I understand the concerns as to whether this proposed change in legislation might have an impact on freedom of expression. This has been thought about very carefully. It was thoroughly debated as the Bill passed through the other place and it was agreed that no additional safeguard was necessary for freedom of expression. The Government are of the view that words or behaviour which are threatening or intended to stir up hatred can never be justified by the need for freedom of speech and that is why we think we have the balance right.
The recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights have frequently been quoted in debates on the Bill in your Lordships' House, so on this occasion I will quote back to noble Lords what that committee has said about this. It welcomes the new offence as a measure that enhances human rights. It also welcomes the fact that the offences are narrowly defined,
"so as to apply only to threatening words or behaviour intended to incite hatred".
Surely that is the relevant point. The committee took the view that this provides an appropriate degree of protection for freedom of speech. The Equality and Human Rights Commission also supports the new provisions, saying that they strike the right balance,
"between the need to protect freedom of expression and the need to protect especially minority groups from hatred ... We consider that the narrow wording of the offence and the high threshold test strike the right balance between those two desires".