Muslims leaders Friday expressed fears that Prime Minister, Tony Blair, will renege on his pledge to outlaw the incitement of religious hatred by sacrificing the clause to rush through the rest of the Serious Organised Crime Agency Bill ahead of the general election.
The Prime Minister had assured the Muslim community in an exclusive interview with Editor of The Muslim News, Ahmed J Versi, last month, that he would not drop the incitement to religious part of the Bill as the Government had done in December 2001, when they dropped incitement section (which was part of the anti-terror legislation) after opposition from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
Chair of the Muslim Council of Britain Media Committee, Inayat Bunglawala, warned that there could be serious implications for Labour at the election if the new law was dropped for a second time for the sake of political expediency.
“Many Muslims find it inexplicable that the Government can quite easily pass laws that has a negative impact on the Muslim community but drop a vital piece of legislation to put faith groups on a par with race groups,” Bunglawala told The Muslim News.
“Muslim voters would feel deeply disappointed after receiving several assurances to put the incitement of religious hatred on the statute books,” he said, warning it would be a “regrettable move” by Labour, who had used its support for the legislation to distinguish the Party from the opposition voiced by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
Financial Secretary, Stephen Timms, admitted to The Muslim News that the legislation was in “danger of being defeated ” in the House of Lords. He said it would be “very difficult” to force the legislation through by using the Parliamentary Act but he refused to say that the Government would not drop the religious hatred clause.
A Home Office spokesman told The Muslim News that there were “no plans to drop this part of the Bill”. The Prime Minister is committed to keep it as he was when he spoke to The Muslim News (last month), he said. But on whether the clause would be drop, the spokesman insisted that he did “not want to speculate on a hypothetical situation.”
Bunglawala said he did not think there was sufficient argument for Labour to try to blame other parties for losing the clause. “The Government have enacted legislation in defiance of opposition in the House of Lords,” he said, referring specifically to anti-terrorism legislations that has disproportionately targeted Muslims.
“Labour has within its power to ensure the law is passed,” the media chairman said. “It is not sufficient excuse if they try to blame the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats,” he warned.