'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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 5
film
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss