On this day: Govt suffers ‘extraordinary defeat’ on Religious Hatred Bill

On 31 January 2006 the Government suffered an extraordinary defeat in the House of Commons over its Religious Hatred Bill.

Crucial amendments were added, against the Government’s wishes, to protect free speech and religious liberty. The Bill received Royal Assent shortly afterwards.

It was the culmination of a five year campaign by The Christian Institute.

’Chilling effect’

The Bill jeopardised gospel freedom. The Government’s proposals were loosely worded and could have criminalised reasonable criticism of religious or atheistic beliefs.

Many people opposed the Government’s plans citing the chilling effect on religious debate and the Bill was strongly criticised across the religious and political spectrum.

In two successive votes MPs backed House of Lords amendments which dramatically narrowed the scope of the law and introduced a broad protection for free speech.

Prime Minister Tony Blair was absent for the second, which was lost by just one vote.