The SNP’s hate crime bill will have a “disastrous” impact on free speech and creativity if it becomes law, Monty Python star John Cleese has warned.
The actor and comedian, who is also known as the creative genius behind Fawlty Towers, said the legislation was based on a “very silly” mindset and suspected it had been initiated by people who “almost sit around waiting to be offended”.
The proposed law, currently making its way through Holyrood, proposes criminalising the “stirring up of hatred” against protected groups, such as transgender people, members of religions and the disabled.
Opponents have warned that it would have a chilling impact on free speech, as comments seen by others as offensive could become crimes.
At an online event hosted by the Academy of Ideas to discuss the proposals, Mr Cleese predicted they would prove “disastrous to the creative process” as they could lead to self-censorship.
“If you’re going to come up with something that’s really interesting it’s going to come out of your unconscious,” he said.
“If you’re having to edit everything you say before you say it then nothing is going to happen creatively and also things that are rather lovely and funny in ordinary conversation, they’re not going to happen either.”
Mr Bean and Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson has previously spoken out against the proposals, which critics claim could see actors or playwrights penalised for taking part in controversial productions. The maximum penalty under the legislation is seven years in jail.
Lawrence Fox, the actor and free speech campaigner, also condemned the proposed law at the Academy of Ideas event.
He described the bill as “an absolute assault on our language and the way that we communicate”.
Humza Yousaf, the SNP justice secretary, has said that initial proposals will be watered down following the backlash, after admitting the previous version of the law could have led to self-censorship. However, campaigners are demanding further changes or for the legislation to be scrapped entirely.
Under the changes, only those shown to deliberately “stir up hatred” will be criminalised.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “This bill does not prevent people expressing controversial, challenging or offensive views nor does it seek to stifle criticism or rigorous debate in any way. It would in no way have censored Monty Python or Fawlty Towers, which will continue to be enjoyed by many people.
“The law should protect vulnerable groups and minorities while respecting rights of freedom of expression and this bill – which follows an independent, judge-led review and is backed by a number of organisations – will increase confidence in policing to those communities affected by hate crime. We continue to listen and engage with key stakeholders as the Bill progresses through Parliamentary scrutiny including assessing the need for any further steps in the area of freedom of expression.”