Schedule 26 — Hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 9:00 pm on 6th May 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 9:00 pm, 6th May 2008

I am sorry to have to disabuse the Minister. I have here the most recent edition of the standard text on these matters, which states:

"Although the law continues to attract criticism, in 2002 there were no serious plans to abolish the offence, as the Law Commission proposed as long ago as 1985."

That quote emerges from a Law Commission working paper. I will not quote all the references, but the paper makes it quite clear that, about three years ago, despite the fact that the Law Commission decided in 1985, for whatever reason, that the law should be abolished, it was decided that it would not be abolished. That was a Government decision, or, at any rate, a decision made by official bodies; there were "no serious plans" to abolish the offence.

Furthermore, there have recently been a number of cases, and this brings us to the fundamental question. I have mentioned Wingrove v. United Kingdom, a 1996 case in which this issue was raised in the European Court of Human Rights. It was the European Court, for heaven's sake, that held, in rejecting a complaint that the censorship violated the right to freedom of expression, that it could be justified under article 10 of the convention, which permits a wide margin of appreciation to contracting states,

"when regulating freedom of expression in relation to matters liable to offend intimate personal convictions within the sphere of morals or, especially, religion".

That is a pretty recent judgment on the European convention on human rights. Despite the fact that I do not hold much brief for the European Court of Human Rights as a whole, it does not alter the fact that the reasoning is good. I hope that that helps to explain to the Minister why the issues we are debating today remain live, important and fundamental. That is why, for my part—and there are many others in the country at large—I believe that retaining the law of blasphemy is in the interests of the people of this country. To say so is by no means any criticism of other religions, in respect of which we should be tolerant, fair and understanding. We should acknowledge that other people have their right to their religion, but just as they must not abuse their rights, so we must not abuse ours. That is not a reason in itself for abolishing the fundamental basis on which the law of blasphemy rests.