The British establishment is deeply uncomfortable with speech it cannot control. In theory, we have a right to free speech under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, but even this is highly circumscribed and is full of exemptions. This aversion to free speech was recently confirmed by the Law Commission’s proposals to expand Britain’s hate-speech laws, restricting what we are allowed to say to and about each other.
Nevertheless, in the past couple of weeks, there has been some seemingly good news. First was the defeat of the Demonstrations (Abortion Clinics) Bill. This was a distinctly worrying 10 Minute Rule Bill spawned by Labour MP Rupa Huq in collaboration with Tory grandees Bernard Jenkin and Andrew Mitchell. The bill would have created ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics, banning any kind of demonstration or communication within 150 metres of a clinic or entrance to a building containing a clinic. It would also threaten infringers with six months inside (two years on a second offence). Whatever your view on abortion, a bill that threatens with imprisonment a person who, in a given area, merely ‘expresses opinion’ (these are the exact words of Clause 2(2)(e)) has no place in any liberal democracy.