Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Edward Leigh MP Demands Action on Insult


Edward Leigh MP has called on the Government to amend a law that criminalises the use of insulting words – as MPs were blocked from debating the issue in Parliament.

The Conservative MP for the Gainsborough Constituency has tabled an amendment to the Protection Of Freedoms Bill, which is being debated in Parliament this week, that removes the word 'insulting' from Section 5 of the Public Order Act. The amendment, which was tabled in conjunction with Labour MP Tom Watson and Lib Dem MP Alan Beith, has been backed by 65 MPs from across the political parties.

It has also won the support of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and backed by civil liberties groups like Justice. However, Mr Leigh claims the Government is using a procedural device in the House Of Commons to block debate on the amendment – even though it is far and away the most well-supported amendment tabled to the Bill. Mr Leigh said:
Edward Leigh MP for the
Gainsborough Constituency
"It is ironic that MPs should be denied the opportunity to speak about the freedom to speak."
Writing on the ConservativeHome blog, the Conservative parliamentarian said that while freedom of speech is 'perhaps, our most precious civil liberty after the right to life itself', there is a 'widely held concern that civil liberties such as freedom of speech are being eroded'.

Although some blame the previous Labour Government, 'policing practice' has also contributed to the 'erosion of freedoms'.

Mr Leigh explained that 'insult' has a low threshold and 'is open to misuse'. He said:
"Whatever self-restraint the police exercised in the past in applying the law against insults appears to be melting away.
"No doubt we can blame it on external pressure from activists and internal pressure from out-of-control 'equality and diversity' programmes."
Mr Leigh noted that while freedom of speech 'does have its limits', he cautioned that it is not 'legitimate' to 'criminalise words or behaviour that are merely insulting in the ordinary meaning of the word'.

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