Schedule 26 — Hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Solicitor General, Ministry of Justice 8:15 pm, 6th May 2008

I should say that it is the policy of my party to work towards the disestablishment of the Church, and the separation of Church and state. I am fairly comfortable with that position. I will come back to the issue in a moment, because it is relevant to another point that I will make.

The principle of the separation of Church and state is not about the separation of religion and politics, which I think is impossible. We cannot separate people's moral, religious views from their political views. We are talking about the state, not about society, and about the religious commitments of the state, not about whether people in society are religious or not. In the course of debate we have heard three separate arguments against the idea of state neutrality in religion. The right hon. Lady just alluded to one of them; it might be called the "this is a Christian country" argument.

We do indeed have an established Church, we have Acts of Parliament such as the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, which mandates an act of broadly Christian collective worship in schools, and we have Prayers in this place. The trouble with that point is that what is, is not necessarily what ought to be. It ignores the new circumstances in which we find ourselves, which make it important now more than ever to reject the idea of the mixture of Church and state, any notion of theocracy or any hint that the state should be built on a particular religious view.