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While I am not going to comment on the specific cases that noble Lords have raised, I reiterate what my noble friends Lord Alli and Lord Smith said: the CPS policy of prosecuting cases of homophobic and transphobic hate crime was revised in November last year. I believe that the cases which noble Lords have raised all predate that guidance. Guidance has much to offer.
The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, made a fair point about the nature of guidance. Neither the Government nor the Attorney-General would give operational guidance to the police. That would be quite inappropriate for us to do. He took me to task for not producing the draft guidance. Although the proceedings on the Bill seem to have taken a long time, they have moved very swiftly, and any such guidance would need to reflect the debates that have taken place in both Houses. It will need to be carefully considered, but it will cover the purpose and the need for the offence.
Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, the amendment that the Minister is backing and asking this House to adopt says that the Secretary of State must issue
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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, if I had produced an amendment that said the Secretary of State may produce guidance, noble Lords would have taken me to task. The fact that it is drafted as must reflects the fact that the Government have listened carefully to the debates in both Houses and are happy for Parliament to give a clear instruction to my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor. It is not at all an admission that we think the legislation in itself is defective. I reiterate: the guidance that we will produce will cover the need to ensure the balance between the convention rights on free speech and protecting groups from hatred, and we expect such guidance to coincide with the coming into force of the new offence.
I say again, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that the offence is not about making the holding of certain views or opinions illegal. It concentrates on behaviour. Threatening behaviour that is intended to stir up hatred is a real risk to public order and should be challenged. I do not believe that that offence is in any way a fundamental attack on free speech or undermines it in the way that has been suggested.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, at the beginning of his remarks when we commenced our debate, the Minister posed this question: is the balance right? It is clearly not right; how can it be, when there is a free speech clause in the religious hatred offence but no such clause here? Many spokesmen have mentioned that that is just asking for trouble. We talk about guidance for the police and prosecuting authorities, but what sort of guidance is it when they are encouraged to pay great regard to free speech in the case of religious hatred but to ignore the right to free speech when examining this offence? It is complete and utter nonsense to say that the balance is right.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, reminded us that he moved the amendment to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. It might be worth reminding ourselves of what that amendment said, because it is of a completely different quality and nature from the amendment that I have moved. His amendment said:
Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.
That is a blockbuster for you, isnt it? By Jove, that is a measure to try to safeguard free speech. How dare he say that there is no need for a free speech clause in this amendment when ours is so moderate in terms?
Lord Waddington: No, my Lords, I will not give way, not at this late stage. Lets get on with the Division. How dare he say that there is no need for a free speech clause when he was responsible for putting on the statute book a blockbuster of a free speech clause like that?
The noble Lord, Lord Alli, mentioned that I had said that my proposed new clause could not by the greatest stretch of imagination be read as aimed at gaysand, by Jove, I am right. My carefully worded amendment states merely that,
Lord Waddington: I am not going to give way at this stage of the debate, my Lords; the noble Lord, Lord Alli, has had his say. If we are to give way at this stage, the debate will never end. I am answering the noble Lords point.
My amendment could not be more moderate in words, because it is different from that which was moved initially. It was deliberately changed to meet every objection made in Committee. Now it contains no reference whatever to homophobia; it contains no reference at all which anybody could say is aimed at gays. It states that for discussion of sexual practices, whether homosexual or heterosexual, there should be the same protection. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, asked what mischief the amendment would avoid. There is a very simple answer to that: it would avoid the inferring of intent from mere words, in the way that the police inferred that the right reverend Prelates words were threatening, abusive and insulting. That was something to infer, was it not? We must make absolutely sure that the police and prosecution authorities do not in future infer intent, threats, abuse and insults from mere words, but have to look at the context and the way in which they are spoken. That is plain common sense.
And then there was all the business referred to, quite inaccurately, by the Minister in his closing words. The CPS did not change its advice in any meaningful fashion. I have read its new advice, which contains the same glaring error as was contained in the original advice; namely, a completely false definition of homophobia which cannot be found in a single dictionary that I have consulted. It is not true that no cases have occurred since the new advice was issued. One of the worst occurred after the new advice was issued and concerned the questioning for more than an hour of a street preacher. He was taken into a police van and was apparently questioned for more than an hour for preaching religion before being eventually released. As my noble friend Lady Knight said, it is no consolation to tell people after the event, Of course the police behaved really rather stupidly and reacted too quickly to a complaint, and of course youd never have been convicted if youd eventually been put before a jury. That is really not the point.
