Friday, May 09, 2008

Gerald Howarth MP: ‘This is a Christian country and that we owe everything to our Christian tradition.’

While Labour are intent on the systematic eradication of every last vestige of Christian expression from public life, it has fallen to the Conservative Party to advocate on behalf of sincere and worried believers the length and breadth of the country, who collectively have the undeniable impression that their faith is under siege. Cranmer was enthralled by the debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday concerning amendments to abolish the common law criminal offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel. The debate touched on secularism, Islam, disestablishment, and the merits and demerits of maintaining a distinctly Christian national identity. The whole debate may be read in Hansard, and there were excellent contributions from Edward Leigh, Ann Widdecombe, Bill Cash, and Gerald Howarth (with predictable opposition from John Bercow and Dr Evan Harris). But until Mr Howarth rose to speak, it was the amusing observation of Edward Leigh that all those who had spoken in favour of the Established Church of England had been exclusively Roman Catholic, there being so few convicted Anglicans in the House.

It was heartening to hear such a grasp of history and an appreciation of Anglican theology on the Conservative benches, and Cranmer would like to share Gerald Howarth’s speech (minus interventions):

Mr. Gerald Howarth: “I am a simple sort of chap, and a member of the Church of England. I think I am the first member of the Church of England to speak in support of the maintenance of this law—a view I have come to on balance, not slavishly.

“I start from the premise of my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) that this is a Christian country and that we owe everything to our Christian tradition. This nation has been forged and fashioned down the centuries by its Christian tradition. Every Act of Parliament is prefaced by reference to the support of the Lords temporal and spiritual and the Commons assembled. That indicates that our Christian faith has played a hugely important part. Therefore, while I have enjoyed the frivolities of this evening’s proceedings, we should be under no illusions that a serious issue is at stake. I am afraid that I am not interested in the Joint Committee on Human Rights or the European Court of Human Rights; I am interested in my views and beliefs, which are profoundly held and shared by a lot of people in this country.

“There is a message coming through here, particularly from the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth), who treated us to something that was more in the way of a Cambridge union debate than dealing with the practicalities of the concerns of the people of this country. Those of other religions who have come here down the centuries have done so in the full knowledge that this is a Christian country. One of the reasons why they come here is that our Christian faith is a tolerant faith—one that allows mosques to be built and that allows people to observe their traditions, to bring those traditions with them and to practise them. It is a mistake that some of them should now assert that, because they have come here in rather large numbers, they should be entitled to overturn centuries of tradition in this country. That is a mistake that we should resist…

“The hon. Member for Cambridge suggested that people less exalted than us are in fear that their Christianity is under threat. He is absolutely right - they do think that, and they are alarmed that the Government of the day appear to be completely preoccupied with minorities and take no account of their genuinely felt concerns. What they are looking for is somebody who is going to stand up for their concerns and articulate them in simple language, saying, “This is a Christian country—this is the way we do it here. My friend, if you don’t like it, go and do it somewhere else.” It is all perfectly straightforward.

“The Minister relied, as Ministers of course do, on the assertion of the Government’s new religion, which is discrimination: anything that is discriminatory is to be resisted, if not completely rejected. Her case is completely destroyed. Of course the law of blasphemy is discriminatory—but then, as was pointed out to her, so is the fact that the Church of England is the established Church. That discriminates against everybody else. It is a discrimination that unless one is a member of the House of Hanover, now the House of Windsor, one cannot ascend to the throne. That discriminates against every Eagle, every Smith, every Howarth in the land. Discrimination is there; it is in our midst. We are discriminating every day of our lives; we discriminate when we go to the shops. The idea that the Government should somehow rest their case on discrimination is a mistake and indicates that they are going down the wrong track.

“Furthermore and as has also been pointed out, we have Christian prayers in this place, which you, Mr. Speaker, of course preside over. I have been waiting for the day when there are calls to end this practice. I shall resist that for all the reasons I have just given; we should maintain these traditional prayers…

“Clearly, this is an undisguised attempt at promoting the case for the disestablishment of the Church of England. One of the reasons why this is a serious issue is, as my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) expressed it—he did so articulately, as ever— because some Christians feel under threat. However, the promotion of the Church of England as the established Church in this country is important for other reasons. I can tell him that a Jewish headmistress, whom I was sitting next to at a lunch—I believe that it was for the Conservative Friends of Israel, so a huge number of people attended—said, “It is very important to our school that there continues to be an established Church, because it provides some protection to us in the practising of our religion.” That message must not be forgotten.

“Talking of messages, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) rightly pointed out that we are dealing not simply with a law that is perhaps anachronistic and perhaps has had difficulty being interpreted in the courts—I am at one with the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) that a lack of will was the reason why “Jerry Springer: The Opera” escaped what should have been a proper prosecution that led to conviction—but with a law that is symbolic.

“The act of abolition in which the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon wishes to rejoice will send out a signal to the entire nation. It is a dreadful time for this House to indicate that it no longer feels that religion is important and that the Church of England has a central role to play in our life in this country. It is a time when we desperately need to reassert moral values in this country. The fact that the archbishops have deserted the field is unfortunate, because that again sends out the wrong message, but my simple role in the Church is as a mere church warden. The Minister is wrong to suggest that no drift to secularisation is likely to flow from this proposal, because that is what will happen—indeed, it is happening—and it is an important time to reassert moral values.

