Examination of Witnesses (Questions 251-259)|
WEDNESDAY 24 JULY 2002
251. Can I welcome our two witnesses. It is
very nice to see you. I am sorry I have kept you all waiting outside
but it is the last meeting before the recess and I was just doing
some admin before we all disperse. I wonder whether although we
have got CVs you would like to introduce yourselves so we have
that on the record. We are also on the television so just be warned
(Revd Dr Sedgwick) Dr Peter Sedgwick,
Assistant Secretary of the Church of England Board for Social
Responsibility of the Archbishops' Council.
(Mr Slack) Stephen Slack, Head of the Legal Office
of the Archbishops' Council and Chief Legal Adviser to the General
Synod as well.
252. We have circulated for you a few questions
and of course they derive from the material that was sent in to
the Select Committee. The first of them is about the two strands
of our inquiry, namely the amendment or abolition of long-standing
offences and the possible introduction of the new offence of inciting
religious hatred. We would like to ask you whether there are any
other issues under the heading of "religious offences",
not discrimination but offences, which the Committee ought to
examine and any issues in relation to offences that arise out
of discrimination rather than discrimination itself? I do not
know whether you would like to address that.
(Revd Dr Sedgwick) I think, my Lord Chairman, our
feeling is that the scope of your Committee is pretty wide anyway
looking at incitement to religious hatred and blasphemy. The question
of discrimination, as you pointed out in your introduction, is
different from offences of discrimination. I do not think that
we would want to raise any issues that arise out of offences of
discrimination. It has been argued that incitement to religious
hatred is the final end of a position that begins with discrimination.
I have seen arguments around that in the Lords, but I am not persuaded
that it is actually profitable to take a wider view.
253. Right. Is there anything else in our first
question which you wanted to comment on?
(Revd Dr Sedgwick) I do not think so, no.
254. One of the things at some stage that we
would like to know is in the paper we were sent there is, to my
mind, a suggestion that there should be two bites at the legislative
cherry, that we should try incitement to religious hatred in some
form or another and then see whether we repeal blasphemy and blasphemous
libel and so on. To be honest, I do not think there is the luxury
of getting two bites at this cherry. Would you be prepared to
accept that we ought to go ahead and make a decision on both of
them at the same time?
(Revd Dr Sedgwick) Chairman, with reluctance we would
accept that. The feeling of Lambeth Palace and elsewhere would
be very much that they would prefer and we would prefer to see
legislation and the legislation in force before abolition or repeal
took place, but if, as you are suggesting, that luxury does not
arise, then our fall-back position certainly would be that we
would go for a law on incitement to religious hatred. In other
words, I think you read us correctly that our preference would
be for a series of steps, but if that is not possible then I think
we would accept that it would be better to have a replacement
than none at all.
255. Would you also just tell me this: in the
2001 Act there is Section 39 which is adding religious dimensions
to a fairly substantial number of other offences on the same lines
as racial aggravation was put in in 1998. Some of those, for instance
harassment, are pretty wide and I do not think that we have really
plumbed some of the implications of these things. Have you thought
about this at all?
(Revd Dr Sedgwick) It would certainly be the easiest
way to add religion to the racial aggravation. I recognise that
a lot of the racially aggravated offences that were set up in
the 1998 Act have not, so far as I know, been tested out in prosecution.
There have not been many cases that have been brought, so to some
extent it is an unknown area. Our preference for the position
that was adopted in the original Anti-Terrorism Bill was that
it was simple and clear to understand. I do not know whether you
want to add anything to it.
(Mr Slack) My Lord, I think this area falls within
question 7, but I am quite happy to address it now if that would
Chairman: Leave it until question 7 then, you
are quite right. Lord Avebury?
256. Referring to your answer about Lambeth
Palace preferring the two-bite solution, would you agree that
during the Anti-Terrorism Act the two Bishops who did speak both
said that they personally would accept that the incitement to
religious hatred wasand I am not trying to put words into
their mouthslike a quid pro quo for the abolition
(Revd Dr Sedgwick) I read the speeches again last
night, my Lord, and that is certainly what they did say. I had
a conversation with the Bishops of Southwark and Birmingham after
they had spoken and I think that is a fair representation of what
they said, yes.
257. When you said that Lambeth Palace took
the view it would be preferable for the two-stage solution that
might be a view not shared by the Church of England as a whole
and it is certainly one that has not been put to the Synod.
(Revd Dr Sedgwick) I would not want to distinguish
between Lambeth Palace and the Bench of Bishops, but I think what
the Archbishop would be suggesting is that there will be fair
numbers of members of the Church of England who attach quite a
lot of importance to seeing some legislation in place and that
is why the two-step solution was suggested, reflecting the views
of Church members, but you are undoubtedly right that some bishops
have suggested that a quid pro quo would be acceptable.
258. Every since the attempt at legislation
in 1995 there has been no official position of the Church of England,
am I not right? Following that legislation the Archbishops set
up a committee to examine the abolition of the law of blasphemy
but it did not come to any conclusions.
(Revd Dr Sedgwick) The document Offences Against
Religion and Worship would remain the position, the one that
the Bishop of London drew up in the mid-1980s. That would still
be the position from which we would argue and that of course suggested
extending the law of blasphemy offence to other religions. That
of course is now some 15 years old.
259. You are not still suggesting that, are
(Revd Dr Sedgwick) No, I am not suggesting that at
all. I am simply answering Lord Avebury as to what was the position.