damage to private property and vehicles; and on 10 occasions people were harassed at their homes. This is in just one month.

The numbers, depressing though they are, do not fully reflect the horror of what is going on. Harassment at home does not sound too bad until you realise what it involves. I remember a colleague of mine who, as research director of a local biotechnology company, had been frequently targeted at home. The last straw for him was when he received a call late at night from an extremist describing how they had followed his children to school.

Let me read your Lordships a verbatim description from one of the victims of these harassment campaigns. It started with a threatening phone call … It progressed to threats through the post, which got more and more aggressive as time went on. It culminated … with an explosion outside the house in which both my car and my husband's car were firebombed. The neighbours have also been targeted and have been told their neighbour is an animal abuser or a child molester. It did affect us dreadfully. It really is frightening and life-changing. I was off work for some time. For a while I could not go out of the house. You feel very vulnerable every time you leave the house and worry that someone is following you. I am doing an ordinary job in a legitimate industry and I am being threatened purely because of this. It should not be allowed". She is right, it should not.

These extremists are using violence and intimidation to prevent people carrying out activities which are not only essential to the development of life-saving medicines but are required by law. As we have heard, under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act the Government require the testing of medicines on animals to ensure their safety. This policy is common to all medicine regulations throughout the world. Given that the law requires animal research to be undertaken, the law must provide sufficient protection to the people we ask to carry it out.

Despite the Government's best efforts, the existing legislation does not provide an adequate framework to address this problem. The extremists are operating in a grey area and it will not be possible to counter this threat without the additional legislation set out in Clauses 121 to 123 and 142 to 146 of the Bill, in particular to address these tactics of harassment at people's homes, interference with contractual relationships and intimidation of people associated with organisations carrying out the research.

It is unlikely that this legislation will provide a definitive solution to the problem of animal rights extremism. I urge the Government to ensure that the police have sufficient resources to counter the threat and to work with the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to keep the situation under review and to identify new initiatives as the extremists continue to evolve their activities, as I am sure they will.

These extremists are adept at exploiting the freedoms that our democracy provides, to hurt and intimidate others. We must pass legislation that is smart enough to prevent such abuses while allowing lawful protest. I have every confidence that your Lordships, using the skill and good sense that I have witnessed in my short time in this House, will achieve that objective, and I support these clauses in the Bill.

8.35 p.m.

Lord Lyell

What a treat, my Lords, to follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson. It is rare that I speak on a matter of law or anything like this, but I hope that when your Lordships come to read the report of our debate on the Bill everyone will note his speech, as well as his personal courage and commitment. If there is one additional reason to fight serious and organised crime, which is a wide-ranging area, it is the comments and remarks of the noble Lord—in fact, everything he has said in the course of his speech. It is a privilege to follow him. I, for one, admire and thank him for everything he has done. Also, 28 years ago I was heavily involved in the Patents Act 1977, since when I have had a lifelong commitment to, and admiration for, the pharmaceutical and bioscience industry.

I was first alerted to this Bill by Clause 26. Naturally, as a resident of Scotland, I would love to see directed arrangements there. Subsection (1) gives the power to Ministers to direct various activities. This aspect has been well covered by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose. It gives me mild concern, but I am pretty sure that we could work it out.

I was also interested in Clause 23, which is simply marvellous. It is labelled: Activities in Scotland in relation to crime". Where I live, "crime" could vary, but subsections (1), (2) and (3) are all certainly relevant. We temporarily do not have my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and other Scotsmen present, but I am sure the Minister could pass this on. I hope she will be able to stress to the relevant Scottish authorities that the agency should work closely with the police forces in Scotland in any of their operational activities. This is to ensure that, whether an offence is committed in or outside Scotland, great care is taken when looking for people, attempting to charge them or bringing them to court. I hope that the fine detail of Scottish law will be closely adhered to.

Chapter 2 was more interesting for me. Various chunks of the chapter are labelled as "special powers", which I began to read up on. Clause 45 deals with the constable. That was fairly clear. Clauses 46 and 47 deal with Customs and immigration officials and the various powers they would have. Perhaps they have them already, but it seems as if these powers will be codified, refined or strengthened. The Bill may even give the officials new powers.

I have never come into contact with officials from the immigration department or Customs in the rural area of Angus where I live. If someone appeared in my area and said to me, "Can you help?", that would be fine. I assume that there would be a policeman, either in an identifiable uniform, or in plain clothes with the relevant identification. Five or six years ago. somebody turned up at our estate office, said he was from the council and asked us to carry out various actions. I asked him whether he could produce identification, and he said to me, "I wouldn't ring if I were you". We discovered that he was in fact from a Scottish-wide agency, but he had no visible identification. And he was a fairly friendly gentleman.

I am sure that the new agency's very wide-ranging powers are necessary. As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, and many others who have spoken tonight, we will need the agency to take action on all aspects of serious crime. But members of the public, such as myself and others, might want to see identification.

I had a look at Clause 49 on pages 27 and 28. I was curious about subsection (1) which deals with assault on a constable or relevant person. If that person does not produce identification, blocks your car or stops you going into your house, what is assault? Perhaps the noble Baroness will write to me about this; she need not reply tonight, as it is rather a mischievous point.

Subsection (3) deals with wilful obstruction and resistance. That sounds rather like a rugby or a football referee having to decide which is which. The provision becomes a little more relevant when you look at the punishments. Subsections (4) and (5) provide that you may get a gaol sentence. Will the noble Baroness tell me why a sentence would not exceed 51 weeks in England and Wales when it is clearly defined as 12 months in Scotland? Is there some significance in 51 weeks?

You can be liable to a level 5 fine for assault—plus, of course, deception; I enjoyed that—but only a level 3 fine for obstruction or resistance. That might be rather difficult to define, certainly in Scotland. That concludes my mild queries.

I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, about Schedule 10 and Clause 124. Perhaps the noble Baroness would glance at page 203. Paragraph 5 refers to the amendment of Section 18 on the use of words or behaviour or the display of written material. I am much more worried about the "use of words or behaviour". Subsection (3) says for subsection (1)(b) substitute: having regard to all the circumstances the words, behaviour or material are … likely to be heard". The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, may reprimand me, because 32 or 33 years ago, when I was sitting just behind him on the Benches opposite, I referred to great events that I have attended.

This provision would be very relevant to Scotland. At football events in Scotland, people say and sing things they do not necessarily mean; it is extraordinarily difficult to prove intention. They will say, "I was just singing a hymn". Some of the hymns that we were singing on Sunday about St Patrick were extremely rude and referred to people as the "infidel throng". That would not go down too well with the minority in that particular stadium. People do not intend anything, but how will that work in a court of law if the offence of incitement is to work? That is rather a mischievous question; the noble Baroness may he able to answer it in writing. If she could help with about the relevance of wilful obstruction and the levels of fines, I should be most grateful. I support the Bill and I hope that other noble Lords will as well, especially having heard the notable contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson.

8.44 p.m.

Lord Pendry

My Lords, I am very pleased to speak in this important debate on a Bill which I am sure will lead to added protections for Britain's communities. As my noble friend the Minister has already pointed out, this Government have a very strong record of tackling crime and have introduced several pieces of legislation which collectively have helped to reduce crime levels and target criminals.

I recognise that the Bill proposes measures which will extend still further protection from crime, from the most serious organised forms to low-level though no less important anti-social behaviour, and I broadly commend the Government's intentions in that regard. However, I should like to discuss one element of the Bill which concerns me.

The Bill proposes to extend the remit of the Security Industry Authority—a body set up by the Private Security Industry Act 2001 ostensibly to tackle wheel clampers, doormen and bouncers—to cover Scotland. There is little wrong with that in principle but the Government must clarify the role of the Security Industry Authority in relation to football stewards to ensure that they do not introduce just as much confusion into Scotland as currently reigns in England.

I am sure I need not remind noble Lords that I am president of the Football Foundation having previously served as chairman of that body and its predecessor the Football Trust, bodies which, following the terrible tragedy at Hillsborough in 1991, played a key role in the evolution in the standards of football safety. After many years of investment through the Football Foundation and the Football Stadium Improvement Trust, football grounds up and down the country are almost unrecognisably improved. Now all Football League, Premiership and international football venues in England are universally better equipped to provide a safe, enjoyable environment in which to watch and support football.

As stadia have improved, rising standards in stewarding at football have added to the level of community protection providing a major safeguard to deal with trouble at grounds. Football clubs have invested a huge amount in the training of stewards and there is now a dedicated football stewarding qualification, the FSQ.

I understand from the Football Association that football has developed further its training package and now offers a certificate in event and matchday stewarding with further plans for specific training in conflict resolution. This qualification has now been submitted to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority for approval within the national qualifications framework. I pay tribute to the Football Association, the FA Premier League and the Football League for the commitment that they and their clubs have made in this welcome development.

