After the expenses scandal MPs lack the moral authority to keep pushing measures such as the removal of a free speech shield from a ‘hate speech’ law, an Observer writer has said.
Writing on his Observer blog on Monday, commentator and author Henry Porter asked: “When laws are voted in by MPs who have been cheating the taxpayer – then excusing themselves by claiming forgetfulness, incompetence and errors of judgement – what moral force will they have?”
Yet, he said, “a surprisingly long list of bills” is still “being tracked through the legislative process” which has “power to profoundly affect our lives”.
Among these is the Coroners and Justice Bill, with which, Mr Porter writes, Justice Secretary Jack Straw proposes “further measures to limit free speech by introducing an offence of inciting hatred by sexual discrimination”.
This measure, he warns, “would remove the right of churches to criticise homosexual practices and put in danger those who make jokes about transvestites, transsexuals, lesbians and gay men”.
The measure Mr Porter refers to is the Government’s bid to remove free speech wording from a law introduced last year.
The wording ensures that the new offence of inciting homophobic hatred cannot be used to suppress free speech by making clear that criticising homosexual activity is not a crime in itself.
Mr Porter warned that Parliament “cannot recover its power to force people to change their behaviour and arrangements by law until voters provide a new mandate to MPs.
“This is especially true in controversial areas where people’s choice and individual liberty may be radically affected by new law.”
Mr Porter has previously criticised the Government’s commitment to preserving civil freedoms. Speaking at a debate at the recent Hay Literary Festival he said Parliament as a whole “has lost all sense of the need to preserve our free society”.
University College London included the Government’s attempt to remove the free speech protection in a report earlier this year identifying attacks on civil liberty.
The report, entitled What We’ve Lost, claims to show “how the unarticulated liberties that we assumed were somehow guaranteed by British culture have been compromised”.