“Furthermore, this act of abolishing the law of blasphemy also carries with it a risk that nothing is sacred in our country and that nothing ought to be given some sort of special protection. Our children will not understand if this House says that it is not important, because why then should anything be sacred? That would send a dreadful message to the young people of our country…

“I think that this is no time to be abolishing the law of blasphemy. I say that not necessarily because prosecutions of tomorrow will be denied, but because abolition would send a dangerous signal to this nation at a very difficult time for it.”

It is people like Gerald Howarth, and indeed all those who spoke eloquently in defence of the nation's Christian heritage, who deserve our prayers. They are manifestly the 'salt of the earth', which may irritate, but it also cleanses and heals. They know to do good, and so they do it, irrespective of the humiliating taunts and ridicule they receive at the hands of the likes of Mssrs Bercow and Evans.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake.


Anonymous judith said...

What an exhilarating speech, Your Grace!

Would you find it odd that although I am an agnostic of Jewish parentage, I found Mr Howarth's views chiming with my own?

This country gave my father and my maternal grandparents refuge from deadly persecution - and they remained grateful for that kindness and generosity throughout their lives.

Whilst not a believer, I can see that England is significantly shaped by its Christian traditions; I fully respect that and benefit from it - I would encourage other incomers to recognise and respect their hosts.

9 May 2008 at 07:39  
Anonymous mckenzie said...

A breath of fresh air. MORE OF THIS PLEASE politicians. At last the penny has dropped. With a bit of luck I might be able to start voting for mainstream parties again.

9 May 2008 at 08:04  
Anonymous Matthew Dear said...

"Those of other religions who have come here down the centuries have done so in the full knowledge that this is a Christian country. One of the reasons why they come here is that our Christian faith is a tolerant faith—one that allows mosques to be built and that allows people to observe their traditions, to bring those traditions with them and to practise them."

I've spent time in the beautiful country of Ethiopia - and it's well known that some of Muhammed's earliest followers were advised to flee to Ethiopia to escape persecution, precisely because it was a Christian country and Muhammed believed that the Emporer would treat the nascent Muslims with respect and dignity. Which, of course, he did. The first muezzin was among this cohort.

9 May 2008 at 11:58  
Anonymous Tanfield said...

Wonderful speech! If the Conservative Party as a whole (including the Notting Hill set) adopts these principles it will win the next general Election by a wide margin !! If it equivocates then it will not and then where will we all be?

9 May 2008 at 12:27  
Blogger Little Black Sambo said...

Gerald Howarth and Evan Harris: look on this picture, and on this!

9 May 2008 at 12:36  
Anonymous Simon9999 said...

Ah yes, so you all believe in free speech, just as long as you don't upset the (rapidly falling acording to yesterdays Times) Christians. Why should I, as an Atheist, be bound by blasphemy laws?

In 50 years time, there will hardly be any church goers left! You are loosing the battle, secularism here we come!

9 May 2008 at 16:32  
Anonymous steadmancinques said...

God bless you, Mr Howarth, and long may you stand fearlessly forward to argue your case.

'A cloud no larger than a man's hand'

Do I detect that political correctness, having had all the running for the last ten years, is now on the defensive, and commonsense and tradition might start to get a look in again?

9 May 2008 at 16:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


All Christians ask is respect for the personage of Christ and simple good manners towards that which we hold dear. I try to offer the same to those from whom I differ. It is not overly complex.

You will be very disappointed if you invest much time predicting the death of Christianity. Our Society is running through a phase of "believing without belonging" but I invite you to have a look at the last Census results where responders had a free choice to describe their beliefs - including both agnostic and atheist. A very heavy preponderence chose to describe themselves as Christian.

You really are a naive fellow if you believe what you read in the newspapers.

Happily it matters not whether you have chosen not to believe in God. Of much more significance is the fact that God has not yet given up and ceased to believe in you

9 May 2008 at 17:52  
Anonymous the recusant said...

If there were no God, there would be no Atheists.
G. K. Chesterton

9 May 2008 at 18:34  
Blogger Little Black Sambo said...

So we are loosing the battle. Had we been keeping it in captivity?

9 May 2008 at 19:36  
Anonymous hubert buttockthrottler said...

'convicted anglicans?'

sorry - is it an offence???

9 May 2008 at 23:55  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Marxism carried the day in Parliament it seems and this issue was not the one to stop its onward march.

It will be interesting to see on what issue the Marxists in all political parties stumble and finally face battle...rather like the Lord of The Rings really in its allegorical denouement where victory is bought at the cost of destruction of the present and past.

10 May 2008 at 04:32  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is really refreshing is that here is someone who didn't feel it necessary to apologise for his faith. I find that this is happening all too often. 'Auntie Joanna' of 'Auntie Joanne writes' felt it necessary to head her blog 'This is a Catholic blog' and under her picture of Ben, she's put 'Well, I did say this was a Catholic blog'. Why should she explain? (I only picked on these examples because I could remember them and they're to hand, not because they're the only ones).

It's about time we started to have some pride in the only thing Christ said we should boast about.

10 May 2008 at 11:59  
Blogger Lil Jimmy said...

My reply to the question of the blasphemy laws, if you can spare some minutes.

12 May 2008 at 06:39  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older