Several peers have expressed strong support for an amendment to protect free speech in the proposed ‘incitement to homophobic hatred’ offence.
Although the issue was not pushed to a vote, speakers used a debate on the amendment to highlight concerns about how the law would work in practice, and warned that it could have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech.
Introducing the amendment Lord Waddington insisted that the wording of the Bill must ensure that “a Christian expressing strong views will not be caught” by the offence.
Co-signatory Lord Clarke of Hampstead urged the Government to ensure that the law was clear on the need to protect free speech.
He said: “There is quite a lot of evidence that the public, the police and, on occasions, some courts failed to take sufficient account of the protection of freedom of expression in cases that involve criticism of the practice of homosexuality.”
However, Justice Minister Lord Hunt of Kings Heath told the Lords that the Government is satisfied that the proposed offence strikes the right balance between protecting free speech and outlawing the incitement of homophobic hatred.
The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which contains the proposed offence, is expected to go to Report Stage before the end of March.