The Government has today accepted Lord Waddington’s free speech clause which underlines the fact that criticising homosexual conduct is not, in itself, a crime.
Lord Waddington: free speech is worth fighting for
It means the Government’s sexual orientation hatred law includes a protection for the free speech of those who wish to express their beliefs on sexual conduct.
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director (Public Affairs) at The Christian Institute, called it a “victory for common sense”.
He said: “After many well known cases involving heavy handed policing of Christians, Parliament has decided to protect free speech.
“The free speech clause simply makes clear that which the Government has always accepted – that criticism of homosexual conduct is not, in itself, a crime.
“Surely that is a reasonable safeguard in any democratic society that cares about freedom of expression. This is a victory for common sense.”
The free speech clause, first tabled by Lord Waddington, has been the subject of several to-and-fro votes in Parliament.
The Government had said the clause was not necessary because the law would not catch reasonable expression of beliefs.
But others said recent cases of police investigating Christians for criticising homosexual practice showed that the clause was needed.
The latest round of votes took place this week with MPs voting to delete the clause on Monday and Peers voting to keep it last night.
Peers supported the clause by 179 votes to 135. In the House of Commons today the Justice Secretary Jack Straw accepted the Lords vote.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said the government was “very disappointed” at the Lords vote, adding: “There is no doubt about the threshold of this offence. No ‘freedom of expression’ section is needed to explain it. The threshold is a high one.
“The offence only covers words or behaviour that are threatening and intended to stir up hatred.”
But she added the government could no longer delay the passage of the Coroners Bill.
“It is with considerable disappointment, therefore, that the government has agreed not to remove the ‘freedom of expression’ section.”