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Equality commission considers incitement proposals

Tony Grew December 11, 2007
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The Equality and Human Rights Commission has yet to decide whether it supports the government’s proposal to make incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation a criminal offence.

The legal committee of the commission is to meet on Thursday to discuss the proposal, which has received cross-party support in the House of Commons.

The commission is designed to promote a fair, equal and diverse society and tackling illegal discrimination.

It was established by the Equality Act 2006 and its work concentrates on age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and religion or belief discrimination.

It began work at the start of October.

A spokesperson for the EHRC told

“The Equality and Human Rights Commission considers all forms of homophobia to be unacceptable.

“Our legal committee will be meeting shortly to discuss in depth the Act and the legal implications of any changes to the law.”

Last month a committee of MPs approved amendments to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill that will make incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation an offence.

None of the Conservative MPs on the committee voted against the proposals.

The Bill will now proceed to a report stage and third reading in the Commons before being sent to the Lords.

Justice minister Maria Eagle told the committee that the proposal is to outlaw only threatening words and behaviour.

Tory Shadow Justice Minister Nick Herbert and Lib Dem Justice spokesperson David Heath have both expressed support for the government proposal, which balances free speech against the need to protect the LGB community as a group from incitement to hatred.

Protections for trans people were discussed but not included in the current government plans.

EHRC Chair Trevor Phillips, along with several of the commissioners, is on the commission’s legal committee, which will consider the proposed homophobic incitement law.

Evangelical preacher and commissioner Joel Edwards is not a member of the committee.

Mr Edwards, the general director of the Evangelical Alliance, was a controversial choice for some gay rights groups as an EHRC commissioner.

The Evangelical Alliance are one of the most strident voices against gay rights in the UK.

Last month they gave evidence to the House of Commons committee and expressed their total opposition to the proposed new homophobic incitement amendment.

The chief executive of Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, is also an EHRC commissioner.

An EHRC spokesperson defended Mr Edwards’ appointment:

“Joel Edwards has been appointed by the Secretary of State and we welcome him joining the Commission. He is well qualified as leader of the Evangelical Alliance and brings expertise both as a faith leader and a senior figure in the black community.

“The Equality and Human Rights Commission is supposed to represent a wide range of views and opinions and we welcome lively debate.

“As regards the issue of his views on a particular piece of legislation, no two Commissioners share the same views on every matter; and all Commissioners have their individual disagreements with aspects of law, government and Commission policy; our diversity is one of our strengths.

“However, the views of the Commission on the Sexual orientation regulations remains unchanged. This has been expressed on several occasions by our Chair and there can be no exceptions to equality. The law is the law and it is our remit to uphold that.”

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