Schedule 26 — Hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Shadow Secretary of State (Justice) 5:45 pm, 6th May 2008

I am grateful to the Minister for how she has explained the Government's position on the Lords amendment. However, I am afraid that I cannot agree with her approach. Let me try to explain why.

Although this is a free-vote matter for my party, we on the Conservative Front Bench support the principle of this legislation. I strongly support it; we all agree that gay people can live in fear and are subject to violent attacks, and that hateful lyrics broadcast against them, for example, have no place in a civilised society. We all agree that there is a legitimate case for making sure that gay people are protected from such activities. Our difficulty has been to make sure that, in framing a criminal law, a proper balance is achieved between the desirability of outlawing such acts and ensuring that what Stonewall, whose work on promoting this legislation I commend, has described as "temperate comment" is not outlawed.

Although it is true that the clause is rightly limited to intentional acts and threatening words and that merely abusive or insulting words are excluded, the real concern is that there have been many examples of clumsy policing and of arrests in relation to other, similar legislation. That gives rise to greater concern in this House that this legislation may be abused. A related concern is that there may be a chilling effect and that people may feel constrained about what they say.