Here is a copy of a letter received from our local MP, Dr Liam Fox, Shadow Foreign Secretary and Conservative Party Chairman. I received it on paper and my CSM recieved it by email, so this is a copy of his emailed version:
Thank you very much for your letter about the Government’s plans for a new offence of ‘incitement to religious hatred’. As you may know, the Labour Government have twice before tried to legislate for an offence of incitement to religious hatred: in the immediate aftermath of 11th September 2001, and again in the recent Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill.
On both occasions, the plans met with strong opposition both in and outside Parliament, with the result that the proposal had to be dropped. The Government have yet again brought the measure back, now in the form of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. The Bill recently received its Second Reading in the House of Commons. The Conservative Party voted against the Bill.
Unfortunately, however, the Bill managed to pass Second Reading. I have argued all along that this proposal will threaten freedom of speech without doing anything to protect religious groups from harassment or violence. In my view, freedom of speech is one of the great virtues and strengths of British society. Unlike race, religion is a matter of choice. That is why it is entirely proper such matters are debated and contested.
The Attorney General has himself admitted that the proposed law raises expectations amongst some religious groups of protection from criticism that cannot properly be satisfied.
Moreover, I continue to believe that the proposed offence is almost entirely unnecessary. Words intended to provoke violence, or to cause alarm, distress, or harassment, are all caught by existing laws. This legislation therefore plans to sacrifice freedom of speech for little or no gain.
For these reasons, my Conservative colleagues and I will continue to oppose this measure.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to write to me. I will certainly take your comments on board when considering these issues in the future.
Dr Liam Fox MP Shadow Foreign Secretary