Several members of the House of Lords have voiced serious concerns about the Government’s proposed ‘incitement to homophobic hatred’ offence.
The planned law is contained in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which has now received its Second Reading in the Lords.
The Bishop of Manchester told the House: “The churches are concerned that the offence should clearly exclude from its scope the expression of traditional Christian teaching about human sexuality, marriage and the family, and consequent criticism of particular forms of behaviour or lifestyle.
“Frankly, freedom to advance those convictions is part of life in a free society…”, he added.
Lord Waddington echoed the Bishop’s concerns: “The clause cries out for amendment to protect the right to free speech.”
“Right now the question is whether there is any need for the clause at all in light of the fact there are already laws to deal with those who are minded to stir up hatred against gays.”
He went on to raise concerns over the implementation of such a law: “A police officer, armed with the power to arrest without warrant, will in the first place be the judge of what has crossed the line from the abusive to the threatening.
“There is nothing in recent history to persuade me that the police will be sensitive to the difference between robust criticism and incitement to hatred.”
Former Labour whip, Lord Stoddard of Swindon, also expressed concern at the absence of a free speech protection from the proposed law, and criticised the “undue influence” that Stonewall, the main proponent of the offence, appeared to have on Government policy.
He pointed out that Stonewall “does not have the unqualified support of the gay community”, citing the examples of Matthew Parris and Peter Tatchell, both of whom oppose the law.
He accused the group of “demanding not equality, which we all agree with, but privilege.”