Page last updated at 21:17 GMT, Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Government defeated over 'insult' law

The government has suffered a defeat in the House of Lords after peers voted overwhelmingly in favour of changing the law banning insults.

Peers chose to support an amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill by former police chief Lord Dear, as it completed its passage through the Lords on 12 December 2012.

Peers voted by 150 to 54, a majority 96, in favour of removing the word "insulting" from Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.

Free speech campaigners have long pushed for its repeal and this week Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said he had changed his mind and was in favour of the move.

He said that, in those cases that had led to convictions, other parts of the law could have been used to achieve the same result.

Lord Dear argued the present law had been used to arrest a student for telling a police officer his horse was gay and a boy who held up a placard that said "Scientology is a dangerous cult".

Lord Dear said: "There has been a steady increase of cases in which the phrase 'insulting words or behaviour causing distress' was being misapplied in circumstances where individuals or organisations disagreed with comments made about their own sexual orientation or general beliefs or objectives."

He received wide cross-party backing from backbenchers for the move but Labour said they were not convinced of the need for a change and Home Office Minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach said the government had reached the "firm" view that the word should be maintained.

Lord Taylor told peers: "There is simply insufficient evidence that the removal of the word insulting would be beneficial overall."

The Crime and Courts Bill proposes to establish the National Crime Agency (NCA). The new agency will take over the work of bodies including the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) and the UK Border Agency; and will also cover sexual abuse and exploitation of children and cyber crime.

The bill is also intended to improve road safety by introducing a new drug-driving offence.

Peers have now completed report stage and the next stage of the bill in the Lords will be its third reading.

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