'Free speech' defeats incitement laws

Peers today defeated the Government's attempt to overturn a "free speech" defence to the law on homophobic hatred.







The move by Tory former Home Secretary Lord Waddington to uphold the provision was passed by 186 votes to 133, majority 53.

Lord Waddington defeated the Government twice in the Lords on his amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill in April and May 2008.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who was under pressure to turn the Bill into legislation before a voluntary "no strike" agreement with the Prison Officers' Association ended, eventually accepted the provision.

But the Government is attempting to use the Coroners and Justice Bill, which is in its committee stage in the House of Lords, to remove the clause from the statute book.

Lord Waddington's amendment provided a protection for "discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practice" to the law on incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

He told peers: "What is needed is what we have now got, a statutory provision that says that one mustn't assume from mere discussion or criticism of a sexual practice that there is an attempt to stir up hatred, one must look at the circumstances and the manner in which the words are spoken to see whether they were in fact threatening and driven by hate."



Tory and Liberal Democrat peers were given a free vote on the issue and the Government was more overwhelmingly defeated than last year. When the issue was first discussed, Lord Waddington's move was backed by 81 to 57 in a late-night vote. And when it was returned to the Lords by the Commons, voting was 178 to 164.

Crossbencher Lord Dear, a former chief constable and inspector of constabulary, a co-sponsor of the move to strike down the Government's plan, argued the "free speech" clause had helped the police.

He told peers: "Prior to this House approving the Waddington amendment a year ago, the police regularly received complaints from homosexual groups that exception was taken to remarks that homosexuality was deplored on religious grounds. They were forced to act."

"With the Waddington amendment the police are released from a virtual strait-jacket that was imposed on them before," he added.

"They can exercise common sense and good judgment on the day and they can police with a light touch."

The Bishop of Winchester, the Right Reverend Michael Scott-Joynt, said: "What is at stake is whether this House and this Parliament intends to outlaw, among not just Christians but others, open discussion and teaching of views that differ from the currently dominant political orthodoxy."

He said the current orthodoxy was that sexual orientation was "more akin to ethnicity than it is to religious belief".

Liberal Democrat Lord Lester of Herne Hill, supporting the Government's position, said that there were already "adequate safeguards".

He said that removing Lord Waddington's provision would not mean "jokes involving gay people being outlawed, it would not prevent expression of opposition to same-sex relationships where the discussion does not amount to threatening language with the intention of stirring up hate".

But he said he feared that if the provision was retained it could create a "legal loophole" that would allow extremists to stir up hatred.

Tory ex-Cabinet minister Lord Tebbit said: "There is no evidence that Lord Waddington's amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill has caused any outbreak of homophobic attacks or any of these other nonsenses mentioned. An outbreak of emotionalism is obscuring the facts."

Lord Thomas of Gresford, for Liberal Democrats, said his side would have a free vote but he would oppose Lord Waddington's amendment. Tory Lord Kingsland, for Tories, said that his side would also have a free vote but that he would support Lord Waddington.

Replying to the debate, justice minister Lord Bach said the Commons had previously repeatedly, by large majorities, rejected the Waddington "free speech" amendment.

He said that if it were removed, the Government would be issuing guidance to the police to clarify the nature of the offence of stirring up homophobic hatred.

"We have listened to the concerns about artistic expression, and the rights of people like comedians," he said.

"In formulating the offence, we had no intention of stifling debate about sexual orientation or interfering with the preaching of religious doctrine, or of making it more difficult to portray homosexual characters in comedy.

"The question before us today is whether we need the freedom of expression provision. We have always maintained we do not. It is unnecessary but there will be those who decide to take advantage of it, to the disadvantage of others."



A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "It is disappointing that the Lords have voted to retain the 'freedom of expression' section in relation to the offence of inciting hatred on grounds of sexual orientation.

"There is no doubt about the threshold of this offence. No 'freedom of expression' section is needed to explain it. The threshold is a high one. The offence only covers words or behaviour that is threatening and intended to stir up hatred.

"The 'freedom of expression' section only serves to make the offence less clear, and could be used by those attempting to justify stirring up hatred by a 'free speech' argument.

"The Government will seek to reverse this when the Bill returns to the Commons in the autumn."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding business based in ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales - Business Broker - Scotland

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As an award winning and leading...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales - Business Broker - North East Region

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As an award winning and leading...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas