Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill

Arrive City Hall to take part in ceremonious signing of Book of Condolences following last Thursday’s terrorist attack on London.

A rabbi comes up to me and started to harangue me suggesting that I (presumably as a Liberal Democrat) should go to Jenny Tonge and ask her to make the same statement she made about understanding suicide bombers now to our home-grown suicide bombers.

I understand the point he was making – but felt it totally inappropriate moment to raise it. I generally end up with both Israeli and Palestinian being cross with me whatever I say in such cases – as I passionately believe that only a solution which gives enough of what each side needs (a two-state or an equally shared one-state) will ever work and cannot bear the repeated calls on history which can stretch back centuries with the old rights and wrongs paraded endlessly – getting nowhere. Only moving forward together will ever create peace.

OK – rant over.

We go upstairs to the chamber. One by one various people come forward to sign – Bob Kiley (Commissioner of Transport), Tony McNulty (Minister), Trevor Phillips (Chair of the CRE), Peter Hendy (Director Surface Transport, TfL), Tim O’Toole (Managing Director of Surface Transport TfL) and on.

It was very moving – very silent – very appropriate.

When the main group had finished, everyone else lines up to sign. I don’t know what others wrote – I wrote something like ‘Love is stronger than hate. Love will triumph’.

Then off to Westminster for the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill. I sit through the debate as having taken this bill through committee stage with my colleague from the Home Affairs team, Alistair Carmichael, I want to support him and also speak if I can get called.

Prior to the debate – there is a statement by the Prime Minister. I don’t agree with him on many issues – but he is head and shoulders above the others in Labour in performance terms. Maybe it goes with the territory. For sure – Gordon doesn’t have it in that same way. The statement updates us on the situation with regard to the attacks and progress made. There is this time more of a debate and Charles K does dare to raise the issue of Iraq – which all steered clear of last time which Charles Clarke made his emergency statement on the day of the attack.

At 4.30pm-ish we begin the debate on religious hatred. During the debate I pop out to the lobby where I have received a green card from – slipped into me in the chamber. A green card is filled in with the details of someone (a constituent usually) who has come to Central Lobby to lobby their MP. By the time I can get out – about 40 minutes after receiving the card – the person is nowhere to be found. However, I do bump into Pastor Nims (who leads the Peace Alliance) and he tells me that about 3-4,000 black religious leaders are outside Parliament to lobby against the Labour Government’s Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill.

Hurrah I say – about time everyone realised that the people that Labour set out to help by trying to stop incitement to hatred on religious grounds – will be exactly those who find they cannot practise their religion freely any longer.

Many of the arguments during the debate were repeats of, by now, well-rehearsed points. But I felt moved to intervene on Chris Bryant who was making a point (I think) about the difference between the belief and the believer – because Labour believe it is possible to hate a religion without hating the person who believes in that religion. Chris kindly lets me intervene to make the point that if you have love in your heart – then you may well be able to hate the belief not the believer – but if you have hatred in your heart – then the niceties of that distinction fly out the window. Basically – thugs and creeps likely to have religious hatred stirred up in them won’t give a toss about that very academic difference!

The debate is scheduled to finish at 10.00pm sharp – at which point Mr Speaker rises to his feet to call the vote. I am called finally at 9.58pm.

‘I’ll be brief, Mr Speaker’ makes the House laugh – sadly removing precious seconds. With little time – I make the point about the unintended consequences of this bill rebounding on those it sought to help – hence the presence of the thousands outside fearing loss of their freedom to practise their religion freely and simply state that legislation can’t stop hatred.

The LibDem amendment (supported by the Tories) fell – and so I voted against the bill – which I think will be a disaster.