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 5:30 pm on 24th March 2009.

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Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald 5:30 pm, 24th March 2009

I do not agree that that is the only way forward, because that addresses one law. Today, we have to address this law. The chief constable of North Wales, who can be a little zealous sometimes—that is why I am pleased that he is now in charge of hunting—defended six police officers arresting a man who had used a rather vulgar term for a lesbian to a third party. That is the state that we live in. We do not live in a moderate state that is restrained in its application of the law.

Out there in the country, in case Ministers are completely oblivious to it, there is a swelling unease about freedom of speech. Certain sections of the community believe that they would have to overcome a higher threshold before they would be protected from the sorts of allegations that are frequently made. The religious hatred and sexual orientation laws, and myriad other laws that seek to bring equality, have an oppressive heart. The face may be liberalism, but the heart is oppression. We need amendment 1 to ensure that the Bill contains the clearest possible explanation—hammered home and spelled out—so that there can be no doubt in the mind of anyone responsible for interpreting and implementing the law that the ordinary exercise of free speech is not caught by it.

We have free speech in this House that is not commonly enjoyed by many of the people on whom we pass laws. We enjoy a protected position, but people out there—teachers in faith schools, priests in pulpits, ordinary people expressing a particular opinion—now feel afraid to speak freely. There can be no possible objection to Parliament stressing that free speech is not at risk from this Bill. That is all that amendment 1 seeks to do and I commend it to the House.

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