Wednesday, February 1

Thank God for Lords

The big news this morning on the home front is that Government Ministers are examining how they suffered a shock double defeat over plans to combat so called 'religious hatred'.
Tony Blair was dealt his second and third Commons defeats since coming to power as MPs backed House of Lords objections to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.

In a further embarrassment for the Prime Minister, it emerged he did not vote in the second division - which the Government lost by just one vote.

A senior Labour MP said the Government would have to carry out a 'post mortem' to see what went wrong.

John Denham, who chairs the Commons home affairs committee, said: "We have got to look at exactly what happened and why, because there is a real disappointment here." He told the BBC's Newsnight programme: "Clearly, the rebellion by Labour MPs wasn't anywhere big enough to defeat a Government with a majority of our size."

Well, clearly what 'went wrong' is that Peers had inflicted a series of defeats on the Bill in a bid to safeguard freedom of speech with an amendment restricting the new offence of inciting religious hatred, to threatening words and behaviour, rather than a wider definition also covering insults and abuse. As we well know, the UK's Parliamentary system does not fit well with the 'Nu Labour' style of management.

Their Lordships also required the offence to be intentional, and specified that criticism, insult, abuse and ridicule of religion, belief or religious practice would not be an offence.

Ministers had urged the Commons to reject the Lords' amendments and back a Government compromise instead. Home Office Minister Paul Goggins insisted, quite unreasonably, that only those intending to "stir up hatred" would be caught under the Government's plans.

Yesterday, MPs voted by 288 to 278 to back the Lords. Mr Blair voted with the Government in this division, while 27 Labour backbenchers rebelled and at least two dozen others did not vote.

In the second vote, MPs voted by 283 votes to 282, a majority of just one, to back the Lords. In this vote, Mr Blair was not recorded as having voted.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke quickly announced that the Government was bowing to the Commons' will (that must have hurt him) and that the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill would go for Royal Assent to become law as it stood.
So, thanks to the House of Lords and backbench Labour MPs', a very fundamental chunk of our very British right to free speech remains. 'Mr Bean' should be at least partly pleased.
The editorial team of this blog deplores racism and religious bigotry in any form. Extreme racist political parties and pressure groups are a threat to our very British way of life. However, the right of freedom of expression is in our view, imperative in a free, just and progressive society. Removal of the fundamental right of free speech must be resisted at all costs.

1 comment:

Paul Reed said...

I think your tone and assessment are reasonable. Nobody likes to be
insulted but that is no reason for banning insults. There needs to be a strong distinction between actual incitement and merely being rude.

There is of course a difference between saying ‘let’s go and kill Mr X’ and ‘I think Mr X is a fool and an imbecile’. Law should not be there to just protect hurt feelings except if those feelings are hurt through defamation and there are already laws covering this.

However, I think all this goes a lot deeper. There is a growing tendency in law to treat emotion and feeling as though they where fact and action. So we have examples of women being treated as victims when they have murdered their ‘partners’. The justification being that the man was not very nice and the woman did not like him. Well I guess people normally kill people they don’t like. It does not make much sense otherwise. If you don’t believe me just wait a little while I assure you that on the radio or TV you will hear a report which will say a woman killed her violent and abusive husband. Think about it for a moment.

The man has been murdered yet it is he who is being called violent.