Schedule 26 — Hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills 9:15 pm, 6th May 2008

I look forward to that, if it ever happens.

Mr. Leigh and Mr. Cash argued that there was a symbolic value in the blasphemy law and that getting rid of it would, first, send the wrong signal and, secondly, undermine our traditions. But exactly the same arguments could be made against striking from the statute book or abolishing from common law an offence that would result in the burning of someone at the stake. It is part of our "proud tradition" in this country that people guilty of apostasy or heresy were burned at the stake. I am sure that there were people in the 17th, 18th or 19th century who said, "Of course, we would not use it anymore but it is sending out the wrong signal if we get rid of it from the statute book."

The hon. Member for New Forest, East asked whether our having a blasphemy law prevented us from making points to other countries that had far stricter laws on blasphemy and apostasy; he used the example of Pakistan. I think it does. It is more difficult for this country and our diplomats when we have a Christian-only blasphemy law to say to the now democratic Pakistan that their Islamic blasphemy laws or Islamic laws on apostasy are misplaced. That was accepted by the co-signatories to the letter that I organised to The Daily Telegraph—they included many religious people—to argue to the Sudan Government in relation to the "teddy bear" case that their having a law against blasphemy was misplaced. We have our own version. Whether or not it is used, that undermined our case.