Along with several other voters from the constituency, I met with Paul Goggins MP last night to discuss the “Racial and Religious Hatred Bill”.
His manner was emollient, and I did indeed find him rather a slippery character to be honest. If you’re familiar with the Bill you’ll know that the notion of intent has been central to the discussions. When the minister was speaking to us, he was asserting that for an offence to be committed the provocation must be intended to be threatening, abusive or insulting and intended to stir up racial hatred. Which is all very well, but it is not what the Bill said originally. When I asked him if he was talking about the original Bill, the Lords Amendments, or what might be in the draft for the Third Reading, he just tried to glide past me leading me to lose my rag a little and accuse him of sophistry.
In all honesty, and although I was there to damn the Bill, it is impossible to have a discussion about it when it is such a moving target.
There was another revealing moment, when the minister observed that it was “only a small gap” in the law that the legislation was required to close, someone asked him to explain exactly what this gap was. He appeared to answer in that he opened his mouth and words came out but no explanation was forthcoming.
All in all, I was very disappointed but not surprised by the quality of argument from the Government. On the other hand I was pleasantly surprised by the eloquence and attention to detail evident in the contributions of the other voters who attended with me.
I will just sign off with a couple of other small observations.
We were told that religion is not defined in the law as this will be left to the courts to do. This is madness. Case law and precedence will ultimately make something ridiculous of this.
The Governments estimated costs of the Bill for the criminal justice system are £225,000 in the first year and £109,000 in subsequent years. Yeah right.
Let’s take those numbers for a walk. There are 43 police forces in England and Wales giving them a budget of £211.24 a month each once the system is up and running and assuming that the Crown Prosecution Service don’t spend any money at all. Does that sound feasible at all for support of a system where any decision to prosecute will be taken by the Attorney General personally?