Schedule 26 — Hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice) 7:30 pm, 6th May 2008

In the second half of the second sentence of my speech, Madam Deputy Speaker, I was going to deal with the alleged merits of this new set of provisions, but I think it fair to make the points I have just made, because doing so puts those provisions into context.

These provisions bear all the hallmarks of a civil procedure, but with criminal consequences. Once again, we see the Government taking a civil route to a criminal law end, and although there is an appeal to the tribunal at first instance, it is the commissioner who is the policeman, the prosecutor, the jury and the judge. It would be interesting—if we had time—to hear from the Minister to what standard of proof the commissioner has to be satisfied that there has been a contravention. What level, or levels, of penalty are we not being told about? Although the Minister has briefly given us some idea and has referred to the commissioner's expertise, if we look at proposed new section 55C(1), we have absolutely no idea what the levels of fines—let us not beat about the bush—will be and in what circumstances they will be enforceable under the county court jurisdiction, and under the High Court jurisdiction. Why are the regulations referred to in proposed new section 55B(6) not necessarily published, even if only in draft form, so that Parliament can see what is proposed? I know that the commissioner must lay guidance; why is the Secretary of State not required to lay guidance? He is the person accountable to Parliament, not the commissioner.

This is a hopeless way to deal with such legislation. There is not time, I am afraid, to fillet this new proposal in a way that Parliament deserves, and although I am not going to advise my hon. and right hon. Friends to disagree with the Government's disagreement with the Lords, I must most trenchantly register my utter dissatisfaction at the procedure that we are having to deal with in respect of the making of the criminal law.