Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-206)



  200. Do you want to say something on this subject, Mr Pearce?
  (Mr Pearce) I do not think I would want to add on that point. There is a point Lady Perry made earlier and I would like to comment on that before we close.

  201. By all means, please do.
  (Mr Pearce) It was simply her reference to the issue of religious discrimination because this is clearly a very important issue. Religious discrimination in the area of employment, occupation and vocational training is covered by the new European Directive, and discussions are going forward about how best to implement that and give it the force of UK law. There are other issues relating to religious discrimination, including, for example, discrimination in relation to goods and services and other aspects of that and a wider range of issues covered in, for example, reports by the University of Derby and the University of Cambridge. I just wanted to underline again that I would see it not as an either/or but as a both/and. There is a difference between what legislation on incitement to religious hatred is trying to tackle and what would be tackled in relation to laws against discrimination on grounds of religious identity. But both form part of this broader issue of what kind of framework of law one needs to have, in a society of the kind which we want to have, in order to provide a sense of security, a sense of acceptance and a sense that society is one in which people can live fruitful lives.

  202. I think, Mr Pearce, we recognise both are an important ingredient. The difference is that the discrimination one is not within our terms of reference and there would have to be other mechanisms to deal with it.
  (Mr Pearce) Absolutely so. I was merely observing that it is part of the context within which this particular part of the field is being examined.

Baroness Richardson of Calow

  203. You mentioned the sense of security, a lot of the submissions we have had reflect the fact that some people think they are protected from all sorts of ills by the presence on the statute book of the law of blasphemy and would feel very much let down and put at risk if this was withdrawn. Where do we get that sense of security in being able to live in harmony with each other? It is almost a comment rather than a question. How can law help? This is the thing we are really trying to struggle with here. Obviously, education is far more effective, as you say, but what in law would actually help that sense of security?
  (Mr Pearce) I would say, my Lord Chairman, working together in ensuring the framework of law is appropriate and that non-legal measures and non-legal steps to develop the kind of society we want to have go hand in hand. On the point about discrimination, of course, there is a sense of discrimination on the part of some communities in terms of the current law, as it applies for example to incitement to hatred of that group in a situation where some groups find themselves covered and others do not. So therefore a removal of a sense of discrimination is, as I see it, part of the case for the provision about incitement to religious hatred, or the hatred of religious groups, should I say.

Bishop of Portsmouth

  204. In relation to Jonathan Gorsky's suggestion that actually religious hatred legislation would not help, a slightly unfair question but one has to be as comprehensive as possible, would that be a generally-accepted view from the Jewish community?
  (Revd Gorsky) That is a difficult question.

  205. I am always asked, "What is a typical Anglican view", and there are lots of people who like heresy trials nowadays.
  (Revd Gorsky) It is equally difficult. I suspect there would be reasonably wide ranging agreement, but I am sure you will be hearing evidence from the Jewish community too. When I said it would not be of help, I meant it would not be of help to the Jewish community to the best of my knowledge. It might well be of help to other communities but not in our circumstances. If I can have one more sentence on Lady Richardson's point: I think it is worth emphasising that these laws have a symbolic importance as well as a real importance. How well people are really protected by the laws of blasphemy, I do not know, but they feel they are, and if the laws were taken away a certain statement might be made. In the same way the laws have a symbolic importance for faith communities: if they are included in the law, that is making a statement, as I think Mr Pearce has said, about their situation in society. So the symbolic dimension seems to be quite significant.

  Chairman: I am going to ask Lady Massey to put the last question in a minute but can I just say this, because we have run out of time. First of all, there is a list of questions about things which have happened and have not been properly dealt with, and we ought to deal with them, which is our Questions 8, 9 and 10. If you have examples of this, if you have got thoughts on that, could you let us have them in writing? We have not had time to do full justice to the balance between criminalising incitement to religious hatred and a proper discussion, even quite fierce discussion, of religious tenets and doctrines, and this is an important thing which we have not had time to deal with. Again, if you have any further thoughts on that, we did touch on it, I would be very grateful to have them. I think we must draw to a close but I am going to let Lady Massey ask her question.

  Baroness Massey of Darwen: It is not really a question but a comment and a kind of musing in response to Lady Richardson's response to you.

  Chairman: You muse away!

  Baroness Massey of Darwen: Most of the submissions which I have seen to us are from Christian organisations or individuals, and it seems to me that maybe what they are feeling protected by is not the blasphemy but the religion itself. They are feeling secure not because of the law—and you were saying something about symbolic things—and I do not know how you feel about that.


  206. Maybe we will come back to this internally, for all I know. I think I must draw this to a close, I am sorry if not everybody has been able to ask all their questions, but it was a very full list. Could I thank you both very much indeed with great sincerity. You have moved us on I think quite considerably in our deliberations. In addition to the two I have left with you, if there are more things you would like to tell us, please both of you feel free to do so. We are going on until Christmas, I would think, so you have all summer to think about it and all summer to write the letter. Meanwhile, thank you very much indeed, we have enjoyed listening to you greatly.

  (Mr Pearce) Thank you very much.

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