Clause 38 — Religious hatred offences
Orders of the Day — Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill — [2nd Allotted Day]
Mr Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras, Labour)
No, I shall not; other hon. Members wish to speak.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear outside this place that he entirely shares my view and believes that the blasphemy law should be abolished. I therefore urge him to get on with it—he now has the chance. I understand that the Archbishop of Canterbury is against such a move. However, he has a voice and a vote in the House of Lords. Our constitution has never granted the Archbishop of Canterbury a veto on legislation passed by this place. He should do his stuff in the House of Lords if he wants to do something.
I was asked to ring Lambeth palace, and I thought that I would be given full information on its position. As I understand it, the Archbishop's current position is not that we should repeal the blasphemy law, but that, to achieve equality, we should extend it to all other religions. Those who have reservations about the problems caused by introducing a law on incitement to religious hatred and the relevant definitions may think that this legislation is complicated, but they should try to imagine the problems that would be caused by a blasphemy law that tried to protect all religions equally without substantially reducing freedom of speech.
The Government did not intend to use the Bill to repeal the blasphemy law, but, as new clause 1 is very short, I cannot see any reason why we should not get on with it. Let us repeal it. The Home Secretary wants us to do it. Today, we could easily give him the opportunity to do what he wants.