To noble Lords who have not engaged with this issue for a long period of time, I should explain that ground safety arrangements are covered by two specific Acts of Parliament: the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975; and the Football Spectators Act 1989. As a result football stewards are licensed by local authorities and the Football Licensing Authority, an executive body of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. These measures have brought with them tangible signs of success. The latest figures of the Football Licensing Authority show that of some 38 million people going to league and international football only around 1,500 were injured at grounds with 90 per cent of those injuries treatable on site. Indeed, the latest government statistics illustrate the point further, showing a 10 per cent year on year reduction in disorder. In answer to a Written Question from the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, stated that the multi-agency strategy, is working and football stadia in England and Wales are now among the safest and most secure in the world".—[Official Report, 7/03/05; col. WA 68.] Yet despite that success, football clubs and football authorities have found themselves threatened by an additional and, I would argue, entirely unnecessary regulatory burden in the recent past from the Security Industry Authority which wishes to duplicate the work of other licensing agencies by licensing football stewards. Last October, as chairman of the Cabinet Office's Better Regulation Task Force, David Arculus said: Over-zealous interpretation of regulation by Government regulators and industry bodies is one of the factors leading to layers of red tape winding their way around businesses and the public. This regulatory creep is the 'hidden menace' of red tape". The involvement of the SIA in football is a case in point of that type of regulatory creep, and is therefore not only counter-intuitive but also contrary to the Government's own best practice guidance. It should also be noted that the football industry was never consulted on this matter during the passage of the Private Security Industry Bill through Parliament. Moreover, the then Home Office Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, commented specifically during debate on the Private Security Industry Bill that if football stewards are, provided in house, they will not be subject to regulation because it will be assumed that the company, the football club, will have properly trained them and will be responsible for improving standards and so forth".—[Official Report, 18/12/2002; col. 599.] I shall be bold and suggest that it was clearly therefore never the Government's intention that the SIA should have a role in football, given that it so clearly duplicates the work of the Football Licensing Authority and the local authorities. This Bill proposes to extend the SIA's remit to Scotland, providing the Government with the opportunity to clarify their position on football stewards and the SIA. Therefore, I call on the Minister to take this opportunity to assure me that they will exempt football from the Private Security Industry Act 2001 on the basis that equivalent protections are already in place with local authorities and the Football Licensing Authority. If she cannot make that declaration today, which I would understand, will she at least agree to meet with me and representatives of the football industry so that we can consider in advance of Committee stage whether we might need to table an amendment on this issue?

8.51 p.m.

Viscount Slim

My Lords, I welcome the creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. I should declare that in my past life, I have worked with the police and with Customs and Excise. Funnily enough, when overseas I once tried to put together something rather similar to these provisions.

I am rather glad that in the agency, the immigration authorities will be represented, because—let us face it—they have let a lot of people in here whom we are now chasing. So it should be a good team effort, I hope. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Imbert. I am concerned about command and control, and the procedures involved. The control of the agency seems purely political at the moment, and I am not sure that that is a particularly good thing. Of course. the agency should be politically accountable, but the actual command and control should not be in hands of a politician for day-to-day and operational matters.

I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said, because I was going to say much the same. We must pay attention to the composition, the training, how we put it all together. and the problems that it will give the police—because they will have some problems; namely, with the fact that their best people must not be stolen for the agency. We must ask where the police stand in all this—and there does not seem to be police representation on the agency. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, made some very telling and down-to-earth points.

I have problems with Clause 124 and Schedule 10. I find that measure oppressive and am not confident that it will do what the Minister says it should. There is definitely a feeling around that it is going to stop us speaking freely, teasing each other about our various religions and in fact being rather uncomplimentary at times. That has always been our way. It does not take away from the Britishness of the whole of our lives. It will bury a lot of the real nastiness underground and, when that is done, there is a chance that it will explode dangerously in the future.

I was interested in the excellent little speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. I was in the opposite position. I went to college in India with 300 Indians of all races and religions and only 30 white men. I too never felt awkward, unloved or different. We had our own mosques, temples, gurdwaras and chapels. When the bell rang, we very often went to the nearest. It seemed to work very well. The right reverend Prelate might think I am hedging my bets for the future, but there are many paths of attainment and no one on Earth knows what happens afterwards. It is a bit of a guessing game.

Like my noble friend Lord Bhatia, I feel that Muslims in our country at the moment have a problem. Somehow, we must integrate them into the British scene and the British way of life, particularly the young. But they must not just cry. They must stand up and be British Muslims. They must denounce terrorism from the treetops. They must come in. We asked them to come, and they have not come. Of course, there are British elements that are being particularly unpleasant to them at the moment, but it is such a tiny element that it is not truly British. So let us all work to do that.

Let us have a look at this clause. I hope that the Government can do so. I cannot support it as it is at the moment and I hope that, as amendments are tabled and debated, something is done. The clause is not good at the moment. However, I support the agency and all that it entails and, like the noble Lord, Lord Imbert—who has great experience and thought about this 16 years ago—I wish I were 35 years younger. I would not make a good detective sergeant, but I would not mind having a shot at being the boss.

8.58 p.m.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, it is appropriate that I declare my close association with the police, albeit that that association is almost exclusively confined to the traffic police.

The Bill creates a single organisation that should have as its raison dêtre the capability of fighting serious and organised crime. It is to be supported. However, there are those who believe that in the best interests of the public and the police it should have been presented in two separate Bills. Nevertheless, while I support the Bill in general terms. there are some aspects that need further attention during its passage through your Lordships' House. I acknowledge the detailed briefing that I received from an officer in the Police Federation of England and Wales and thank him for it.

It seems that functional clarity is missing about which crimes SOCA will deal with and where police responsibility lies. The result is that cross-border activity between SOCA and police forces is likely to be confusing and mismanaged. Further, unless clear understandings are agreed, SOCA runs the risk of demarcating itself from the wider police service. There is concern as to the funding commitment for SOCA. While I am sure promises have been made, detail is currently missing.

Your Lordships will have read in the newspapers about the concern that too much power will be placed in the hands of the Secretary of State to control and direct, with the result that SOCA will be politically controlled and go outside the traditional fabric of policing. I feel that the new agency should be politically accountable, like any police force, but not politically controlled, as mentioned by other noble Lords.

As we have heard, the Police Federation has written to its members, currently on secondment to the National Crime Squad, advising them not to take up an offer of direct employment with their present organisation, which would lead to automatic transfer to SOCA where they would cease to be police officers thereby losing their status as Officers of the Crown.

However, the new incumbent of the post of director general of SOCA—who used to hold the rank of Chief Constable—will be given the authority to designate the powers of a constable to his employees on a piecemeal and ad hoc basis. If one follows this through, it means that an official appointed by a politician will decide who exercises the powers of a constable over their fellow citizens. Giving powers of a constable to those who do not hold the office of constable severs the link between office and Crown. It is that crucial link that ensures that police officers act impartially, independently and outside political control. Police officers are accountable for their actions both on and off duty but will SOCA employees given the powers of a constable uphold these values? I wonder.

The potential pick and mix powers which can be used to suit the occasion or event of the day might lead to concerns about undermining the office of constable. There is, also, the potential for interaction between SOCA officers and operational police colleagues leading to a muddle, confusion and communication problems which will be of benefit only to the criminal.

Community support officers, who are supposed to be the eyes-and-ears, visible but non-confrontational street presence in support of the police, are having more powers thrust on them by the Bill. This is the third helping of powers piled on their plate since their introduction two years ago. The additional powers proposed by the Bill are without any evidence as to the value of the exercise of their existing powers. I would like to mention my concern that Highways Agency Traffic Officers—HATOs—while welcome for the job they were initially employed to carry out in support of the police, represent a similar threat in the "auctioning off" process of police work.

It is now time to address the position of custody sergeants being civilianised, which has come up regularly in the debate. Perhaps it would be best to remind your Lordships that a police officer. of whatever rank, is a sworn constable and, as such, one constable can correct or give advice to another constable irrespective of rank.

A custody sergeant has to determine whether an arrested person should be detained or go free, making quasi-judicial decisions dictating the individual's liberty. Only police officers, in no less than the substantive rank of sergeant. have the authority and accountability to carry out that role. That is what the law currently says. In that role they provide careful leadership and guidance to operational colleagues and are wholly responsible for the well-being of detained persons.

Those officers have considerable experience which, despite assurances given in the other place, cannot be imparted simply by training a civilian. And if retired police officers are to perform the role of custody sergeant, where is the recruiting to come from when they, too, finally retire? The question that should be asked is not, could the role be civilianised, but should it? There is simply no benefit on either economic or operational grounds for this proposal.

It seems as if most chief constables, including the newly appointed chief executive of Centrex, himself an ex-chief constable of a large force—Merseyside—are uncomfortable at this proposal. Professor Michael Zander QC, the expert on police and criminal evidence issues, has expressed great reservations. He states: To entrust the role to civilians would be to downgrade its importance. It would send a message to the force generally that the significance of the role was reduced. That would be a deplorable development". I was delighted to hear my noble friend Lord Mackenzie and the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, bringing station sergeants to your Lordships' attention. These were very well respected officers, respected by those both below and well above their officer status. I remember the officer who occupied that rank when I did my first advanced traffic course. I support the proposal of reintroducing the rank.

