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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 March 2008, 13:41 GMT
Peers vote to scrap blasphemy
Church cross
The government has got its controversial plan to scrap the blasphemy law through the House of Lords.

Peers voted 148 to 87 in favour of the move last night - which was a government amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill.

The amendment will abolish the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in England and Wales.

Two Bishops backed the amendment while three others voted against.

Call for clarity

During the debate the Archbishop of York, the Rt Rev John Sentamu, called for more assurances.

He said: "It is particularly important that the Government provides clarity about precisely why the common law offences are being abolished and what the implications of their removal are for the position of religion."

The Archbishop of York and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev Rowan Williams, had written to Communities Secretary Hazel Blears to express agreement in principle to the move but expressed concerns about timing.

But the Bishop of Portsmouth, in support of the repeal, told peers: "We have a fairly adequate law about religious hatred and therefore we should repeal the blasphemy one.

The last prosecution for blasphemy was in 1979.
The two before that were in 1841 and 1676.
Communities minister Lady Andrews, said: "The laws do not protect the individual or groups of people or our fundamental rights.

"The abolition of this law should not be taken as a further step towards the secularisation of society."

But Tory peer Baroness O'Cathain, opposing the repeal, said: "There is no doubt that it paves the way for a much greater assault on our Christian heritage."

She said that the Church of England had "been duped" into accepting the proposals.

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