Incitement to religious hatred

10.15 on a Wednesday morning is the Lib Dem Home Affairs Team meeting. We all gather – Mark Oaten (Shadow Home Secretary), Alistair Carmichael (his deputy), me – (police, crime and disorder), the Lords Home Affairs team, staff and – today- Lord Lester as we are discussing the Equality Commission Bill going through the Lords that day.

I am still not one hundred percent convinced that we should have a single Commission that bungs together race, gender and disability into one body – but before we have a Single Equality Act. To me it is cart before horse – and smacks more of the Government’s desire to lessen the ability of the three current Commissions to lobby them successfully.

The other main legislation at the moment is the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill. The idea is to tackle discrimination against Muslims in particular, but its provisions are likely to cause them more harm than good and stir up a whole raft of other evils. The increasing emphasis on bringing religion in line with race in terms of legislation is dangerous.

When I was Chairing the Stop and Search Implementation Panel of the Met Police Authority (until a few weeks ago) it was beginning to creep into that agenda too. There was a move to suggest that because of the increasing number of stops on Muslims (or more accurately those who looked ‘Muslim’) the police should introduce religious monitoring.

The initial reaction of the Met and the Labour members of the MPA was to jump to and deliver this to rectify the blatant discrimination that was being perpetrated against Muslims. But I fought it (amongst others) as the wrong solution to the problem – and moreover a political solution prior to the General Election.

I had the Home Office in to give some of their evidence on the research they had been doing into this area. It was very interesting – as Muslims in the North of England were dead against it – as opposed to Muslims in London. Many of the religious groups were dead against it – unsurprisingly. Jews and Sikhs who have both been persecuted through the ages for their religious beliefs made it quite clear that they did not wish to have to reveal their religion to anyone.

Anyway – the point I am making is that these are tinderbox times – and all of us in the political maelstrom had better be careful that we do not create a monster that destroys us. I know – dramatic language – but I am extremely concerned about religious freedoms, rights and free speech – which I regard as the tenets of a civilised and peaceful society.

Later at the Parliamentary Party meeting we have the hustings for Chair of the Parliamentary Party. It is the first time this has been contested – as in previous years there has only been one candidate. The result is the challenger (Paul Holmes) wins, defeating the incumbent (Matthew Taylor).