Perhaps your Lordships would permit me to mention three new measures for consideration. First, a measure to authorise a constable to secure the hands of an arrested person by handcuffing, until such time as the constable has determined that the arrested person will not present a danger to himself or others, or seek to escape from lawful custody. Secondly, a measure to ensure that CSO and other support staff uniforms are distinctly different to police uniforms, so that a member of the public would not be under a misapprehension that a CSO or other was a police officer. Thirdly, a measure to extend to scope of those persons who may be represented by the Police Federation to other persons employed in the police service as the Secretary of State may determine, subject to the agreement of the Police Federation.

I have said enough. I wish the Bill well.

9.6 p.m.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, what a wonderful Bill! It reminds me of almost my first Christmas stocking, a rather darned, grey one, which had things in that you fiddled around with in the dark. I found that I did not like Brazil nuts, or oranges really, although they were rare.

I shall speak today about persecution; persecution and prejudice; the persecution of those in medical research and the persecution of those who hold their religion dear. I must be careful after the warning given by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, about lawyers and judges. I shall prefix my speech with the words, "without prejudice", should I fail to cause harm. The words, "without prejudice" do not carry any meaning unless they are written at the top of a letter that you write. So I will leave the medical side alone. I declare an interest as president of the Anglo-Swiss Society. I can tell your Lordships that Swiss companies are no longer investing in the United Kingdom because of fear, and they may well withdraw. That is enough of that, so I shall turn to religion.

I shall go hack to two great debates that were moved by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, one in October 1999, and the other in April 2003. On that day in 2003, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth was in charge of Prayers, and he used that classic prayer that says, "setting aside all private interests, prejudices and partial affections". I am going to set aside the first two, but I do have a partial affection for religion. Over my life, I have traded insults, sometimes traded punches, I have been in trade, and I have always held that religion is effectively the word.

My Latin taught me:

  • "Abstract nouns in 'io' call
  • Feminina one and all
  • Masculin can only be
  • things that you can touch or see".

But you cannot actually touch or see religion; it is all around. I remember almost crying as a small boy when I told my mother that I could not see God, and I asked what was wrong with my eyes. Then later I learnt; was God masculine, feminine or neuter? When your Lordships listen to the right reverend Prelates, they have got it wrong, because they are ambidextrous. Some of them say, "Our Father, who art in Heaven", and others say, "Our Father, which art in Heaven". They also mix up, "on Earth" and, "in Earth". I was always told that this was because of the original Latin, that it was neuter; and therefore I assumed that God was neuter, but he might be equally friendly to both male and female.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, with the greatest of respect, "which art in Heaven" is 16th-century English, and "who art" is 17th-century English. It is a small point, which a historian who loves the prayer book can make.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate, but on these temporal Benches I have certain advisors, such as the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, an ex-canon, who was kind enough to get me text and verse that I could say both in Latin and in English on these subjects.

Be that as it may, my concern is the impact upon religion. I do not believe that it should be in the Bill. I do not believe that we should touch the law of blasphemy, because, after all, even Jesus was accused by the Jewish Sanhedrin of blasphemy. Blasphemy is a dangerous phrase to use, but we are talking about peoples' beliefs and not necessarily treading on their toes.

In the world today, there are around 6.5 billion people and 3.76 billion are monotheist—they believe in one god. But even their ideas of that god may be different, but each of the monotheist religions also have problems with blasphemy. Blasphemy also applies in the other religions—in the Hindu religion, too, and there have been some interesting matters recently where the Hindu religion complained that bikinis in America were blasphemous because they had pictures of Hindu gods upon them. When we move down that road, it is very worrying.

I ask your Lordships, if you want a little further education, go into the Library and search the Internet, as I did an hour or so ago, and tap in, "religious jokes". I did not dare go to the next phase after the first two simple jokes, but there are Pope jokes, Christian jokes, Jewish jokes and Hindu jokes, all of which would be blasphemous under the Bill. They would be written down, but how do you persecute them?

Surprisingly enough, religion is about love. I look at the knowledge that I have gained in my trading career—when I chaired the Government's Middle East trade committee for 12 years and I was lectured by every branch of Islam; I was also asked if, together with the Crown Agents, I could build the royal Islamic railway between Madinah and Mecca to help develop trade; I followed the Jewish world into trying hard to get people to walk across the Allenby Bridge from the Arab world into Israel, which they did—and I have no fear of religion, only a love and respect for the knowledge that it brings.

We should recognise that most knowledge, most education and most training have passed through the religious world. It is not something to be afraid of and the best thing that we can possibly do is to encourage the Churches themselves to spread the word. If you sit down with a mullah, a Catholic, a Jew and a Protestant you will find no differences. Given I have sat in the catacombs in the Ukraine with a patriarch who had a rival patriarch put there by the KGB, or in Belarus or elsewhere, with holy men, I find that I do not know what holiness is. but those who enter the Church have a spirit.

In life, you always need three legs of equal length to be stable. I believe in Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Jesus was the spirit of god in Islam and the Koran, but there are things that disturb me, too. I say my prayers from time to time, but I have never done it in public, because I would be too embarrassed. But I am not embarrassed to see someone at the airport doing press-ups and working hard with his religion, regularly without fear or prejudice. All we are talking about is understanding. We should forget the law and promote understanding.

9.13 p.m.

Lord Chan

My Lords, it is a formidable task for me to follow the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, but I shall try. There are many aspects of the Bill that I support. Like other noble Lords, I shall confine my remarks to Schedule 10, because I shall approach the issue from the viewpoint of ethnic minority groups who have contacted me. Most of them are Christian and share their faith with their peers who belong to other faith groups or to none. Clause 124 relates to Schedule 10 of the Bill which seeks to replace Part 3 of the Public Order Act 1986, Section 64 dealing with racial hatred offences, with one to cover hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds. I support that aim and it should be extended to protect groups of people who currently are not protected by racial hatred offences, such as followers of faiths, notably Muslims, and those with no belief in religion.

But there are some concerns relating to Schedule 10 on which I want to focus. In this regard, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General for meeting me and my noble friend Lady Cox to listen to our concerns about incitement to hatred on grounds of a person's religion.

My first concern relates to responsible free speech. The Government say that this legislation will not affect legitimate criticism, missionary activity or jokes about religion. But nothing is written in the Bill to guarantee that. Such exemptions should be written into the Bill, otherwise, when it becomes law, conscientious believers are likely to interpret legitimate criticism, missionary activity or jokes about their religion as incitement to hatred against them. As a member of the Press Complaints Commission, over the past three years I have seen an increasing number of complaints concerning criticism of, and jokes about, religion.

The importance of ensuring responsible free speech in this legislation was clearly brought into focus in a letter that I received last week. It came from a minister of religion at a multicultural church in Rochdale. One in four of the congregation there is from a minority ethnic background. I quote from the letter: Our church is involved in distributing Christian literature to local households. Muslims in the area also send out Muslim literature. Although our literature is sensitively written for those from a Muslim background, two young policemen attempted to tell us it was a 'serious racial offence' to distribute it. They mentioned that the offence carried a seven year jail term. One Muslim (not the direct recipient of the literature) had complained to the police. It was clear that the officers felt under pressure to find a way of stopping us. Only after making an official complaint via my solicitors did the police back down and admit the matter was handled insensitively by the junior officers. If we had stopped distributing the literature, as the police seemed to want, our freedom of religious expression would have been taken away. If that can happen now, under the existing race laws, imagine what a new law on religion could do. Any law which specifically requires the police to consider the legitimacy of religious speech will cause trouble, and will set religious groups against one another". One letter of this nature provides some proof that the worries of numerous people who have written to noble Lords about Schedule 10 are not theoretical. While the rights of religious groups excluded from the existing laws should be safeguarded, it appears to me that Schedule 10 may he open to misinterpretation.

The noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General has explained the high threshold that would be required before he would consent to a prosecution for hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds, thereby ensuring that the number of cases of vexatious litigation would be very small or non-existent. But complaints to local police would, and could, trigger investigations that could create chaos in the running of religious organisations and, in particular—like the people who have written to me—for those accused under the new legislation who are involved in the running of churches. As in the case of the church in Rochdale that I quoted, legal advice will be needed and expense will be incurred in challenging complaints and bringing about police intervention.

Vexatious complaints would follow any attempt at distributing religious literature to households of another religion. That is the anxiety arising in those in ethnic minority churches who evangelise among people belonging to other faiths—for example, those in south Asian churches who distribute Christian literature to south Asian Muslims and Hindus, and those from Chinese churches who regularly visit non-Christian Chinese people. In that context, I declare that I am an elder of the Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church. There are 200 Chinese Christian churches in the UK.

I venture the view that measures are necessary to ensure that the freedom of speech that we so greatly cherish and value should be protected in the Bill in regard, especially, to Schedule 10.

