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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 January 2006, 10:54 GMT
New religious hate laws unveiled
Regents Park mosque
The home secretary wants to criminalise inciting religious hatred
Inciting religious hatred is to be made a criminal offence under plans unveiled by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

The government failed to get laws introducing the offence passed by Parliament in the wake of the US terror attacks in 2001.

In a speech in London, Mr Blunkett revived the proposals.

He said he was returning to the plans as there was a need to stop people being abused or targeted just because they held a particular religious faith.

Islamophobia fear

"Extending anti-discrimination law is only worthwhile if we actually change the processes on the ground," he said in a keynote speech to left-leaning think tank the Institute of Public Policy Research.

Earlier he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the legislation would not curb people's right to express their view of other people's religions.

"The issue is not whether you have an argument or discussion or whether you are criticising someone's religion. It's whether you incite hatred on the basis of it," he said.

There is already an offence of inciting racial hatred but this does not offer protection if someone is being targeted because of their religion.

We will get into a real muddle if we take religion as a ground for prosecution, rather than ethnic stereotyping
Lord Desai
Labour peer

The government is worried in particular about discrimination against Muslims.

The home secretary believes the law change would help tackle religious extremists who preach against other religions.

Shadow home secretary David Davis attacked the plans as "unworkable", adding that there were already laws which could be used more effectively.

And the Islamic Human Rights Commission raised concerns that religious minorities could find themselves the targets of prosecutions, under the plans, rather than enjoying extra protection from it.


Labour peer Lord Desai believes there is no need for the proposed measures.

He told Today: "We will get into a real muddle if we take religion as a ground for prosecution, rather than ethnic stereotyping.

Current race hate laws protect religious groups if they can also be identified as a distinct ethnic minority community - such as Jews or Sikhs.

But Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said the move "closes a loophole that has allowed inflammatory language to go un punished.

Mr Blunkett also signalled that immigrants who want to become British citizens would have to reach a minimum standard in English.

People taking part in the new citizenship tests - introduced last year - will have to achieve grade three in the English as Second Language test or its equivalent.

If the intention is to promote diversity, mutual co-existence and respect then I will back this
Shahid, London

The idea was to ensure that all British citizens had a good enough standard of English to enable them to work, the Home Office said.

Further details are on the proposed English language tests are set to be unveiled in the autumn, a Home Office spokeswoman added.

The anti-terror laws introduced in late 2001 after the World Trade Center attacks do include laws which mean courts can take religion, like race, as an aggravating factor when dealing with crimes of violence or intimidation.

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said at the time they would have backed fresh moves to introduce the law away from the pressures of emergency legislation.

Last month, the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia think tank warned that persistent and untackled Islamophobia in the UK could lead to "time-bombs" of backlash and bitterness.

It is not yet clear exactly when the proposals will go before Parliament.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford
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