Schedule 26 — Hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Solicitor General, Ministry of Justice 7:45 pm, 6th May 2008

Lords amendment No. 115 goes back to a proposal from my hon. Friend Mr. Heath, whom Ministers praised for his views on earlier parts of the Bill. I just want to add my tribute to his work on this part of it, because it was he, along with members of the Justice Committee, who spotted this gap in the law. When this provision was first proposed it was very apt, because it was at a time when the Government were in various ways losing vast amounts of data—data from Swansea, child benefit data, and so on—and it was clear that there was a pretty lackadaisical attitude within Government to holding the public's personal and private information.

I accept the Minister's point that the crime created by Lords amendment No. 115 is a pretty general one. It covers intentional and reckless behaviour, and repeated negligent activity—a controversial aspect of the crime that she did not refer to. Nevertheless, when penalties are imposed on people, it is important that they be put within the context of the criminal law, and the procedural protections of the criminal law are there to help them through any difficulties that the substance of the law creates.

In addition, the new crime itself did allow a number of defences, which were in the Lords' proposed new section 55A(2); unfortunately, I do not have time to explain the merits of those. Nevertheless, like Mr. Garnier, I am not going to advise my hon. Friends to vote against the Government's replacement provisions, which do go a long way toward our goal. They do have certain difficulties, however. Using civil penalties never strikes me as anything short of a contradiction: if something is a penalty, I do not see how it is "civil"; nevertheless, the intention is there. Because it is a new procedure, a procedural clause has to be included, and it is very difficult to see at this stage precisely how that would work. However, I do welcome the Government's willingness to move on this issue and I hope that these provisions have the desired effect.