Finally, I have another concern that received media coverage recently. Some 3,000 Christians in the UK have chosen to convert from Islam. Some are like Mr Nissar Hussain, a Christian from Bradford, featured in the Times in February, who has experienced three years of active harassment amounting to persecution from local Muslims in his neighbourhood. His car and his home have been repeatedly vandalised. Mr Hussain and his wife were originally Muslims. Perhaps the Minister would tell us whether the only way of protecting the Hussains would be through Schedule 10. In conclusion, Clause 124 and Schedule 10, on balance, as drafted, will create as many problems as they are expected to solve.

9.21 p.m.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, I will restrict my remarks to Schedule 10, as have many of your Lordships. This is a very serious Bill covering a lot of areas, but I too shall restrict my comments to the provisions on hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds. First, I thank the Government for having the courage to include this new offence in the Bill. I acknowledge all of the work that the Government have done to address this serious anomaly in our law, both in previous reports, including the University of Derby report, and in Select Committee and other reports.

I realise that many of your Lordships have spoken in opposition to these proposals on the basis that they could suppress our country's great history of freedom of speech, by gagging comedians or restricting legitimate criticism of a religion or particular community. In my opinion, it is none of the above. The provision is about protecting a community from the fascist and racist element of our society who are now targeting the Muslim community. Islamophobia has become a contemporary form of racism. The BNP has openly attacked the Muslim community on its website and racists have delivered leaflets, as in the famous case of Merton. It is naïve to suggest that this new offence is electioneering by the Government. It is a genuine attempt to protect British citizens who have been victims of this heinous crime.

This is not about protecting religious beliefs, as many of your Lordships have said; it is about protecting believers against hatred that often leads to violence. Many reports, including the latest by the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, state that there is an increase of violence against Muslims in Europe, particularly since 9/11.

In May 2002, a man was convicted of inciting religious hatred when distributing leaflets which stated that, "The Jewish people must die". At the time of the offences, the police reported attacks on synagogues. However, if such leaflets were directed at Muslims, the current incitement to racial hatred law would not afford them any protection.

There are decades of examples in which things that were once acceptable are now no longer tolerable. When I was a young boy, my uncle took me to a circus where animals performed and entertained. Last week, I took my granddaughter to the circus and not a single animal was used. It is now deemed cruel to use animals in the circus. In the 1960s and 1970s, when men praised women's bodies, it was a compliment to do so. Today it would be sexual harassment and offensive.

In the 1970s and 1980s it was fashionable to joke about the Irish and the Asians. Today it would be offensive and grotesque to use that type of language. In the 1980s and 1990s people openly talked about the gay community as "queers", but last weekend the Chief Constable of North Wales apologised for using such language. It proves that society has moved on. I hope that, when this Bill leaves your Lordships' House, inciting hatred against Muslims, Hindus and Christians will become not only unacceptable but also unlawful.

My noble friend Lord Alli spoke earlier with passion about the protection of Muslims and gay people. Let me assure him that I will seek protection for every gay and lesbian member of the community as much as I do for every Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist.

I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, is not in her place. I heard her speech from my office. I am very sorry that she used very strong language. She said something like, "When people do not feel comfortable in a country, they can leave". I take exception to that type of language. I do not think that that is incitement to hatred. However, people should not have to leave the country simply because they do not agree with laws or because they want to make our system more equal and fair. I am sorry that the noble Baroness is not here. I would have loved to hear her opinion on this issue.

For some reason there is a popular belief among some Christian groups that are campaigning vigorously against Schedule 10 that it could criminalise Christian preachers for expressing opinions such as that salvation can be found only through a relationship with Jesus Christ and that other religions do not lead to God. In my view that is neither offensive nor inciting hatred against any other. To me, that is a religious belief. As a Muslim we do not fear legitimate criticism of our faith or our beliefs. As the noble Lord, Lord Baker, mentioned in his speech, Islam has to accommodate itself to western liberal society. This is not about the accommodation of any religion, but about the acceptance, tolerance and understanding of all in our diverse society today.

Because of our ever increasing Islamophobia, young British Muslims are being isolated and disenfranchised. A small section of our youth even feel disaffected and that they are second class citizens. I accept that no one in this country is a second class citizen. More than that, no one should feel himself to be a second class citizen.

The proposal does not prevent or put a check on the ability to criticise or ridicule or to have fundamental disagreements with the precepts of any religion. We all know that any modern democracy deserves the right to have a robust and healthy debate. I believe that this legislation allows that.

The challenges to this House are these. Can we continue to allow the demonisation of a section of British society? Can we allow the modern form of racism which exists in the form of Islamophobia to continue? Can we allow the fascists to attack openly and to create hatred against the community of faith?

9.28 p.m.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, while I support most of this Bill, I, like so many other Members of your Lordships' House, strongly oppose those aspects relating to incitement to religious hatred. My primary concern is the threat to one of our most cherished freedoms, freedom of speech. There is a real danger that this legislation will inhibit criticism of religion, affirmation of religious belief and satirical or comic discussions, despite the Government's assurances to the opposite effect.

Like my noble friend Lord Chan, I am grateful for the time which the Attorney-General kindly gave to explain the Government's position. But in the real world, we are already witnessing symptoms of religious intolerance, intimidation, inhibition of expression, censorship and self-censorship. My examples relate to the Muslim community, so perhaps I may emphasise that I am not Islamophobic—rather the reverse. I have worked with Indonesia's former President Wahid to launch an interfaith organisation to promote post-conflict reconciliation. And just last month, I participated in a conference hosted by the Islamic State University in Jakarta to promote interfaith education.

My examples relate to Islam and to some members of the Muslim community because much of the pressure for this legislation has come from them. I understand their concerns, which were extremely well highlighted by the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Ahmed. I believe that the proposed legislation may have effects opposite to those intended, a point well made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Lord, Lord Baker.

Complaints have already been made to the police, instigated by members of the Muslim community, which illustrate problems which could escalate if this law is passed. These complaints reflect certain aspects of Islamic beliefs held passionately by many Muslims: for them, a Christian statement of belief in the divinity of Christ is seen as blasphemous and offensive. In traditional Islamic law, blasphemy is deemed such a serious offence that it may incur the death penalty. as do statements which may be deemed to be critical of Islam and the Prophet.

A number of serious commentators and academics have already been stigmatised as "Islamophobic" by inclusion in a list called the Islamophobes Awards of the Year. They include Polly Toynbee and my noble and right reverend friend Lord Carey of Clifton. Neither of those wrote or spoke irresponsibly or inaccurately, but both have been subjected to this hurtful labelling, with its potentially damaging and intimidating effects.

I also point to examples of attempts to stifle the freedom to preach, as illustrated in the following letter: For over 40 years, I have (with others) been preaching the Gospel on the Cornhill in Ipswich … About 18 months ago we were approached by Community Police Officers … my companion was called in to the Police Station and, although it was quickly accepted that he had no connection with an incident of alleged racial or religious prejudice which had been reported, he was nevertheless warned that preaching in the street was a delicate matter and if anything we said could be taken as racist the charge would be pursued". I also refer to a similar experience related by a former policeman in the north of England which has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Chan. I would like to give a little more detail and I quote from a report: At 7.30 p.m. on Saturday 22 June 2002 two Police Officers called at the home of the member of the church who had opened our Post Office box for the witness we give in our community under the name Rochdale Word of Life. The officers asked the householder's name and then pulled out a copy of the literature and said they needed to come in and talk about it. The Police Officers stated that this was designated a serious racial incident. They explained that new legislation allowed anybody, (citing a post man or any other member of the public) to claim that a crime was racist, even if the original victim did not make the claim. They mentioned that the offence carried a seven year prison sentence and that if an offence had been committed the church members' names involved would be on the Police records. On leaving they stated that the DCI would be in touch if they were not satisfied with the answers given". In a subsequent letter, Police Inspector Hall acknowledged: There is nothing to suggest any racist behaviour/actions associated with the church as they seek to promote the Christian religion". Despite this exoneration, responsible citizens had suffered a gratuitous ordeal, illustrating the general point that once a complaint is made, the police need to decide whether and how to act. The police cannot be experts on religion and they will find themselves in difficult situations, often subject to pressure to take action. If they feel obliged to respond, they may require entry into the offending person's home and/or office. They may remove papers, files and computers and subject that person to an array of highly traumatic procedures which harm their work and their reputation. The very thought of being subjected to such initial stages of police investigation is likely to inhibit freedom of expression.

Therefore, I believe that one of the most insidious dangers inherent in this legislation is self-censorship. Academics, journalists, writers, religious leaders—

Lord Vinson

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness will give way. The Minister is failing to listen to her speech and is just joking with her colleague. I do not think that that is apt at this moment.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I take objection to that comment. I was merely seeking advice from my noble and learned friend as to whether I should disclose that not only am I associated, as is the noble Lord, with a number of Christian organisations, but I have also, in the past, been a Shabbos-goy. Those factors were important, bearing in mind what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, was saying. I was listening to the noble Baroness. I have now made my disclosures and the whole House can share in them.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lord and to the Minister, because I was disconcerted by the fact that she did not seem to be listening to me. I am grateful for the explanation she has kindly given.

