I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington; indeed, I am a signatory to it. I do not intend to say very much, because most of what I would have said has already been said.
I cannot understand, especially in the light of people's views, which have been expressed to all of us in many letters, why the Government will not agree to accept the amendment or some other amendment that safeguards freedom of speech, which is absolutely vital to our democracy. Without freedom of speech, we have no democracy. The more legislation of this sort you produce, the more concerned and confused people will be as to what they can say. I simply do not understand why the Government do not accept that. The Minister's reply to the debate on Second Reading was totally unsatisfactory. It did not properly explain—to me, anyway—why there should be a difference between racial and religious incitement and incitement on sexual orientation, in that two of them have the safeguard for free speech, but he will not accept a safeguard for the third, which we are discussing at present.
I want to make another point to the Government. This is the third set of clauses of this sort that we have. Where will it stop? Never, apparently, because all sorts of special pleading is going on. Indeed, on
"continue to consider this carefully".—[Hansard, 28/2/08; col. WA 131.]
Ominous words indeed. Exactly where is that special pleading going to stop?
People over the age of 65 are considered to be aged and decrepit. They cannot speak and should be sent back home, instead of talking in this House. The fact is that the aged are under attack. They are being told that they are no longer of any use to society, so they will not get operations under the health service. The latest that we have heard is that a lady of 59—by no means aged, but obviously some people thought that she was—was refused an operation. People are now beginning to attack old people because they are affecting the economy. They are drawing too much on the economy. Let us get rid of them at a certain age.
Exactly where are we going to stop with writing special cases into law about people against whom incitement should not be made? The answer is that we should all be equal before the law, and the law should be constructed in a way that incitement to hatred is an offence not against certain people but against everyone. I wish that the Government would understand that because, if they do not, and the decline of the right to free speech carries on, we are on the road to fascism. They really ought to know that.
My final point is that the clause refers not to homosexuality but to sexual orientation. It is quite possible that certain groups would want to incite hatred against heterosexuals. I am fed up with hearing people who dare simply to say something that might be a little derogatory, or perhaps to make a joke, about homosexuality, being described as homophobes. That is insulting and could in some contexts lead to violence. Another thing that we see regularly—I do not know whether it is an annual event—is the gay pride parade, which I and many others consider to be triumphalist and could be used to incite hatred against other sexualities. People may think that that is far-fetched, but these days nothing is far-fetched. This is why this House in particular must be careful to uphold our freedoms, particularly the freedom of speech, because, as I said at the beginning, once we lose that, we are lost for ever.