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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 8:38 pm on 1st March 2011.

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Photo of John Glen John Glen Conservative, Salisbury 8:38 pm, 1st March 2011

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. He makes a powerful point and underscores the fact that this Bill should take account of that anomaly. It is unfortunate that it does not.

We have to ask ourselves, “Should the law really criminalise insulting words?” Surely insult is in the eye of the beholder, so how can the police be expected to regulate that? Abusive behaviour is clear-cut: we all know it when we see it, and it is right that the law addresses it. Threatening behaviour is absolutely unacceptable, and we need laws to tackle it. But “insulting”? What would debate be like in this Chamber if an hon. Member could be silenced by an allegation from another hon. Member that he felt insulted by what was said?

In July last year my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister told us that this Bill would

“protect hard-won liberties and repeal unnecessary laws”.

The Government have made a good start, but they should seize the opportunity that the Bill presents to bolster freedom of expression by removing “insulting” from section 5 of the 1986 Act. There will be freedom from wheel clampers, but no freedom of speech. It does not make sense.