The Government backed down last night and allowed a free speech protection to be written into its proposed 'homophobic hatred' law.
The decision came after the Government was defeated for a second time in the House of Lords. Peers voted 178 to 164 in favour of the protection yesterday evening.
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with Lord Waddington:
This marks the end of a lengthy battle to make clear that the new criminal offence should not interfere with free speech or religious liberty.
The protection underlines the fact that criticising homosexual practice or urging people to refrain from such conduct will not, in itself, be a crime.
Words or behaviour which are threatening and intended to stir up hatred will be caught by the offence, which carries a maximum seven year prison sentence.
The free speech amendment was tabled by former Home Secretary, Lord Waddington. He was supported by The Christian Institute throughout the campaign.
The amendment says, "for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred."
In recent years there have been several cases of overzealous police officers wrongly interfering with the right of Christians and others to express the belief that homosexual practice is morally wrong.
Speaking in last night's debate, Lord Waddington said: "My understanding is that the Government do not wish to see discussion stifled and people harassed, bullied, interrogated and sometimes arrested for expressing their views. However, if that is so, it really is time that they did something about it."