I do not want to go on any longer, save to pay tribute to all those who have taken part in this debate and raised some interesting points. The noble Lord,
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
In July 2007, my right honourable friend the Prime Minster announced that we would seek the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, as we are obliged to do by statute, on the
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Cannabis use is falling significantly across all age ranges, which is testament to the success of the Governments drug strategy. However, I am concerned to ensure that the classification of cannabis reflects the alarming fact that a much stronger drug, known as skunk, now dominates the cannabis market. I want it to be clearly understood that this powerful form of cannabis is an illegal and harmful drug.
Today I am publishing the results of a study undertaken with 23 police forces across England and Wales. This provides clear evidence that skunk now makes up 80 per cent of street-seized cannabis, compared to 30 per cent in 2002. Furthermore, its potency has increased nearly threefold since 1995.
The advisory councils report confirms that cannabis use poses a real threat to health. The council is concerned about its use among young people. It points to growing evidence that suggests a causal link, albeit weak, between cannabis use and psychotic illness. The council acknowledges that use of stronger cannabis may increase the harm to mental health. Young people may be more at risk if they first use it at an early age; the council refers to the average age of first use being 13. It suggests that some young people might binge smoke to achieve maximum possible intoxicationin the same way as some treat alcoholand concludes that, if they do, the consequences,
I have given the councils report careful consideration. Of the councils 21 recommendations, I accept all bar those relating to classification. I have decided to reclassify cannabis to a class B drug, subject to parliamentary approval.
My decision takes into account issues such as public perception and the needs and consequences for policing priorities. There is a compelling case for us to act now, rather than risk the future health of young people. Where there is a clear and serious problem but doubt about the potential harm that will be caused, we must err on the side of caution and protect the public. I make no apology for that. I am not prepared to wait and see.
Should the decision be taken to reclassify cannabis we would expect to see increased robust enforcement activity particularly in cases involving repeat offenders or where there are aggravating circumstances.
I firmly believe that, while our response must remain proportionate and offer discretion to police officers, a system of escalation is necessary. I have therefore written to ACPO today, seeking its views on a clear and workable system of escalation that is consistent with reducing police bureaucracy and maintaining discretion. This will include looking at cannabis warnings, introduced by ACPO in 2004 to ensure that action is taken when someone is found in possession of cannabis. Prior to this, the police had to choose whether to make an arrest or to take no action. I am not against cannabis warnings, but I believe that it is unacceptable for someone to receive more than one warning and for that warning not to be properly recorded.
I am fully aware that the system that we adopt will be delivered by those at the front line and I have asked ACPO to involve other police organisations and criminal justice partners in developing its proposals. This new approach to enforcement will not, of course, preclude officers from immediately effecting arrest.
In the past few years, we have seen a massive growth in the commercial cultivation of cannabis in the United Kingdom. This cannot be tolerated. We know that these cannabis farms are controlled by organised criminals who stand to make large profits and who, as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre has found, will stoop to using trafficked children on these premises. Reclassifying cannabis will help to drive enforcement priorities in shutting these farms down.
ACPO and the Serious Organised Crime Agency are responding to this threat. There is a dedicated ACPO lead on cannabis cultivation and it is working with SOCA on a co-ordinated, targeted and robust approach to cannabis farms. This involves building a national profile of these criminal activities, using forensic and other intelligence to make the links between individual farms and organised criminal gangs.
We must also focus on other ways to combat the problem. Energy suppliers are currently losing significant revenue through abstraction by organised gangs running cannabis farms. I have today written to the chief executives of the six largest energy suppliers, asking them to work with us to identify abuse and to target these groups.
We have already introduced statutory aggravating factors where supply is made on or in the vicinity of school premises and where a courier under the age of 18 is used. I accept the advisory councils recommendation for additional aggravating factors to be introduced concerning the supply of drugs in the vicinity of colleges and universities, mental health institutions and prisons.
I also accept the councils recommendation for more effective regulation of the trade in cannabis paraphernalia. It is unacceptable that cannabis use
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As the council makes clear, this is an important public health issue and one that solely a change in classification will not resolve. Through campaigns such as FRANK, we will continue to make the public aware of the health harms associated with cannabis use. The Department of Health will also update our messages on the harms caused by cannabis; look at providing more advice on the health risks and where to get help through NHS Direct, NHS Choices, the smoking helpline, Drinkline and other public information points; publish a report on the health risks associated with smoking cannabis and tobacco and, where appropriate, include advice on cannabis misuse in NHS smoking cessation services; and seek the advice of the four UK chief medical officers on what more needs to be done to reduce the risks to public health.
My decision to reclassify cannabis is part of the relentless drive to tackle drugs and the harm that they bring to families and communities and I will seek to do so by the end of the year. This is the right action to protect the public, particularly the future health of young people and the most vulnerable.
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