Straw U-turn on gay hatred/free speech bill
Chris Smith won't be happy.
Last night, the former Cabinet minister (and first MP to come out), predicted that there could be more homophobic attacks as a result of the Government defeat on its plans to criminalise 'gay hatred'.
Former Tory Home Secretary Lord Waddington managed to insert an amendment insisting that free speech would be a defence against any such crime - effectively a wrecking amendment.
In the most effective Parliamentary ambush for years, Waddington knew that with one day of the final Parliamentary session today, the Government ran the risk of losing the entire Coroners and Justice Bill if the Lords dug in.
Labour MPs thought they would overturn the Lords defeat today, but now Jack Straw has waved the white flag.
Of course, the Government have tried to slip this out as quietly as possible. A Ministry of Justice spokesman said they were “very disappointed” that the Lords had voted for the free speech amendment.
“It is with considerable disappointment, therefore, that the Government has agreed not to remove the ‘freedom of expression’ section".
Comedians and Christian campaigners, who have lobbied hard against the clause, will see it differently. As will Chris Smith.
I'm not at all sure that Jack Straw has done anything wrong. I accept, but with some unwillingness, the concept of "hate crime", but I think free speech should be protected above all. [Indeed, I would incorporate all of American First Amendment jurisprudence into UK and European law if I could.]
At the moment gay people are pretty well accepted by the establishment, but that could change at a moment. History is very far from a predictable progress to ever greater liberation.
At some stage, gay people, like others, will value an established culture of free speech much more than any transient an largely unenforceable hate crime law.