Schedule 26 — Hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 5:30 pm, 6th May 2008

I understand what the right hon. Lady says, but I am not one who thinks that putting things that are otiose on to the face of a Bill necessarily adds to its clarity. There are better ways of achieving the same end, and I hope that she will agree that what I am about to suggest in that regard will do the job. We all want people to be reassured, and the offence must be as clear as it can be. In addition, we all want the people obliged to investigate incidents and to decide whether they should be prosecuted to be absolutely clear about where the threshold is and what behaviour is caught by the offence.

In other words, I do not believe that the safeguards proposed in the amendments would help the police and those others at the lower levels to whom Miss Widdecombe referred to interpret and use the offence appropriately. In fact, they add cause for confusion about an offence that we have from the beginning tried to make as clear as possible, and that is, as currently drafted, very clear.

We have looked carefully at some of the examples cited in which the police have allegedly been over-zealous in investigating incidents; Andrew Selous and Miss Widdecombe referred to some of them. I think that we would all agree that those cases involve a delicate balance, and the police need to act sensitively and proportionately. That is a matter for training, guidance and awareness, rather than a matter of putting words in the Bill that do not make the offence clearer.