Perhaps I should repeat the sentence that one of the most insidious dangers inherent in this legislation is self-censorship. Academics, journalists, writers, religious leaders and others who wish to speak about religion may be inhibited and intimidated to such an extent that legitimate, critical discussion and debate may be stifled for fear that, however reasonable and important, it might give offence. As the proposed legislation stands, truth is no defence against a charge, nor is lack of intent to cause hatred.

One of the most salutary lessons to be learnt from a similar law in Australia is found in the widely cited Daniel Scot case. I have no time to go into the details, but I conclude by mentioning some of the possibly counterproductive effects of such legislation, highlighted by Amir Butler, who is executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee. In a statement called 'Why I've changed my mind on vilification laws', he claims: This legislation is undermining those religious freedoms it is intended to protect". For example, he is worried by a turning of the tables against Muslims, who themselves advocated the legislation and had used it against Daniel Scot. He describes how Muslims are now being monitored by Christians, presumably intent on demonstrating that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. He points out that this legislation has not helped relationships between those faith communities. Rather, it has increased tension.

Therefore, in seeking to amend this Bill, I will strongly support those who wish to delete the relevant clause and schedule, including the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, who is sadly prevented by illness from speaking today. If and only if that deletion is not upheld, I will consider supporting fall-back amendments designed to clarify provisions in the Bill for the protection of freedom of speech.

I finish with a statement of commitment to the principle of freedom of speech by Mr Amir Butler, the executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee: It is obvious that criticism of one's religion is likely to offend, but just as Muslims should be entitled to aggressively criticise other faiths, likewise those same faiths should be afforded the right to voice their concerns about Islam … Who, after all, would give credence to a religion that appears so fragile it can only exist if protected by a bodyguard of lawyers".

9.34 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, we now come to the concluding part of this important debate.

My noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond said that it would have been preferable to limit the Bill to setting up the Serious Organised Crime Agency, rather than tagging on a multitude of other measures. I agree with her. I counted no fewer than 22 other measures included in this Bill. Some, of course, are necessary, but others give an impression that the Home Office, in anticipation of an early election, has emptied its criminal justice tray and now has a serious Bill with a rag-bag of issues attached to it.

First, I thank the Minister for introducing and explaining the provisions of the Bill. Issues such as protesting in Parliament Square or searching someone on suspicion of possession of fireworks or power of arrest for dropping a sweet paper cannot be ignored. The danger is that time is not on our side, owing to the intervening general election. This would mean that we either throw out the baby with the bathwater or, alternatively, give serious consideration to setting up the crime agency in preference to other hasty measures. I give warning that this will happen if a wash-up session is found to be necessary. The Minister can therefore conclude that with proper scrutiny the main objective of setting up a dedicated SOCA will receive our support.

Serious crime is on the increase and we must remain one step ahead of organised criminals. It will require new powers and new methods to keep ahead of sophisticated criminals, who see no difference between local, national and international geographical boundaries. No longer can agencies work in isolation; we need to add an international dimension to our investigative work.

Events of the past few weeks have demonstrated how inadequate we are in dealing with serious crime. Let me cite three examples. First, the Chief Constable of the Nottinghamshire Police is on record as saying that he is unable to cope with the demands of investigating 30 murders in his area. Despite the increase in police numbers, it is still the case that paperwork takes much of his officers' time and he may have to invite other forces to take over some of his workload. I draw no political inference, but it is strange that our police forces are still without adequate resources.

We are well aware of the drug dealers and their impact on our community and, in particular, on our young people. Drug dependency results in a substantial number of crimes. Despite the appointment of a drugs tsar—and then sacking him—it is clear that we have made no dent in the drug barons.

The United Nations report makes chilling reading. The amount of opium cultivated in Afghanistan is likely to rise by more than 64 per cent. The expectations after the coalition action there have not materialised. It is a frightening situation that most of the hard drugs will end up on our shores.

Then there are the cases of people trafficking which are appearing at frequent intervals in our courts. The Home Office estimates that there are 6,000 people under the age of 18 in this country who have been trafficked through international borders. It is obvious that people trafficking is more rewarding economically than drugs. We need better intelligence and investigative methods to deal with such vile crimes.

The Bill, in effect, brings different agencies together to improve the results; the powers as well as the intelligence are shared. Some of the powers are not only intrusive but may be seen as oppressive. We need to look carefully at the matter of accountability when at least three agencies—the police, immigration and Customs and Excise—are brought together. We want to be absolutely sure that the Secretary of State is accountable but, more importantly, that there is parliamentary scrutiny of the powers vested in the new agency. It would be helpful if the Minister would confirm that not only the code of practice will be laid before Parliament but that there will be an affirmative procedure attached to it.

I was a member of the former Police Complaints Authority and welcome the valuable work being done by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I am well versed in investigating complaints against the police. This includes the role of the custody officers, which is crucial in matters of serious incidents, including deaths in custody.

During the previous Bills on immigration matters I failed on a number of occasions to bring complaints against immigration officers within the machinery of the IPCC. I did so because they have powers similar to those of a constable. I failed to convince the Minister then but I trust that she will not be surprised if I raise this matter again at a later date. SOCA, which will have enlarged powers encompassing intelligence, police and immigration, must be properly accountable to IPCC if it exceeds or misuses its powers. Can the Minister confirm that that is the intention of the Home Office?

This is even more important now that the Secretary of State is introducing measures to allow civilian support staff to have a role in custody suites. We shall certainly give it a cautious welcome but it is important to recognise that many serious complaints have been lodged about what happens in custody suites when there is no public presence. Again we need to look at the code of practice, powers and training of such staff. We must also ensure that complaints against civilians will be investigated by the IPCC.

This brings me to Part 3 of the Bill, which contains some breathtakingly sweeping extensions of police powers, both in relation to arrest and to the exercise of a wide range of other intrusive powers.

Let me spell this out. The current law governing arrest, with its distinction between arrestable and non-arrestable offences, reflects an attempt to strike a balance between two important considerations: first, the right of citizens not to be deprived of liberty for disproportionate reasons, and, secondly, the need to detain people in some circumstances to protect others and to investigate crimes effectively. The Bill sweeps away this careful balance by abolishing the distinction between arrestable and non-arrestable offences. This opens up the possibility of detaining people suspected of a wide range of minor offences.

The concept of the arrestable offence is also the basis for activating many of the police powers that have significant implications for human rights, such as detention for questioning, obtaining search warrants, taking intimate samples and delaying a suspect's right to obtain legal advice.

It is disturbing that such intrusive powers should become potentially much more widely available, particularly as there is a wide element of discretion involved in the original arrest decision. The test of "reasonable suspicion", on which arrest depends, can involve a considerable degree of personal judgment, and will continue to do so even if, as the Bill provides, a code of practice is produced on the use of arrest powers.

The extension of stop and search powers to include a power to stop and search for prohibited fireworks is not in itself an unreasonable provision. Like all extensions of such powers, however, it raises important questions about the potential misuse of stop and search, in particular its racially biased use, which has caused so much damage to relations between minority ethnic groups and the police.

It is disturbing that, since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report was published, the racial bias in the use of stop and search has become even more extreme. In 2003–04, black people were six and a half times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, while Asian people were twice as likely.

The same issue of potential racial bias arises in relation to the Bill's provision allowing the police to take an individual's photograph and fingerprints in a place other than a police station. Again, these are intrusive powers that, if carried out on the street, can involve an element of humiliation. Members of minority ethnic communities will need convincing that the police service, which has so far been unable to prevent its members applying stop and search powers in a racially skewed way, will be able to prevent these powers being applied in a similar manner.

It is impossible to overstate the impact of racial disproportion in the use of police powers as an alienating effect on young black and Asian people. If this sweeping extension of powers survives in the final form of the Bill, there must be at the very least a systematic ethnic monitoring of these powers' use.

The Bill's provision that, when juveniles breach anti-social behaviour orders, there should be a presumption in favour of reporting their names in the media, is wholly wrongly conceived. It is the reverse of the normal presumption in the case of juvenile offenders.

The important reason why the law has provided for over 70 years that juvenile offenders should not normally be named in the media is that such reporting can hinder their rehabilitation. Moreover, in some cases, publicity has the reverse effect from what was intended, so that the young people can revel in their notoriety and become determined to live up to the "troublemaker" label given to them by the media. This consideration applies just as strongly to a young person who has breached an ASBO as it does in other cases involving juvenile offenders. Will the Minister confirm that the Youth Justice Board has expressed opposition to this provision?

Any extension of police powers to detain citizens or intrude on their liberties should always be made with great care. We must ensure that these powers go no further than is genuinely necessary to protect the public from crime. This is at least the lesson we learnt from last week's marathon debate on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. Significant parts of the Bill as drafted do not maintain this careful balance.

Part 4 deals with public order and conduct in public places. The Bill's provision to create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred on the same basis as the existing offence of incitement to racial hatred has provided me with the largest mailbag apart from the Hunting Bill.

