07/07/2004

Incitement to religious hatred laws promised 'soon'

An offence of incitement to religious hatred will be introduced "as soon as possible" to help tackle extremists who used religion to stir up hatred in society, Home Secretary David Blunkett said today.

The Home Secretary told the IPPR's 'New challenges for race equality and community cohesion in the 21st century' event at The Chartered Insurance Institute today that extremists did not represent the communities they claimed to speak for and sidelining them was "an essential part of fighting racism in modern Britain".

Mr Blunkett said: "We have to face down extremism and racism in all its forms if we are to promote a positive, inclusive sense of British identity and citizenship which newcomers feel welcome to commit to and which established communities feel proud of be part of.

"The government has already introduced tougher penalties for racial and religious hate crime. We tried unsuccessfully to introduce an offence of incitement to religious hatred in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks but I hope we will now have the parliamentary backing to put this in law.

"I am very clear that some of the noisiest and most high profile political and religious extremists in this country have no mandate to speak for the communities they claim to represent and evoke a reaction which plays into the hands of racists. There is a responsibility on all of us to challenge the myths and stereotypes they use which turn fear and insecurity into resentment and prejudice."

Mr Blunkett also said that he would lay an order today to bring in new requirements for testing the English language of people applying for British citizenship. In the autumn, the government said that it will bring in new English language courses which will use teaching materials based on citizenship.

The Home Office published a consultation pamphlet Strength in Diversity last month to begin the debate ahead of the government's race strategy which will be published in the autumn.

The four central themes of the Strength in Diversity paper are: promoting inclusive notions of citizenship, identity and belonging; eradicating racism and extremism; tackling inequalities and opening opportunities for all, and building cohesive communities.

(gmcg)

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