Tuesday, January 31, 2006

UK "religious hatred" bill neutered

The disturbing anti-free speech Racial and Religious Hatred Bill has had most of its sting pulled by Parliament. The Government lost a couple of key votes on the bill, one of them by just one vote after Tony Blair had left the House!

TONY BLAIR’S authority was shaken by two surprise defeats last night that weakened his Bill to create the crime of inciting racial hatred. Key measures were lost by a majority of just one after he failed to stay for the crucial vote.
In a humiliating blow to Mr Blair, who has a 65-seat Commons majority, 21 Labour rebels voted with Opposition MPs while at least 40 more were absent or abstained.



It soon emerged that Mr Blair had returned to Downing Street after being told by Hilary Armstrong, the Chief Whip, that there was no point in staying for the crunch vote after an earlier measure was lost by a majority of ten.

In what proved to be a disastrous miscalculation, however, Mr Blair’s absence will be blamed for the loss of key clauses designed to combat “abusive and insulting” behaviour inciting religious hatred.

.....
The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was heavily watered down by 283 votes to 282 in the second most serious defeat for Mr Blair since the terror Bill last autumn. In an earlier vote, the Government was defeated on a technical measure by 288 votes to 278.

To a chorus of “resign” from Conservative MPs, Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, told the Commons that he accepted its verdict and that the Bill would become law. But it was stripped of measures to outlaw “abusive and insulting” language and behaviour as well as the crime of “recklessness” in actions that incite religious hatred.

Had Mr Blair not left and the crucial vote been tied, the final decision would have fallen to the Speaker, who by convention would be expected to vote with the Government.

The Islamo-fascist fifth column in Britain, who had been hoping to use the Bill as a weapon in forcing Islam upon the country, was predictably "disappointed".
Mohammed Sarwar (Lab, Glasgow Central) said: “The Muslim community in this country will be very disappointed that Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and of course the rebels within the Labour Party have done this.”


Addendum: The BBC has further comments from those who voted against the Bill:
Shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve said the defeats were "a victory for Parliament".

He branded the bill a "foolish manifesto commitment" introduced to "appease" some minority groups, and which had "threatened freedom of speech".

Mr Grieve said in multicultural Britain people had to accept that freedom of speech may mean people could be offensive to them, as well as vice versa.

He said: "This (bill) was completely contrary to our national tradition of free speech."

Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrats human rights spokesman, said: "The government just failed to understand that they can't take liberties with freedom of expression.

"This has showed tonight that we will stand up for freedom of expression."

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