Clause 58 – Brief Update

Just a brief update on the progress of the 2009 Coroners and Justice Bill, which includes the controversial Clause 58. The Public Bill Committee sat for the first of its two sessions yesterday. You can read the proceedings here and here.

Clause 58 was raised early on when Maria Eagle, the Minister responsible for Equality, was questioned:

Q 7 Mr. Garnier: May I ask one further question? Clause 58 repeals a provision that was introduced under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 on Report. That provision has not even come into force, yet you are repealing it already. Your Government have a history of passing lots of Bills that repeal other enactments that were recently passed. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is a classic example of that. Huge chunks of it were repealed before they were due to come into force, and parts that have come into force have also been repealed. Can you guarantee that no parts of the Bill under discussion, as currently drafted, will be repealed before your next Criminal Justice Bill comes into effect, and that we can work forward at least on a moderately planned basis in line with this particular Bill, or will new stuff be brought in on Report?

Maria Eagle: It is a complicated question. We certainly do not put things into legislation that we intend to repeal before bringing them into force. I do not believe that any Minister has done that—from any party. The clause to which the hon. and learned Member for Harborough referred was inserted into the previous legislation by the House of Lords. It was not accepted by the Commons. In fact, when it was returned to the Commons, it was rejected decisively by 338 to 136. The so-called freedom of speech provision relating to incitement of homophobic hatred was not something that the Government ever accepted was necessary. Indeed, we believe that it makes the substantive offence extremely confusing and, as well as being insulting, it would make it—

Q 8 Mr. Garnier: Forgive me, I do not want to discuss the merits or demerits of clause 58.

Maria Eagle: I am trying to explain why the Government want to remove a section that was passed under the previous legislation. It was an amendment that the Government did not want. I said clearly on the Floor of the House that we would return to it. We might therefore see the matter as fulfilling the promise to return to it. We said that we would do that, and we are doing it at the first opportunity.

Q 9 Mr. Garnier: Do you not understand that that leads to cynicism about the construction of legislation?

Maria Eagle: I do not accept that. There are strongly held arguments on both sides of this issue by those who believe strongly in their views. It is an argument that will be raised again in Committee, when we get to that

clause. It may come back to the Floor of the House on Report. However, the Government’s position has been clear on this. Clarity and pursuing a policy that one believes in engenders exactly the opposite of cynicism.

Q 10 David Howarth: On that point, as the person who called the final vote on the last bit of ping-pong because I wanted to protest against the Government giving in on that last round, I confirm what the Minister has just said. The Government were plainly coerced by a timetabling issue—of their own making—and I am not surprised that they have returned to the matter.
Edward Garnier is Conservative MP for Harborough. David Howarth is the Lib Dem MP for Cambridge.
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