Examination of Witnesses (Questions 435-439)|
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
435. May I welcome our witnesses. Thank you
very much for agreeing to come and talk to us today. It is very
important that we have your evidence and we look forward very
much indeed to hearing from you. Welcome. You have had a copy
of our questions and we will make sure that we cover all the points.
Dr Horrocks, I assume you are leading the group of three. Is there
a statement you would like to make to us? Is there something you
would like to say to us before we start our questions?
(Dr Horrocks) Only introductions, my
Lord Chairman. I am Don Horrocks, I work for the Evangelical Alliance.
I am responsible for their public affairs section, so I suppose
if anyone is a professional here today on this subject it is me.
My colleagues on either sidewhom I have only just met this
morning, so this is not a team participationare Bishop
Wayne Malcolm, who runs a large church in Walthamstowyou
have his detailsand Grant Masom, who is, if you like, just
an ordinary pew member of a Baptist church in Buckinghamshire.
I was asked by the clerk to bring along with me specifically representatives
of the evangelical world who might represent some of the spectrum
of thinking and also the view from the pew or the view from the
pulpit, perhaps, rather than a professional view, so they would
not be expert in the area. I am not claiming I am expert in the
legal area either, but certainly I would not expect my colleagues
here to be aware of all the historical aspects of the law relating
to blasphemy. They are just telling it as they feel it and understand
436. Thank you. That is very helpful to have
that introduction. The question of what the law does or does not
do under blasphemy will, I am sure, emerge during the course of
questions. Perhaps I could start off the questioning and then
hope that my colleagues will very quickly move in . As you know,
we have two strands to our inquiry, first of all, the question
as to whether the offence of blasphemy could be changed or abolished,
and, secondly, whether there should or should not be a new offence
of incitement to religious hatred. The first question is: Are
there any other issues under the heading of religious offences(
which is the title of our committee) which the Committee could
or should examine? In particular, are there any issues in relation
to offences arising out of religious discrimination?
(Dr Horrocks) If I may make a preliminary comment.
We do notice that there are two options there: amendment or abolition,
and that is not the direction from which we are coming. We are
not accepting that there are only two options here, and our case
is different from that. We are recommending perhaps a slightly
unusual position, but it is a position which we believe centres
on retaining blasphemy law whilst we are willing to consider the
possibility of a new law running alongside of religious hatred.
We will defend and argue for that, but that is our position. First
of all, I would observe that that seems a mutually exclusive,
almost an already decided, either or.
437. Perhaps I should make it clear, that is
not so. The Committee is considering whether the law on blasphemy
should be abolished or amended. It has not decided on those two
alternatives. The third alternative is that it should remain.
We have not yet as a committee even sounded out each other's views
(Dr Horrocks) Thank you. I thought that was worth
stating at the beginning. Are there any issues in relation to
offences resulting out of religious discrimination. We are aware
of some tangential issues and I have noted one or two here. For
example, we are aware that particularly in the area of local government
there is the increasing discrimination against Christians for
local projects, where there seems to be a requirement now for
a wider base for Christian voluntary organisations. I could give
an example in which I was involved in recently where a long tradition
of Christian work involved in drug rehabilitation has almost been
closed down by the local authority. The trustees are historically
Christian and they have insisted that they take atheists on to
their trustee board, which they cannot do because of their trust.
438. Who is the "they" who have insisted?
(Dr Horrocks) The local authority. That is a case
in which I have recently been involved, and there are others.
We are aware that funding is being made dependent on a broadening
of religious representation or none at all. We feel that is discriminatory
and that is an issue that I thought it was worth mentioning this
morning. We are also awareand I do not propose to go into
thisthat under the Equal Treatment Directive there are
going to be all kinds of issues relating to religious ethos, relating
to organisations where the ethos of an organisationin our
case Christianneeds to be preserved to keep its identity,
and there is a suggestion that that ethos may come under threat
as being seen as discriminatory in the future. We realise this
has to go through the parliamentary process to be introduced into
British law but I am raising it now because I can see that that
has a future implication for religious offences, where, for example,
suppose the Evangelical Alliance was required to employ a Muslim
and we refused to do so, just raising that at this particular
point. Other issues relate to areas where a religious conscience
is important to us and yet there seems to be pressure, from sources
such as the European Court of Human Rights, where human rights'
legislation can seem restrictive for us. For example, again in
the area of discrimination perhaps, sex discrimination, a recent
decision in the European Court of Human Rights on transsexuality
may require Christian ministers to marry people of the same sex.
That would be a major problem for us and we see that, again, as
opening religious organisations and groups to potential "criminalisation".
I wanted to mention a few situations like that and those are the
three headline ones that are on my mind at the moment.
Chairman: Thank you. You have raised some fairly
major issues. Perhaps we should pause there and see what questions
the Committee have.
439. I was wondering whether you could give
us the name of the local authority which you cited.
(Dr Horrocks) I could do so. I would be willing to
do that if permission was obtaned. Could I speak to you later
over that? There is an issue involved.