Debates between Baroness Noakes and Lord Falconer of Thoroton during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 15th Nov 2021
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Falconer of Thoroton
Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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The following characteristics are protected under the Equality Act: age—something else that we do not need to worry about; gender reassignment; and sex. There are others, but those are the three. Sex being a protected characteristic means that you are entitled not to be discriminated against on the ground of your sex, whether you are a man or a woman. That means that if you are a transgender woman, you will be entitled to be protected on the grounds of sex because you are a woman, and on the grounds of gender reassignment. So, the noble Lord says that gender is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, but a person is entitled, as one would expect, not to be discriminated against because of their sex.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, for his lesson in equalities law. My Amendment 219A was degrouped from Amendment 219 late last week. While it is drafted more broadly than Amendment 219, I tabled it to address the very same issues covered by Amendment 219. I therefore believe that, for the convenience of the Committee, I should speak to my Amendment 219A now. I hope that the other noble Lords who have added their names—the noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Grey-Thompson, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath—will do so as well. On that basis, I will not move Amendment 219A in the next group. I hope that, given all the amendments left still to be debated, the Committee will welcome this.

My Amendment 219A, like Amendment 219, does have cross-party support, so the issues raised by both amendments are not party-political in any sense. Indeed, I find myself in the unusual position of being on the same side of the argument as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford; neither she nor I ever thought that we would be in that position. I have two main problems with Amendment 219, the first of which is directly addressed by my Amendment 219A. Amendment 219 pre-empts the work of the Law Commission, which, as we have heard, has been working on hate crime for some time now. Its consultation document runs to over 500 pages, with over 50 dedicated to sex or gender.

The Law Commission has received many thousands of consultation responses and is now working on its final position. I believe that its work should conclude before we legislate in this area, and my Amendment 219A gives the Government a regulation-making power to amend Section 66 of the Sentencing Act 2020 to implement the Law Commission’s recommendations. That gives the Government, if they agree with and accept the recommendations, the fastest possible implementation route. The Law Commission’s final recommendations may well be controversial and therefore would not qualify for the special procedures for Law Commission Bills that we use in your Lordships’ House, if primary legislation were the route taken. Amendment 219A therefore uses the draft affirmative procedure to enable some additional parliamentary scrutiny.

I believe that it would be wrong for Parliament to anticipate the final views of the Law Commission. There are different views on both the principle and the substance of the extensions to the hate crime laws, and noble Lords would be wise to wait for the Law Commission’s final recommendations, rather than proceed on the basis of its provisional views.

On the extension of hate crimes to sex, the Law Commission was clear that it believed that two of its criteria for amending the hate crime legislation—demonstrable need and additional harm—were met, but it was far less clear that its third criterion of suitability was met. To mitigate that, its consultation includes some very significant potential carve-outs, covering, for example, domestic abuse and sexual offences so that, if hate crime were extended to sex, the very crimes that I know some noble Lords are particularly concerned about might not be included in the Law Commissioner’s final recommendations. This is not an area where there is a settled view about what should be done.

My second problem with Amendment 219 is a substantive one about whether, if hate crime laws are extended to sex, they should be—

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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Does the noble Baroness know when the Law Commission might produce its final report and what the timetable thereafter would be—for example, how long there would then be before the Minister has to respond and how long thereafter before there would be some provision in relation to it?

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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I think that was a trick question from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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It is not a trick question; I would have thought that that piece of information might be quite important to evaluating her amendment.