The Daily Telegraph has used its editorial to urge the Government to drop a controversial law that criminalises “insulting” words or behaviour.
It comes after the House of Lords voted overwhelmingly to remove the word “insulting” from Section 5 of the Public Order Act earlier this week.
The revised Bill will need to be approved by the House of Commons, and the Daily Telegraph has urged the Government to “listen to the Lords”.
The Conservative and Labour parties opposed the amendment, but Peers voted by 150 to 54 to reform the law.
The newspaper accused the Government of threatening freedom of expression in its attempts to curb ‘hate’ speech.
It said: “The modern world offers people many opportunities to make fools of themselves – to say, or more usually type, things that may be threatening, hurtful or simply disagreeable to others.
“Regrettably, the response of government, under both Labour and the Coalition, has been to impose curbs on hate speech that also threaten freedom of expression more broadly.”
The newspaper acknowledged the “admirably broad” group opposing Section 5, stating: “Lawyers, priests, comedians, police officers – all have agreed that it goes too far”.
It said: “Perhaps the most depressing thing about this saga has been the way in which the state automatically reached for a sledgehammer when faced with a nut.”
But the newspaper concluded: “Fortunately, there is still time for ministers to listen to the Lords, and think again. We urge them to do so.”
Moving the amendment in the House of Lords on Wednesday, Lord Dear, a former Chief Constable and HM Inspector of Constabulary, told Peers that the amendment “would herald a very significant victory for freedom of expression”.
The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay and a number of other prominent lawyers, spoke in support of Lord Dear’s amendment.
Lord Mackay said, “the notion that freedom of speech can be tampered with without serious consequences to our democracy is a considerable mistake. The amendment would be an important step in clearing our situation regarding freedom of speech. There is no menace in an insult. Abusive or threatening language is different.”
A change in the law is backed by the Reform Section 5 campaign, which includes the National Secular Society, The Christian Institute, the Peter Tatchell Foundation and many others.