New Clause 11 — Guidance on offences that involve hatred on grounds of sexual orientation

Part of Pension Credit and Personal Expense Allowance (Duty of Consultation and Review) – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 24th March 2009.

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Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire 5:00 pm, 24th March 2009

I am sure that that is right, and I strongly endorse what the hon. Gentleman says.

Someone else who has spoken out is the actor Rowan Atkinson, who just a few days ago addressed a Committee Room packed with Members of the House of Lords about the chilling effect of the law. He said that he did not think that he would be prosecuted because of jokes or drama about sexual orientation, but he also said:

"I dread something almost as bad—a culture of censoriousness, a questioning, negative and leaden attitude that is encouraged by legislation of this nature but is considerably and meaningfully alleviated by the free speech clause."

He said that it

"would provide succour and reassurance to those of us in the creative world."

My union, Unison, has sent out a briefing that says that the free speech clause is a "Tory wrecking amendment". Unison is entitled to that view, but I do not think that it is being fair. The majority of the sponsors of my amendment are not Tories—although I welcome support from everyone—and even Stonewall does not believe that it is a wrecking amendment.

Let me turn to new clause 11, because I said that I would explain why it is not up to the job of meaningfully protecting free speech. For a start, it focuses mainly on the decision to prosecute, but we are not concerned about prosecutions at this point. None of the cases that I listed earlier resulted in a prosecution. The liberties of those people were breached not by the Attorney-General authorising a prosecution, but by decisions earlier in the criminal justice process.

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