Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, will the Minister be speaking to her amendment? It is difficult for those of us who are new to this debate to know what everyone is discussing when she has not yet spoken to her amendment. Presumably she will, and will wind up quite separately.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Yes, my Lords, I will.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, it may be convenient for me to speak now. I want to express my concern about Amendments Nos. 201A and 201B and Clause 128 in so far as they refer to sexual orientation. I know how strongly the noble Lord, Lord Alli, feels about these matters and how he is absolutely sure that it is necessary to make this change in the law to see that injustice is not done and that gay people are properly protected. However, I think that he appreciates that there is another side to the argument that should be expressed.

Many people who harbour no ill will to people of homosexual orientation still feel very strongly that homosexual acts are wrong. That is the view that is commonly held by churchmen, who rely on the biblical prohibition of homosexual practice. Not surprisingly, some may be compelled from time to time to speak out affirming their belief. On the other hand, many homosexual rights extremists view any disapproval of homosexual behaviour as hostility to themselves as

5 Nov 2003 : Column 809

individuals and feel entitled to react to such hostility with violence. I drew to the attention of the House some months ago a newspaper report of a vicar in Southampton who stood on a soapbox and expressed his views about homosexual practice. As he made his speech, he was pelted with missiles thrown by people in the vicinity. The police came on the scene and arrested not the men who were committing acts of violence, but the vicar. Some people felt that that was a bizarre result. There is some reason to think that, if the government amendment, in particular, became law, such occurrences would occur more frequently.

I say that because of the interaction between the new clause and Section 154 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. That Act created a new Section 4A(1) in the Public Order Act 1986, which says:

    "A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he uses threatening, abusive or insulting words . . . thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress".

If the new clause became law, a gay rights activist could argue all too easily that words of hostility towards homosexual acts were words of hostility towards those of homosexual orientation who heard or read them and that the words were insulting and, therefore, amounted to the offence of harassment.

In other words, the new clause, although purporting to be about increases in sentences, enlarges what can be said to be harassment. An imam expressing disapproval of homosexuality in a local paper could find himself confronted by activists claiming that he had caused distress to local homosexuals by his hostility to their sexual orientation. Activists could demand the prosecution of a clergyman preaching a sermon that referred to the biblical prohibition on homosexual practice.

That is why I do not like the clause. I fear that it may be used by homosexual rights extremists to attack free speech and attack all those who dare to criticise them, not for what they are but for the way in which they conduct themselves and the way in which they seek to influence others. That would be unfortunate.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I agree strongly with the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross. It would be mistaken to list categories of groups of people to whom the idea of aggravation can apply without leaving flexibility for other groups that we may not yet have thought of who may be victims of the same abuse or violence.

I have in mind particularly the kind of violence that is frequently inflicted on people who are, in a broad sense, members of the group of users of animals in laboratories. Often, that is used as an excuse for a personal attack on somebody who works in a laboratory or his relatives. That is just one example of the kind of area in which the concept of aggravation may be necessary. It would be rash to close the list of such groups, even with the extension now before us. Flexibility is extremely important.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I could not agree less with the views just expressed by the noble

5 Nov 2003 : Column 810

Lord, Lord Waddington. With regard to the amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dholakia, I shall talk particularly about Northern Ireland, in order to ensure that that subject is placed on the record.

I speak first to Amendment No. 201. I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State announce that the new legislation to deal with sectarian and racially motivated crime in Northern Ireland would be extended to include crimes motivated by hatred of sexual orientation. That step is extremely welcome. Undoubtedly, sectarian crime is the most prevalent form of hate crime in Northern Ireland, but other forms of hate crime are on the increase. The police started collecting figures on racially motivated crime in Northern Ireland in 1996. Then, 26 such crimes were reported; by April this year, the figure was up to 226, an increase of 769 per cent. Those figures are taken from the Chief Constable's report and are available on the website of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

In a BBC Online report on 27th June, the Equality Commission was reported as stating that racist attacks in Northern Ireland were running at a higher level than in England and Wales. My colleagues and I have heard of some hideous racially motivated crimes in Northern Ireland. Families have been intimidated out of their home; properties, such as the Indian community centre in Belfast, have been continually attacked; and there have many vicious attacks on individuals. One Chinese gentleman was beaten so badly during a mugging that he needed 195 stitches: he was carrying only 2 or 3 at the time.

Racial hatred is as important a matter to deal with as sectarian hatred, but so are other forms of hate-related crime. The Government have taken the welcome step of proposing to extend their hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland to include crimes motivated by hatred of sexual orientation. I am delighted about that, because reporting of hate crimes can be a complicated and distressing business. The Government have consulted on hate crime, but, until now, that process has not included dealing with homophobic crime. One incident reported to me involved a young man who went to a police station in Northern Ireland to report a homophobic crime. He was given the wrong form to fill in because the police had no idea how to deal with the incident. The collecting and interpreting of hate crime data will be essential, if we are to have proper reporting of such offences.

Can the Minister assure me that she will examine the wording of the forms and the procedure for reporting such crimes? Furthermore, will she ensure that the procedure is simple, clear and unequivocal and that the message about such crime is clearly understood? Will she further indicate that crimes of that nature in Northern Ireland will be treated with the utmost seriousness and severity of punishment? Finally, will she undertake to consider the possibility of installing a free phone number for people to report all incidents of hate crime?

5 Nov 2003 : Column 811

Amendment No. 201B is about treating hate crime as an aggravating factor that increases the seriousness of the offence. It follows the Minister's amendment on stating in open court that the offence was so aggravated. The wording is similar, so I shall not repeat it. I just wish to encourage the Government to ensure that they put in place effective monitoring, once the measures are in place.

The Scottish Executive have indicated their willingness to put into legislation extended protection for disabled people, gays and lesbians, older people and women. I cannot help thinking that such an all-encompassing approach is the right one. In Northern Ireland, crimes against disabled people are not prevalent, but the Government were reluctant to put in place measures to combat racially motivated crime in Northern Ireland back in 1998, when the Crime and Disorder Bill was going through Parliament. They said then that racism was not a sufficiently serious problem there. I sincerely hope that we do not see an increase in crimes directed against people because of their disability or their gender, but if we are going to consider legislation on sectarian, homophobic and racial crimes, it would be appropriate to legislate for all forms of hate crime, in order to show our commitment to the many thousands of people who suffer lack of protection from some appalling criminal behaviour.

I look forward to seeing the Government introduce legislation for Northern Ireland in this area as soon as possible.

4 p.m.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, my first point concerns Amendment No. 201. How is the Secretary of State to collect and interpret data on the reporting of offences manifesting prejudice? Does that mean press reporting or court reporting? If it is to be the latter, that is rather more understandable because the facts will have been brought out and a decision will have been reached.

My second point concerns an important issue raised by my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross about sentencing guidelines being a preferable means of dealing with the problems rather than legislating separately for each category of aggravated offence. When the Minister replies to the whole debate, I hope that she will spend some time on that point.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page