Lord Waddington has succeeded in amending the proposed ‘homophobic hatred’ offence to include a free speech protection.
Shortly before midnight last night (Monday) Peers voted 81 to 57 in favour of his amendment. The Christian Institute supported Lord Waddington throughout his campaign.
Listen to a report:
The amendment says, “In this Part, 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.”
The amendment must be approved by MPs in the House of Commons. The Government may try to overturn the amendment there.
However, the Government is keen to get the Bill passed quickly because a no-strike agreement with prison officers runs out on 8 May. The Government wants the Bill, which makes such strikes unlawful, to be in place before the agreement ends.
The free speech vote came at the end of a highly unusual day in the Lords. Earlier, with very little notice, the Government persuaded the Lords to extend Monday’s debate to midnight. This meant the timing of the free speech vote was brought forward from Wednesday.
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said: “I believe this was a deliberate attempt to wrong foot those Peers who wanted to vote in favour of the free speech clause.
Several Peers spoke out in favour of the free speech clause during the debate.
“However, Peers clearly felt strongly enough about the issue to make sure they attended on Monday and stayed very late into the evening to support Lord Waddington.
“It is also clear that many Labour and Liberal Democrat Peers did not want to support their party’s line to oppose Lord Waddington’s amendment.”
In recent years there have been a number of cases where overzealous police officers have unjustly interfered with the rights of people to express their religious beliefs on sexual ethics.
Speaking during the Lords debate, Lord Waddington said: “Some might say that the amendment is now so moderate in its terms that it merely states the obvious and is therefore unnecessary, but those who say that are, I fear, closing their eyes to what has really happened in recent years.”
“When it comes to language touching on matters of sexual orientation, there has already been a load of trouble with the police misapplying the existing Public Order Act. It is our plain duty to try to prevent this continuing to happen,” he added.
Labour Peer, Lord Anderson of Swansea, said: “I guess that many of us have been impressed by letters from individuals around the country who have been met with overzealous police officers who have caused great anxiety until eventually the individuals have been told that no prosecutions will follow.
Government minister, Lord Hunt, says the amendment is not necessary.
“Surely, the aim of this quite modest amendment would be to deter such overzealous police officers from causing such anxiety. I believe that this amendment is indeed modest, and I will have no hesitation in supporting it.”
The Government minister, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said: “I want to say at once that I understand the issues that the noble Lord and others have raised; it is described as a chilling effect, this concern that the passage of this legislation would unnecessarily inhibit the absolute right of freedom of speech.
“I certainly understand those concerns, but none the less the Government continue to believe strongly that the kind of clarification in the noble Lord’s amendment, which differs from his in Committee, is not necessary.”