I made a note, as far as possible, to analyse the views of noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The breakdown of 39 speakers is as follows: eight supported the Government's provisions, 18 were against the provisions or expressed concern, and 13 have not expressed an opinion. I am sure it will be a relief if I promise not to add to this number.

We have on our Benches my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill. My association with him dates back to the early 1960s, when he was a member of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, so notably chaired by the late Lord Pitt of Hampstead. My noble friend was an adviser on equality legislation to the former Home Secretary, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. I value my noble friend's judgment and experience on race matters. We want to ensure that racial incitement, using religion as a pretext, should be covered by law. There is no dispute that our multi-religious communities have been victims of attacks and harassment, and it is on the increase.

In conclusion, I feel honoured and humbled that the Minister quoted my support on legislation to deal with incitement to religious hatred. That was some three years ago, and I am delighted that someone took the opportunity to read my past contributions. We are not disputing the need for such legislation. As my honourable friend David Heath explained in the other place, we want our laws to be as comprehensive as possible in bearing down on crimes of either racial or religious hatred. If the noble Lord, Lord Alli, were to bring forward an amendment on homophobic hatred, I am sure that he would find support on our Benches.

In essence, I stand by what I said in previous debates. I believe that the Government's proposal is flawed but not of bad intent. We want to support what the Government are doing but we want to find a way that will achieve that intent and not the opposite.

I read the Government's Explanatory Notes with great care. They state that legitimate discussion, criticism or expression of antipathy or dislike of particular religions or their followers will not be caught by the offence. I ask the Minister to note the word "legitimate". How can the Government explain what is illegitimate criticism of ideas and beliefs?

The diverse religious community has suffered much backlash in recent times. We will not be forgiven if the effect, and not the intent, of what is proposed encourages further intolerance and divisiveness.

9.53 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Wirral

My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate, with more than 40 speeches. I pay tribute to all noble Lords who have participated for their valuable contributions. We all await the Minister's response.

During the passage of the Bill, both here and in another place, the opposition parties, unusually but heart-warmingly, have spoken virtually as one. Recognising the need for the new agency that lies at the heart of the Bill, we have all done our best to give it a fair wind. As my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking put it, its time has come.

Criminals are now more sophisticated than ever, and the stakes are higher, as the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, pointed out. This demands a robust response. This united front across the Opposition and the Government Benches does, I hope, send a very clear message to those who would transgress.

None the less, in broadly welcoming the Bill on behalf of the Conservative Party, I must put down one or two markers that we regard as non-negotiable. No one will be surprised to hear that the principal one is in relation to the proposed new offence of doing anything that might stir up racial or religious hatred in anyone. I shall return to that issue.

Our other main concern, which has been shared by several noble Lords, is that the title of the Bill should be so misleading. Rather than confining itself to embodying a clearly focused and robust set of proposals which deal with serious organised crime, the Bill seems to bring together a random, gallimaufry of measures that look like the end of term sweepings from the Home Secretary's cupboard. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, referred to it as a portmanteau. I prefer the Anglo-Saxon word to the French word, but I recognise that it is a good description. He struck some terror in our hearts by promising more and more measures in Committee, which is possible under this enormously lengthy long title.

The noble Lord. Lord Dholakia, reminded us of the important point made by his noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond when she referred to the Bill as tagging on a whole multitude of other measures. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, referred to it as being really two separate Bills. My noble friend Lord Selsdon referred to it as his Christmas stocking.

What are we to make of this? It has been a tale of two debates. We have had an extensive debate about the proposed offence of inciting religious hatred; and another debate about the remainder of the Bill which includes the most important part of the Bill, but I shall come to that in a few moments.

At the start of the debate, my noble friend enumerated some of the more bizarre measures. I also have concerns about what has been left out of the Bill which I believe are missed opportunities to strengthen the fight against organised crime. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, argued persuasively in favour of one of the most important missed opportunities: that relating to intercept evidence. It would better enable charges to be brought against individuals if all intercept evidence were to be made admissible in court subject to certain caveats. I thought that he was very persuasive on that. Might it not also have been encouraging for Ministers to take this legislative opportunity to announce that they will introduce 24-hour fully manned surveillance and embarkation controls? That would deal a real body blow to terrorists and people smugglers. But that, sadly, is another missed opportunity.

To return to the Serious Organised Crime Agency, as has been pointed out by several noble Lords, organised crime predominates in those illegal activities which most disrupt and damage the fabric of our society. If we wish to protect our way of life we have to be ready and willing to take the hard-edged decisions necessary to take on the organised gangs and win. That is why the Conservative Party so strongly supports the creation of the new SOCA. There are, however, serious questions still to be resolved, not least its independence, as the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, pointed out; its need to work closely with local police forces, as the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, pointed out, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, with all her experience of police authorities, and others. To all those points must be added parliamentary scrutiny of SOCA, but they are practical matters rather than profound questions of principle. I believe that we all want to see SOCA established as soon as possible and we want to see it succeed in what is a vitally important task.

However, we heed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, with all his experience, when he points out the need to have true independence and not political control. I must say that he was very persuasive in his job application, in seeking to be part of the agency, which was echoed by the noble Viscount, Lord Slim. The agency has the potential to be highly successful, but we must get its powers and status and officers right, and working for SOCA must become a reasonably attractive proposition. The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, was right to remind us of the importance and independence of sworn police officers. Those are vital issues which we shall deal with in Committee.

Another aspect of the Bill which to many fair-minded people may seem disproportionate is the whole question of demonstrating in Parliament Square. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, said that it was virtually like saying, "Demonstrate anywhere but please not here". It is a sort of parliamentary form of nimby. The noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield, came forward with a whizzing idea, which he had discussed with the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, that there ought to be a sort of parking meter system for the right to demonstrate. The only problem with that is that most of those who want to demonstrate would love to be clamped. As that is the ultimate deterrent, I am not sure that the parking meter is a very good idea.

Lord Harris of Haringey

My Lords, surely the ultimate deterrent is to be towed away?

Lord Hunt of Wirral

My Lords, I believe that that applies to property not to people. At least, it does at the moment, although given this Government it may well apply to people too.

Other important points have been raised on the Scottish dimension by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose and the noble Lord. Lord Lyell. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, raised some very interesting issues on the question of regulation and overregulation. I am always reminded that one should keep asking questions of the Security Industry Authority, for example, about who is regulating the regulators. It is a valid question to raise.

The issue of animal rights activists formed a key part of the debate, and we heard important speeches from the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, and the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, about the vital contribution of animal research. My noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior came up with some impressive facts demonstrating the crucial nature of that research, reinforced by the authoritative speech of my noble friend Lord Selbourne and the practical experiences of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, as they demonstrated that it is just not possible to do without animal testing at this important time. It could be argued that the Bill does too little, too late, but it is none the less a welcome move in the right direction.

We now come to the part of the Bill that relates to religious hatred. This House is right to stand its ground on issues of fundamental importance to civil liberties in this country, and we do so again in respect of Schedule 10 to the Bill. The Government's stated objective of clamping down on religious hatred and those who propagate it admittedly has a meretricious appeal. I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, that we stand side by side with him in protecting all communities against extremists. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, made a very important speech, as did the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, in putting forward a strong case for Clause 124. Other noble Lords, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, wanted to send a clear and positive signal to the Muslim community.

I agree with noble Lords that incitement to hatred is indeed generally loathsome and particularly so when innate fears of other races or religions are being manipulated in trying to create a climate of insecurity, intimidation and violence. But as the right reverend Prelate reminded us, it is vitally important to keep a balance in this debate. I was struck by the fact that no one really answered the very persuasive speech made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who echoed a statement that he made in his article in the Times today, that these provisions are more likely to stir up discord than resolve it. As evidence of the existing protection, he quoted the conviction of Mark Norwood.

The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, raised serious technical problems with the proposed offence and the almost impossible task that it would present for the jury, particularly looking at Articles 9, 10(1), 10(2) and 17 of the Human Rights Act. My noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking reminded us of all the problems of obscene publications. But no one answered my noble and learned friend's points about the existing case in which there was a conviction.

We had a very important contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Lester. I would have liked to hear him speak much longer, because I thought he was expounding a very important point. But I how to the Whips all the time; having been one for so many years, I pay tribute to their handling of a very difficult task. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, was seeking to find a way through the problems. We await his narrow and carefully tailored amendments in Committee that will, no doubt, avoid what he described as "unintended adverse consequences".

Having looked at the proposed offence, I think that it is disproportionate and fundamentally counterproductive. If anything, it is likely to create more resentment and hatred in people's hearts, not less. In saying that, I find myself in a remarkably broad coalition that includes writers, comedians, all the main Opposition parties, many religious bodies and, of course, many speakers in this debate. It is utter sophistry for Ministers to argue that this legislation, once enacted, would not adversely affect freedom of speech and, in particular, freedom of comment and humour. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, of course it will.

