Gay hate crime bill moves forward in Lords

A protester holds a rainbow flag outside the Houses of Parliament in central London on June 3, 2013, as protesters gather in support of same-sex marriage

An amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill that would make it an offence to link homosexuality to paedophilia was discussed in the House of Lords last week.

The bill seeks to create a new offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Thomas of Gresford told the House:

“We are concerned about the suggestion very frequently made by the British National Party and others that homosexuality and paedophilia are directly connected and that a person who is homosexual has a propensity to be a paedophile.”

Lord Waddington, who opposed the amendment, said:

“It must be wrong to state in a statute that any and every reference to the possibility of there being a connection between sexual orientation and a propensity to commit child sex offences must be treated as a threat when in the particular circumstances it obviously may be nothing of the sort.”

Lord Monson, who became a Lord in 1958 and has consistently voted against gay rights asked:

“Is it not the case that as many boys as girls are victims of paedophiles, if not more so, and yet the overwhelming majority of those who perpetrate paedophile crimes are men?

“Does this not suggest that there is a tendency among paedophiles towards homosexuality, compared with the proportion in the population as a whole?”

Baroness Butler-Sloss disagreed.

“My understanding, having done some reading on this, is that boys are as much at risk as girls, but there is nothing to show that those who offend, who are largely men, are men who incline towards homosexuality,” she told peers.

“People who have had heterosexual relations are also paedophiles.”

The Bishop of Chester explained how the clergy have also become victims of generalisations, and how as a result of a number of high profile abuse cases he has himself been branded by people a paedophile.

“Because of well-publicised cases of the abuse of children by clergy, and because of that association in the news, clergy not uncommonly get that sort of abuse hurled at them,” he said.

“Simply because of wearing a dog collar, someone makes that sort of allegation.

“I find that very distasteful, but I would not want that to be used as the basis of a criminal prosecution. It seems to me that that is going too far, and I would not want that to happen.”

Earl Ferrers described the amendment as, “rather alarming.”

“I find it frightening because you will end up with people being too frightened to say anything. To accept the amendment would be a retrograde step.”

For the government, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, concluded:

“If we extend the offence specifically to cover allegations of a propensity for child sexual abuse, what about other allegations that might be made against homosexuals?

“What about allegations, for instance, that all gay people have AIDS and intend to infect everyone else, which has been the subject of some material in the past?

“When an allegation is considered to be threatening and with intent to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation, the existing rules would support a conviction that this renders the amendment unnecessary.”

Lord Thomas of Gresford conceded that if this was indeed the case then the amendment was not needed and withdrew.

Commenting on the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, Ben Summerskill, head of Stonewall, told

“The amendment was not necessary but it did allow us to see what the feeling was in the Lords.

“Stonewall has worked very hard to persuade the government to make these important measures law.”

When asked whether or not he thought that religious practitioners rights to free speech might be affected by the bill, Mr Summerskill said:

“Stonewall has no problem with people talking openly of their temperate religious views.

“What is not OK is members of the BNP giving out flyers on council estates saying that gay people are paedophiles.”

“Some of the language used in the debate in the Lords gives us a stark reminder of kind of the kind of homophobia that we still face.”

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill has passed the Committee stage and will now go on to the Report stage in the Lords.