I pretty much agreed with what the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said when he introduced this debate, although I am not entirely convinced that the amendment would be helpful. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, about the importance of freedom of speech, but in any society free speech must be responsible speech, too; responsibility must be given an equal weighting.
The difficulty with the amendment is that, given the way in which the offence is construed, it really should not be necessary. Requiring proof that there is intent to threaten is a pretty high threshold. There is the additional requirement that the Attorney-General gives consent, which is pretty much a back-stop provision, as we understand it. If we also have to have this in the Bill, we are at least in theory justifying permitting in certain circumstances speech that intends to threaten, because of the additional amendment that we have passed. This may have been a structural flaw in the Religious Offences Bill, which also had these two provisions, which seemed to be in a certain amount of tension.
I do rather agree with the question of where we stop if we go on from here. It has been said, for example, that there is no reference here to transsexuals or to age or whatever. That may be for another day. I hope that we can stop here. Given the state of the law elsewhere in this area, I understand why this offence has been introduced.
My other problem with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington—I do not have this problem at all with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas—is that anyone reading it would regard it as free speech about homosexuality. From a Christian perspective, we want the freedom to speak about marriage and the Christian understanding of marriage as the proper context for sexual relationships. We do not want a privileged part of the law that is seen to allow criticism of homosexual activity, as from a Christian perspective one would be equally critical of heterosexual activity outside marriage. The amendment's focus on sexual orientation will be read as particular permission of the freedom to criticise homosexual behaviour. From a Christian perspective, this freedom should be even-handed across different sexual orientations.
Although there might be a case for further elucidation in the Bill—the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, attempts to provide that, although leaving this to the Attorney-General may not be very satisfactory—if we take words for what they mean, the intent to stir up hatred is a pretty high bar, and with guidance issued to the police to clarify the offence, it should be enough in our society. My fear is that precisely by putting this sort of amendment into law, we almost draw attention again to the homosexual issue. That would have the quite unintentional effect of signalling out a group of people identified by their sexual orientation as different. That is the mistake. That is what leads to the bullying and the violence, which is a real problem, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said. It is because that is such a real problem that the amendment, although it means well and although I agree with the proposer and the way in which he introduced it, has a certain danger in it. If we are to have anything, I would prefer something along the lines of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas.