Free speech shield must be kept in law say MP and Peer

A Conservative Peer and Labour MP have joined forces in writing to The Times calling for the free speech shield to be preserved in the ‘homophobic hatred’ law.

Lord Waddington and David Taylor MP expressed concern at a Government move to strike out the free speech protection clause.

Their letter says: “The politically motivated trampling of free speech is something that should concern us all.

“It is the duty of Parliament to try to prevent this from continuing to happen.”

The authors point out that the free speech shield enjoys widespread support “across the political spectrum”.

The letter continues: “Liberty, the Church of England, Matthew Parris and Rowan Atkinson have also joined the ranks of those who back it.”

To those who wish to remove the clause, they say: “Some might say it is so moderate that it merely states the obvious and is therefore unnecessary. But those who say that are closing their eyes to what is happening.

“Police officers, pressurised by diversity training and furnished with guidance from the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service, seem to feel duty bound to come down like a ton of bricks on people who express disagreement with the behaviour of some gay rights activists, and members of the public are left feeling harassed and frightened.”

The Peer and MP point to the recent case of Pauline Howe as an example.

Mrs Howe is a Christian grandmother who was investigated by police for objecting to a gay pride parade.

Ben Summerskill, head of the gay lobby group Stonewall, criticised the police visit calling it “disproportionate”.

When the Government introduced a new offence of inciting ‘homophobic hatred’, a free speech shield was tabled by Lord Waddington and accepted by Parliament in May 2008.

In March this year MPs agreed to delete it. However, this was reversed by the House of Lords in July.

The free speech clause reads: “For the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.”

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