Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill

Yesterday there was a press conference at which a cross-party representation of us politicians who are against the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill and a sprinkling of the famous names in like mode were gathered to launch our preferred amendment.

The Bill goes into its second reading today and the argument lies at present in the legislation having unintended consequences. Those unintended consequences being attacks on freedom of speech and the use of the legislation to attack religious opponents.

So, present amongst others were Rowan Atkinson and Ian McEwan. Fine words were spoken. Couldn’t have wished for better exponents of what is called the Lester Amendment. This changes the Bill to ‘incitement to religious hatred as a proxy for racial hatred’.

But today the Bill has its second reading. I am on the front bench as I will be one of two taking this Bill through Committee Stage next week. And just as with Violent Crime Reduction – I need to know all the arguments. So I take notes for hours – and hours.

It is a good debate – but whilst I think Labour know it’s poor legislation and doesn’t deliver the intentions behind it – I think they feel they must drive it through. No doubt they will be looking for a way out of this mess.

I am relieved for one hour to go and have some food – and I go to the Members Dining room. You are only meant to sit on your ‘traditional’ table – i.e. a particular table where members of your party always sit. At ‘our’ table are a group of Lib Dems who I join. Amongst them is John Hemming, one of our new MPs from Birmingham who has so recently received huge amounts of publicity for his private life. He had given a brilliant quote – “all my children are love children” – and handled it pretty well given the circumstances.