As the noble Lord, Lord Chan, pointed out, there are no safeguards in the Bill. So, if it becomes law, then anyone will have committed an offence if they say, publish or proliferate anything that is, likely to be heard or seen by any person in whom it is likely to stir up racial or religious hatred". The very term "stir up" troubles me, as it does my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and the noble Lord, Lord Lester. Perhaps it is intended to be demotic—legalese supplanted by a more modern idiom that may be more readily understood. But it is dangerously vague. Does it imply the creation of hatred. the stimulation of latent hatred, merely the aggravation of existing hatred or all three? Such language, open as it is to interpretation and misinterpretation, is wholly inappropriate for an Act of Parliament. As the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, stressed, there is the danger of mischievous cases. With all her experience in fighting censorship in so many forms, she would know.

This clause also subtly shifts the burden of proof. There is no need to demonstrate intention on the part of the person accused. It seeks, as my noble friend Lord Baker put it, to criminalise a state of mind. All that has to be proved is that there was someone in the room, library, theatre or wherever, however unbalanced or irrational they may be, who might have these unpleasant sentiments stirred up in them. In effect, performers or orators would be blamed for the prejudices or moral deficiencies of their audiences. I regret to inform, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, that this is a lawyer's dream and a citizen's nightmare. If this measure becomes law—and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway listed all the procedural problems—it is axiomatic that people will feel constrained to err on the side of curbing their free expression.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, pointed out, the offence has only to be perceived, and so the police would soon be busy preparing submissions to be considered by the Attorney-General.

Salman Rushdie needs no one to lecture him about the possible consequences of causing offence on religious grounds. As he so sagely put it, this law would be interpreted by faith groups as, championing their right to be offended". Where there is offence—and can there be a more nebulous concept?—there is every chance of the law being triggered, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said about the effect of the Human Rights Act.

There is a better way. I found myself agreeing with almost every word said by my noble friend Lady Flather; in particular, with her vision of an inclusive Britain. I remember the early days of my political life when I was fighting for the right of Ugandan Asians to come and live in our communities: we have been grateful to them for the richness that they have supplied in our society. I have always believed in a multi-racial society, in an inclusive Britain. We have to speak to each other, understand each other and ensure that we can live together in harmony.

Before coming to the debate I attended the Commonwealth Day observance. We heard a number of religious leaders raise the question of education and understanding. I quote a young representative of the Hindu community, Bimal Patel: Conflict, physical or verbal, often starts when people of different beliefs do not listen to each other. They talk but there is no conversation". I regret that if this offence in its present form becomes law, the proposal will inflict a body blow on our right as citizens to have such conversations. We have now to decide whether we wish to live in a free society. It is no exaggeration to say that in confronting this piece of legislation we are having, in the words of Salman Rushdie, to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again". This is a battle that we must win.

10.12 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, this has been a most intriguing and worthwhile debate. I have listened with great care since 3.7 p.m. to all that has been said. I should formally make a declaration of interest, because like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, I am a member of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, the Thomas More Society and various other Christian and ecumenical inter-faith associations, not least for many years being a Shabbas goy in my local synagogue. So I come to the debate with a modicum of understanding of some of the issues.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his support and that of his party for the creation of the new agency. With some temerity I remind him and the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that the majority of us look forward to our Christmas stocking with a sense of delight and gratitude for the gifts that are about to be bestowed on us with such generosity. It is in that spirit that we should look at the Bill because that which is contained in it is all good.

During the debate we have discussed a number of issues. I shall try to deal with them in order, but I am conscious that we have had a seven-hour debate and slightly over 20 minutes is given to me for doing that. The issues include SOCA; the intimidation of persons connected with animal research; the incitement to religious hatred; trespass on designated sites; airguns; intercept evidence; the UN Convention against Corruption; the Serious Fraud Office; and Parliament Square—to mention only the main issues.

I turn to some of the technical issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. I will not be able to address each and every issue, but 1 shall deal with two of the main points. He mentioned the parliamentary scrutiny of the code of practice in Clause 11. Clause 11 provides for codes of practice to be laid before Parliament. They are not subject to any parliamentary procedure. That really mirrors the position with the codes of practice issued to chief officers under the provisions of the Police Reform Act 2002, and we intend to continue that format.

The noble Lord referred to key statistics on power of arrest. I gently suggest to him that the figures are not quite as sad as he would have us believe. There were 1.33 million arrests in 2003–04; but in 2003, 738,000 persons or vehicles were stopped, 15 per cent down from 2002–03. The 7 per cent of stops and searches in 2003–04 that resulted in arrests was down from 8.7 per cent the previous year.

One of the major issues raised by a number of noble Lords—including the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, my noble friend Lady Henig, the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, and the noble Viscount, Lord Slim—was SOCA's relationship with police forces. SOCA is about building and strengthening links with the police service, not weakening them. We fully realise that SOCA's success, for example in deterring and disrupting criminal gangs, depends on effective integration and co-operation between it and the police services. The regular exchange of information and intelligence between SOCA and local police forces in both directions will be an essential component of that success. The new agency will continue to work closely with the police service on intelligence and operations to ensure that there is an effective link between the agency's efforts at the national level and the work being done by police forces at the local level. We should remember that the majority of people migrating to the service will be those already in NCS and NCIS. We do not need to have any great degree of concern about pulling people out of local forces.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, questioned whether a designated person will be subject to the duties and obligations of a constable as well as the powers and privileges. Where any police powers are conferred on a member of SOCA staff, the exercise of any such powers will, subject to only very limited exceptions, be subject to the same limitations that apply to constables. For example, powers of arrest and search under PACE will need to be exercised in accordance with the relevant PACE codes of practice. The only exceptions might be, for example, where certain powers are currently exercisable only by ports police. In such circumstances, there may be an operational case for conferring such powers on designated SOCA staff, in which case, the normal limitations would be disapplied.

My noble friend Lord Mackenzie raised the issues of terms and conditions and membership of trades unions. We have made it clear that police officers transferring to SOCA will transfer on a no-detriment basis. I entirely understand that NCS officers will want to know what the SOCA terms and conditions will be, and we intend to provide a detailed package for negotiation with the unions by Easter. Approaches to dispute resolution will need to be part of those discussions. Schedule 2 amends Part 2 of the Police Reform Act 2002, to provide for SOCA to come within the remit of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

My noble friend Lord Harris asked about exchange of staff between the two services. The great majority of the staff will be employees of the agency, but there will be an opportunity for those outside to be seconded both ways. We could deal with that issue quite happily. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, together with the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, said, "What about the board? Why are we not having more people represented?". Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, asked that about police authorities too. We have made it clear that the board will comprise people with the right skills and experience. They will not be representatives of the stakeholders per se, although of course they may be. They will really be identified by virtue of the skills that they bring to the table. Needless to say, SOCA may consult those that it considers appropriate. It would be invidious to put in the Bill the whole list of all those whom it will consult, but personally I would be surprised if police authorities and other chief constables were not on that list.

The noble Lord, Lord Imbert, raised the question of the independence of SOCA. It is suggested that the Home Secretary could determine the operations of SOCA, given his power to appoint the director general. The Bill enshrines the operational independence of the director-general and I should also point out that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and his predecessors have always appointed the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, but it has never been suggested that that in any way impinges upon the operation of the Metropolitan Police service. The same would continue.

A number of noble Lords—the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, my noble friends Lady Henig, Lord Mackenzie and Lord. Harris of Haringey, the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia—all raised issues concerning staff custody officers. The provisions in the Bill relating to the appointment of custody officers seek to confer on chief officers the ability to appoint those members of the force—be it police officers or police staff—who are the most competent, skilled and able to take on and effectively discharge the role of custody officer.

Much of the debate has centred on whether only a police sergeant can undertake that role. A number of the respondents to our consultation on police powers recognise that a significant element of the job of a custody sergeant is process-driven and civilians could carry out those tests. Of course, I was interested in the comment made by my noble friend about the return of "Dixon of Dock Green" and we shall certainly bear that in mind.

There is also the recognition that the principle of civilian staff performing the role of custody officer was acceptable, provided that suitable training and selection processes were in place. That is an approach with which we very much agree and the pilots will, I hope, help us to do that. My noble friend Lord Mackenzie asked us to name names. I am happy to do that in relation to who supported these powers, because they have already been outed by my noble friend Hazel Blears in another place on 18 January. She said that, in consultation, the Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Avon and Somerset, Hertfordshire and Hampshire constabularies, as well as North Yorkshire and Surrey police, were all keen to support these changes. Surrey police is one of the forces which is undertaking a major workforce modernisation pilot, redesigning its basic command unit and considering different people doing different jobs in different places with different skills. So there are the names.

I shall quickly deal with the issue raised by my noble friend Lady Gibson, on behalf of another noble friend who is not able to be here, in relation to the work that is currently under way on the issue of paedophiles. Initially the Paedophile Online team, who work on child pornography on the Internet, will transfer into SOCA as part of NCS. We have yet to take a decision on the longer-term future of the work of that team, but we are clear that this is vital work that must continue.

