Last night 169 MPs voted to support a free speech protection to the Government’s proposed offence of inciting hatred on grounds of sexual orientation, but the amendment was defeated.
Nevertheless, the impressive level of support suggests the Government will face a tough battle over the amendment in the House of Lords.
A weaker free speech amendment proposed by the Liberal Democrats was heavily defeated.
During the Commons debate the Government argued that free speech and religious liberty was already safe because the law only applies to ‘threatening’ words or behaviour and the law requires proof of intention to stir up hatred.
However, others said a specific free speech clause was needed because of numerous recent cases of over-zealous police officers misinterpreting the law when reacting to perceived ‘homophobic incidents’.
During the Commons debate Conservative MP, Dominic Grieve, said: “…there is ample evidence that the lack of a saving clause of this kind will cause problems, because the public authorities and the police misinterpret what the law says. The amendment will work effectively and will in no way diminish what the [Government] is trying to achieve.”
There will be another attempt to amend the offence to include a free speech protection when the Bill is before the House of Lords. No date has yet been scheduled.