The Government has been defeated in the House of Lords over its attempt to repeal a free speech protection from a sexual orientation ‘hatred’ law.
Peers voted by 186 to 133 to keep the protection in place. The matter will be passed back to the House of Commons where MPs voted for repeal.
Should the free speech protection be removed?
Listen to the issue being debated on BBC Radio 5 Live.
The protection makes clear that criticising homosexual conduct or encouraging people to refrain from such conduct is not, in itself, a crime.
The Government says the protection is not necessary, insisting that the ‘homophobic hatred’ offence would not catch the expression of such beliefs.
But several members of the House of Lords were concerned about incidents of Christians being challenged by the police because of their beliefs on sexual ethics.
Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson is in favour of keeping the free speech protection, as are several prominent homosexuals including journalist Matthew Parris, comedian Christopher Biggins and ‘gay rights’ activist Peter Tatchell.
During the debate, Lord Waddington, the architect of the free speech protection, said: “What is needed is what we have now got, a statutory provision that says that one mustn’t assume from mere discussion or criticism of a sexual practice that there is an attempt to stir up hatred, one must look at the circumstances and the manner in which the words are spoken to see whether they were in fact threatening and driven by hate.”
Lord Dear, a former chief constable and inspector of constabulary, added: “Prior to this House approving the Waddington amendment a year ago, the police regularly received complaints from homosexual groups that exception was taken to remarks that homosexuality was deplored on religious grounds. They were forced to act.”
“With the Waddington amendment the police are released from a virtual strait-jacket that was imposed on them before,” he said.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill supported the Government’s attempt to remove the free speech protection, saying there were already “adequate safeguards”.
But Lord Tebbit said: “There is no evidence that Lord Waddington’s amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill has caused any outbreak of homophobic attacks or any of these other nonsenses mentioned. An outbreak of emotionalism is obscuring the facts.”
Government Justice Minister Lord Bach responded to the debate: “In formulating the offence, we had no intention of stifling debate about sexual orientation or interfering with the preaching of religious doctrine, or of making it more difficult to portray homosexual characters in comedy.
“The question before us today is whether we need the freedom of expression provision. We have always maintained we do not. It is unnecessary but there will be those who decide to take advantage of it, to the disadvantage of others.”
Mike Judge, Head of Communications at The Christian Institute, said: “Genuine supporters of free speech will be pleased with this result.
“Democracy depends on the freedom of people to challenge ideas, to dispute with each other, to contend for what they believe.
“Too many Christians have already been intimidated by over-zealous police action because they gave voice to their views on sexual ethics.
“Surely the world is big enough to allow all sides to express their beliefs about sexual behaviour without fearing a knock on the door from the police.”
Free speech videos
Three short personal stories of Christians investigated by police because someone made a complaint of ‘homophobia’.