Is Maria Miller really anti-equality?

10 September 2012

Any claim without an obvious source should always trigger alarm bells in the discerning reader. A perfect example is a picture which recently went viral on social networking sites following Conservative MP Maria Miller's appointment as Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities:

Among the discerning readers was the How Upsetting blog which ran a piece last week claiming that many of the charges levelled at Ms Maria were in fact untrue.

Information on MP's voting behaviour is helpfully compiled on the public whip website and allows anyone to check how the new Equalities Minister has voted on bills since 2005 - when she first became MP for Basingstoke. So what does this tell us?

Gay adoption rights

The first claim made about the new Equalities Minister is that she voted against gay adoption rights. As the How Upsetting blog points out, the most obvious vote for this was on the Adoption and Children Bill in 2002. 

During the passage of this Bill, the House of Lords voted to remove an amendment to the bill which would have allowed unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples to adopt children. However the House of Commons voted to overturn the amendment, thus reinstating the right for these groups to adopt.

However as How Upsetting notes we can't see how Maria Miller voted on this because she only became an MP in 2005, and therefore didn't vote on the bill at all.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

The viral picture also suggests Ms Miller voted against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. However, the page for the Bill itself (along with Hansard) clearly shows Ms Miller voted in favour of its second reading:

Hansard also confirms that most voting Conservative MPs voted against the Bill, although the vote would not have been whipped either way due to the nature of the issue.

So the picture is certainly in error to suggest she voted against the Bill.

However the point the picture makes afterwards is that she voted against giving lesbian couples the right to receive fertility treatment. This claim could be justified by looking more closely at the process of the Bill.

The Bill itself proposed to change the following:

Text in 1990 Act: "A woman shall not be provided with treatment services unless account has been taken of the welfare of any child who may be born as a result of the treatment (including the need of that child for a father), and of any other child who may be affected by the birth."

Bill: substitute "a father" for "suportive parenting"

How Upsetting notes that one amendment to the Bill actually proposed requiring both a father and a mother to be present when considering whether to allow fertility treatment - which the new Equalities Minister voted in favour of:

Text in 1990 Act: "A woman shall not be provided with treatment services unless account has been taken of the welfare of any child who may be born as a result of the treatment (including the need of that child for a father), and of any other child who may be affected by the birth."

Amendment: substitute "a father" for "a father and a mother"

Based on this, while the picture is incorrect to say Ms Miller voted against the Bill, it is right to point out that she voted in favour of an amendment to require a father and a mother when treatment is considered, which would have continued to deny lesbian couples treatment.

Racial and Religious Hatred Bill

According to the public whip and Hansard, Maria Miller voted against the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill in 2005. As the public whip notes:

"The original version of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill passed by the Commons on 11 July 2005 changed "racial hatred" to "racial and religious hatred" in several places in the Public Order Act 1986, and defined the offence with regard:

"to all... words, behaviour or material[s]... that are likely to be heard or seen by any person in whom... they are likely to stir up racial or religious hatred."

Ms Miller voted in favour of a Lords amdendment to the Bill in 2006 [she voted 'no' because the question put in the Commons was one rejecting the amendment] which would have changed the 2005 Bill to read:

"A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends... to stir up religious hatred."

So the picture is correct that Ms Miller voted against this Bill.

Defining homophobia as 'freedom of speech'

The most likely source for the final point in the picture is the Protection of Freedom of Expression amendment of 2008, which aimed to alter the Public Order Act 1986 to include a freedom of speech clause. This read:

"Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion of, criticism of or expressions of antipathy towards, conduct relating to a particular sexual orientation, or urging persons of a particular sexual orientation to refrain from or modify conduct related to that orientation."

In other words, this amendment would have added an exemption to certain offences involving 'discussion of' or 'expressing antipathy towards' people of particular sexual orientation.

Maria Miller voted in favour of this amendment, although it was defeated at the time by Labour and Liberal Democrat votes.

Of course, whether or not the amendment would have 'redefined' homophobia as freedom of speech is debatable, and might not be an interpretation shared by those who voted for it.

We can also say that if this is the amendment in question, there isn't any explicit reference to "racial hatred" and racial "predjudice".


The picture cannot seemingly back up its claim that Maria Miller voted against gay adoption rights. She did vote in favour of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill's amendment to restrict fertility treatment to heterosexual couples, although it is incorrect to frame this as rejecting the Bill as a whole, which she supported in the Commons.

Meanwhile, the claims regarding the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill and the Freedom of Expression clause are backed up by the voting records, although the picture's interpretation of what these votes mean and say about Ms Miller will be hotly contested - and reasonably so.

The original investigation can be found on the How Upsetting blog.

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