MPs to vote on free speech clause to ‘gay hatred’ law

The Government will attempt to overturn the free speech amendment to the ‘homophobic hatred’ offence in the Commons on Tuesday (6 May), official sources say.

The amendment was passed in the Lords on Monday 21 April. It makes clear that criticising homosexual practice or urging people to refrain from such conduct will not, in itself, be a crime.

If MPs vote to overturn the amendment, the Lords will get another chance to vote on the matter on Wednesday (7 May).

The amendment says, “In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.”

In recent years there have been a number of cases where overzealous police officers have unjustly interfered with the rights of people to express their religious beliefs on sexual ethics.

Speaking during the Lords debate in April, Lord Waddington said: “Some might say that the amendment is now so moderate in its terms that it merely states the obvious and is therefore unnecessary, but those who say that are, I fear, closing their eyes to what has really happened in recent years.”

“When it comes to language touching on matters of sexual orientation, there has already been a load of trouble with the police misapplying the existing Public Order Act. It is our plain duty to try to prevent this continuing to happen,” he added.

Lord Waddington

Lord Waddington tabled the free speech amendment in the Lords.

Lord Waddington was supported by Labour Peer, Lord Anderson of Swansea, who said: “I guess that many of us have been impressed by letters from individuals around the country who have been met with overzealous police officers who have caused great anxiety until eventually the individuals have been told that no prosecutions will follow.

“Surely, the aim of this quite modest amendment would be to deter such overzealous police officers from causing such anxiety. I believe that this amendment is indeed modest, and I will have no hesitation in supporting it.”

The Government minister, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said the amendment is not necessary: “I want to say at once that I understand the issues that the noble Lord and others have raised; it is described as a chilling effect, this concern that the passage of this legislation would unnecessarily inhibit the absolute right of freedom of speech.

“I certainly understand those concerns, but none the less the Government continue to believe strongly that the kind of clarification in the noble Lord’s amendment, which differs from his in Committee, is not necessary.”

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