The government will introduce a new offence of incitement to violence on the grounds of sexual orientation in the new Criminal Justice and immigration Bill, it has emerged.
The Queen made no mention of the proposed new law in her Speech this morning, but a Ministry of Justice briefing document said that that they would be in the bill.
Transgender and disabled people are to be included in the new law.
A new offence of possessing “extreme” pornography will also form part of the bill alongside a change to the law to allow people to use reasonable force to protect their family, property or themselves.
While Labour are very supportive of the proposed new incitement laws, the opposition parties are questioning the need for new legislation, which was criticised by several leading gay commentators.
The Conservative party said it will “look carefully” at proposals from the government to introduce a new offence.
Shadow Justice Secretary Nick Herbert told MPs during the second reading of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill last month that the right to free speech must be balanced with protecting gay people from hatred.
The Liberal Democrats welcomed the proposed new offence, which will be added to the bill as an amendment in committee stage.
Evan Harris MP pointed out that a homophobic incitement law was a manifesto commitment for the Lib Dems.
However, in an exclusive interview with PinkNews.co.uk, candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats Chris Huhne questioned the need for it.
“I think that incitement for any violence is, frankly, it’s already illegal. I’m not sure that taking in a further offence adds an awful lot,” he said.
“I think where you know you draw the line is on those issues where you can’t, where you don’t want to chill free speech on issues where people can makes decisions legitimately about what they’re saying and doing.
“And therefore I wouldn’t want to go so far as to act as an obstacle in the law to freedom of speech, but I would want to protect people.”
In The Times last month Mathew Parris said that if homophobic insults were to become unlawful, “why should we remain free to sneer, in ways inciting hatred, at a person’s being Welsh, or Irish?
“Lines of absolute principle are hard to draw, but some groups may be so weak and fragile as to need the law’s protection from hateful speech. I’d like to think we gays are no longer among them.”
In The Independent, Johann Hari adds that while the views of Richard Littlejohn and Sir Iqbal Sacranie are the kind that might “encourage thugs who are likely to bottle somebody on a Saturday night,” it is better to meet their views in open debate.
“Gay people need to be confident enough to know that our arguments are so strong that they will win in any free, open exchange of views,” he said.
Alan Wardle is director of public and parliamentary affairs at Stonewall.
The organisation lobbied ministers for a new homophobic incitement law.
He told PinkNews.co.uk: “There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what the laws actually mean.
“It will not criminalise people being rude, it will not criminalise people being offensive.
“What it does criminalise is where people recklessly or deliberately incite hatred against gay people, which has a very high threshold.”
This, he said, would only cover comments such as those contained in a BNP leaflet claiming all homosexuals were also paedophiles.
“What we’re seeking to do is match existing laws for race which have been on the statute for twenty years and have not caused any difficulties whatsoever.
“It’s about making sure where minority groups are already protected, gay people are protected as well.”