Blair's Failure to Vote Causes Defeat on Hatred Bill
Ben Russell Political Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)
Tony Blair was humiliated in the Commons last night when he failed to cast the vote that would have saved his Government from defeat over plans to create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred.
Official voting records showed Mr Blair did not enter the voting lobbies as MPs backed a string of safeguards designed to water down amendments to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill by a majority of just one.
Jubilant opposition MPs cried "resign" as they inflicted the two shock defeats on the Bill, only the second and third time Mr Blair has lost a vote in the Commons.
Records showed that Mr Blair voted in the first of two divisions on Lords amendments to the Bill, only to see the Government lose by 288 to 278, a majority of 10.
But Mr Blair failed to vote in a second division when MPs voted by 283 votes to 282, majority one, to back safeguards inserted by peers. Had he voted, it would have left the division tied, leaving the Speaker to exercise his casting vote, something not seen since 1993.
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, accepted defeat and said the amended Bill would go on to the statute book. Conservatives jeered as he told MPs: "The Government accepts the decision of the House this evening. We are delighted the Bill is going to its Royal Assent and delighted we have a Bill which deals with incitement against religious hatred."
Under the Lords amendments, only "threatening" behaviour will be illegal, removing government attempts to outlaw "abusive or insulting" actions.
Peers had also changed the Bill to ensure that individuals can only be prosecuted if they intended to incite hatred.
The defeat, coming only two months after MPs voted downplans for a 90-day de tention period under the Terrorism Bill, took government whips and rebel MPs by surprise. …