Issues relating to Scotland were raised by my noble friend Lady Ramsay, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. My noble friend Lady Ramsay asked about SOCA officers operating in Scotland and I am happy to give the assurance that she seeks; namely, that designated SOCA officers operating in Scotland would be expected to have the necessary knowledge of and training in Scots criminal law and procedures. The Bill also, among other things, requires the Home Secretary to consult Scottish Ministers before setting the strategic priorities for SOCA and the agency must agree with Scottish Ministers as to the provision that its annual plan will make for Scotland. On the ground, SOCA will work in close partnership with the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency.

These arrangements have been agreed with Scottish Ministers and, furthermore, the Scottish Parliament has adopted a Sewel motion in respect of the Bill. A similar set of arrangements will apply in Northern Ireland, where SOCA will work closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

We turn next to the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Pendry, who asked about the impact of Clause 166 on football clubs in Scotland. Scottish law currently prevents football grounds from applying for licences to sell alcohol, therefore in-house stewards who undertake designated activities within football grounds will not be required to be licensed by the Security Industry Authority, once its remit is extended north of the Border, as provided for in the Bill. We are continuing to work with the Security Industry Authority and the football authorities to resolve the position in relation to football stewards in England and Wales. I hope that that gives my noble friend a modicum of satisfaction. In answer to the point raised by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, in relation to the SIA, it will not, as such, deal with the disciplinary matters of the pre-cognition agents.

I now turn to an issue where, most unusually, there seems to be total unanimity across the House—that is, in relation to the offence of intimidation of persons connected with animal research organisations. Since being a Minister, I have never had experience of total agreement, and so I wish to celebrate that fact.

My noble friend Lord Turnberg pointed out that the protection afforded to animal research organisations by the new offence in Clause 143 would not extend to grant-giving bodies which help to fund animal research organisations. We are aware of this lacuna and have received representations on the matter from a number of funding bodies. Therefore, I hope that I shall give a degree of pleasure to the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, my noble friends Lord Harris of Haringey and Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and my noble friend Lord Drayson when I say that, in the light of those representations and others, we intend to bring forward in Committee an amendment to extend the list of persons in subsection (2) of the clause to cover bodies which provide financial assistance to animal research organisations. So unanimity has its reward.

To take up another point raised by my noble friend Lord Drayson, the Home Office has, and is, providing funding to enable the police service to tackle animal rights extremists effectively. This is very much work in progress, and we are discussing policing requirements with the service. The Home Office has funded the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordinating Unit, which provides a key co-ordinating role between the industry and the police. Extra funding has been agreed for NETCU for the next financial year. That will provide extra staff and secure accommodation and is a 135 per cent increase over this year. I hope that noble Lords will understand why it would not be prudent to provide further details in a public forum.

I now turn, if I may, to the most difficult issue with which we have grappled today—an issue where there is not unanimity. I refer to concerns over the restriction of freedom of speech. Perhaps I may lay to rest straight away a suggestion—made not least by the noble Lord, Lord Baker—that this is some kind of pre-election gambit. If it is, it is one that has been ongoing for four or five years. There was debate in 1999 and the Bill in 2001. A Bill was then introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in 2002–03, and we are back here again. Therefore, this is a commitment that this Government have maintained over a long period of time. With the greatest respect to those who suspect otherwise, it has little, if anything, to do with any suggested election. I cannot say anything about that issue because none of us knows when the election will be called before 2006.

This matter has been debated and there has been much support for it. The import of that support comes from Churches and multi-faith groups, which are engaged in the issue of liberty. Others outwith this Chamber have supported these provisions and have done so very solidly. Voice has been given in this debate to that support by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who made it clear that it is a multi-faith issue and that it is not limited to any individual faith.

We heard very powerful speeches on this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, spoke with great passion, as did my noble friends Lord Alli and Lord Ahmed and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who has dealt with this matter time and time again, together with many others. Those voices were in support.

Equally cogently and trenchantly, we had speeches from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the noble lord, Lord Lester, the colourful and entertaining speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and my noble friend and short-term loyalist—I use his words, not mine—Lord Desai, all of which gave voice to passionate opposition to the Bill for fear that it will promote restriction of freedom of speech and defeat the very aims that it tries to promote.

I remind the House that similar fears were raised about incitement to racial hatred. The problems enumerated by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville—the problems about how the ECHR would bite and the Bill would operate and how we would get juries to understand this difficult issue—are very similar to debates about incitement to racial hatred. There were those who said that having such a law would simply stir up resentment and bile against those whom the law was intended to protect. Similar arguments were made about why members of the Jewish community, Sikhs and others should not be identified in a way thought to be inappropriate—and, indeed, why people of colour would not benefit from being singled out as different and deserving of some attention.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, mentioned Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which was used in the Norwood case, and said that it could provide the protection sought under Clause 122. I make it plain that it applies only where the words or behaviour are used or the material displayed within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress. It would not cover inflammatory statements made at meetings of extreme political or religious groups that stir up hatred, because those against whom the hatred is directed will not be present. That does not happen often, but when it does, it has a very damaging effect on our community, as it did in the northern towns in 2001. We cannot ignore the pain, fear and destruction that flowed from that.

Incitement to homophobic hatred was raised by my noble friend Lord Alli. The Government keep the criminal law under constant review and we are open to considering whether further extensions are needed. Other vulnerable groups are protected from violence and abuse under the criminal law, including the Protection from Harassment Act and the relevant provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. We would want carefully to consider any evidence that those provisions are inadequate and, if so, what form additional protection would best take. I very much welcome the commitment made by my noble friend Lord Ahmed that in relation to those rights, he stands with my noble friend Lord Alli.

We talked a little bit about closing the gap. The noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, raised some very important points. There is an issue about defence. It is a defence that a person who is not shown to have intended to stir up racial or religious hatred is not guilty of an offence if he or she did not know and had no reason to suspect that the offending material was threatening, abusive or insulting. A similar point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, about whether it was relevant for someone to be offended or insulted by a speech. It does not matter whether a Muslim feels insulted by an anti-Muslim speech; what matters is whether others feel stirred up to hate Muslims because of it. I remind the House that this is not an offence for Muslims. It is an offence for all religions. Christians, Hindus, Baha'is and other religions are equally covered by the offence.

In the one or two minutes left over by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I shall briefly deal with trespass on designated sites. The new offence of trespass on designated sites is a response to the Armstrong report of July 2003 and the Security Commission inquiry report of May 2004, which both supported the creation of such an offence. I am aware that concern has been expressed that those powers may be used to prevent access to large areas of the countryside, which is an issue that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and my noble friend Lady Gibson.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In making designations under those powers, the Secretary of State will be mindful of the need to provide a proportionate response to intrusions at sensitive sites. In particular, we will wish to discourage deliberate intrusions into Parliament and elsewhere.

My noble friend Lord Harris raised the issue of airguns. The Government are presently reviewing the law in that area. We will look closely at whatever further needs to be done in relation to that.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, raised the issue of information in relation to intercept material. Although we have had a number of discussions on that, intercept material is already being used. The main volume of intercept has always been and continues to be its use in assisting intelligence agencies and law enforcement to use other techniques to safeguard national security or to prevent and/or detect serious crime.

In 2003 alone, interception led to the seizure of 26 tonnes of illicit drugs, the seizure of 10 tonnes of tobacco, the detection of £390 million of financial crime and 1,680 arrests. A sample of those reviewed by the Government showed an impressive result in conviction rate that is comparable to any other country. So we are using that information in a dynamic way. I have a full answer which goes to several pages, but I do not think that I am entitled to prey on the time of the House.

My noble friend Lady Whitaker raised the issue of the UN Convention against Corruption and the Serious Fraud Office. First, my noble friend asked whether the provision of Chapter 5 of Part 2 would enable the Government to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption. I can assure her that the Bill will take us closer to ratification by addressing Article 55 of the convention, which relates to the forfeiture of instrumentalities of crime. But there are still certain other legislative requirements that remain to be completed. We will ratify the convention as soon as we are satisfied that the UK can comply with its obligations.

My noble friend also asked about the investigation of international corruption and fraud, and the consequences for the Serious Fraud Office of setting up SOCA. The SFO will continue to lead on the investigation of serious fraud. However, SOCA will continue to offer specialist support and technical assistance to individual SFO investigations, including tackling international corruption as the National Crime Squad and NCIS do at the moment.

Finally, I turn to parliament Square, because the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and a number of noble Lords, not least my noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield, raised that very issue. The precise area will be defined in secondary legislation. We intend to consult the Metropolitan Police so that it covers the area where demonstrations disrupt the work of Parliament, hinders access to the House and causes a security risk. In defining the designated area, we will consider carefully what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, as well as what my noble friend Lord Plant said, particularly as regards Trafalgar Square.

I was intrigued with the argument about clamping and meters. Of course, those matters will excite a great deal of care and attention when they come to be further considered.

The only remaining issue is whether these are matters that noble Lords can commend. We have had a very thorough debate of these issues. A huge amount of assent to the majority of the provisions has come out of it. We obviously look forward to the detailed scrutiny of the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before eleven o' clock.