In an outspoken speech decrying the proposed new offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation, a member of the House of Lords has accused gay equality organisation Stonewall of having “undue influence” over the government.
The Lords were debating the proposal, which is part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon attacked Stonewall, claiming that it does not have the “full support” of the gay community and strives not for equality but for special rights.
He began by saying he supported the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality forty years ago, but that the demands for more legal protection for gay people had gone too far:
“Unfortunately, some of the leaders of the gay and lesbian community, Stonewall in particular, are now demanding not equality, which we all agree with, but privilege,” he told peers.
“That goes too far.
“We are perfectly in favour of equality in matters of sexual orientation, but I am concerned about the implications of Clause 126 (homophobic incitement) for free speech.”
Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, who was mentioned by name by Lord Stoddart, told PinkNews.co.uk:
“Eccentric is the most generious description of his words.
“Frankly, if we started commenting on what Lord Stoddart has to say we might as well comment on what Jim Davidson has to say and we don’t have the time.”
81-year-old Lord Stoddart, a former MP who is in favour of the UK’s withdrawl from the EU, is an ‘independent’ Labour peer.
He was expelled from the party in 2002 for supporting a Socialist candidate in the previous year’s general election and is well-known for his controversial views on many issues, including race relations.
He claimed that people are “confused about what they can and cannot say” and raised, as did other peers, the case of a fundamentalist Christian couple questioned by police after complaining about their local council’s equality policy.
“Apparently Stonewall has a solution,” he said.
“Ben Summerskill, one of the main proponents of a homosexual incitement offence, believes that such an offence would allow religious beliefs about homosexuality to be stated, provided they were expressed in a temperate way.
“Who is going to judge what is temperate? We could all produce differing definitions. There are real dangers in this point of view.”
At the conclusion of his remarks he said that Stonewall wields: “undue influence on Government policy.
“It is certainly due to their pressure that this clause was introduced.
“Stonewall does not have the unqualified support of the gay community; make no mistake about that.
“Peter Tatchell and Matthew Parris have both spoken against the clause because they believe that it will not help homosexuals and lesbians.
“Furthermore, Stonewall appears to believe that somehow gays are less able to stand up for themselves than everybody else.
“I do not believe that that is true. They are just the same as anybody else and can fight their corner as they wish.
“By its actions Stonewall is putting them at greater risk of physical attack.”
Mr Summerskill commented:
“To talk about a cabal of homosexuals controlling the government in a House of Parliament that has more than 700 members, just two of whom are openly gay, is faintly silly.
“It does rather suggest that Lord Stoddart should be spending more time in Swindon and less time in Westminster.”
The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill now moves into committee stage in the Lords.