House of Lords stand strong for freedom of speech

Andrea Williams
Andrea Williams

On October 25th the free speech amendment to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill tabled by Lord Lester, Lord Hunt of Wirral, Lord Plant of Highfield and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, succeeded by a massive 260 votes to 111. This was a significant defeat for the Government.

The Home Office have said they will not accept the amendments, because the amendments could make it virtually impossible for the courts to secure convictions. The Government have also continued to assert its determination to use the Parliament Act to force through this Act.

The three main points to the amendment are:

1. Clause 29J provides a defence for free speech and evangelism. The amendment states: 'Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytizing or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practicing their religion or belief system.'

2. An intention to incite religious hatred is now required, and the loosely worded phrase 'likely to stir up religious hatred' has been removed.

3. The words 'abusive' and 'insulting' have been removed. Only 'threatening' conduct would now be covered by the offence.

The full set of marshalled amendments can be found by following the menu to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. You will find the amendments there.

At the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship we believe the Government has continued flawed thinking and understanding of the Bill. A letter was sent to every peer on the morning before the vote explaining the Government's position on the Bill by Baroness Scotland QC - Minister of State. It contained fundamental errors. The Lawyers' Christian Fellowship was present in the House of Lords and had sight of the letter almost immediately. The LCF was able to respond with a Briefing Note to the peers pointing out the errors.

You can read news reports in the Independent

And the Telegraph

Some time later today, there should be a full report of the debate on the Lords Hansard part of the Parliament website

The Report Stage for the Bill has been set for the 8th November (Baroness Scotland has said she may table Government Amendments at that stage) and the Third Reading and vote will occur some time after this.

The LCF thanks God that the Lords have shown stiff and principled opposition to this Bill. We would urge Christians to keep praying against this Bill, and for the speakers and the Government even when the Committee and Report Stage passes, right through the progress of this Bill. Let's also match prayer with action:

I believe that the prayer and action of Christians on this Bill have made a real difference. As a result it is clear - The Bill will go back to the Commons. It is a Bill that if it becomes law, will come into force in England and Wales and does not affect Scotland.