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Free speech under threat warns Ann.

Byline: Martin Shaw Assistant News Editor email@examiner.co.uk

FORMER Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe believes Britain is becoming a "Big Brother society" where free speech is under threat.

Speaking in Hudders-field, Miss Widdecombe, 66, said anti-discrimination laws were too often misapplied.

Delivering the annual Harold Wilson Lecture at the University of Huddersfield, the outspoken former Tory MP turned novelist, said politicians in Parliament still had some freedom to raise religious issues but elsewhere freedom of speech over religion was being suppressed.

She told her audience: "What you say privately can lead to accusations of discrimination, and jobs can be placed in jeopardy."

Members of other faiths could not understand why the Establishment in Britain was trying to suppress Christianity in this way, she argued.

Miss Widdecombe, responsible for prisons and immigration when a minister, left the Commons in 2010, having been MP for Maidstone for 23 years.

She became an author and TV personality, bestknown for her participation in the programme Strictly Come Dancing.

She is also well known for her religious convictions and was a high-profile convert from the Church of England to Roman Catholicism, in part because of her opposition to the ordination of women priests.

Her Harold Wilson Lecture - co-organised by the University of Huddersfield and the Diocese of Wake-field - was entitled Faith and Politics.

The two could never be kept entirely apart, she said, but there was a measure of conflict between them.

Faith dealt with absolute truth but in politics there were precious few absolutes, said Miss Widdecombe. Compromise was often necessary and desirable. She said she was opposed to the concept of a separate Christian party in UK politics.

Miss Widdecombe told the packed audience that the growth of secularism in the UK has meant that people could be upset or embarrassed by unequivocal signs of faith.

But she did not agree that a formal separation of church and state, with the disestablishment of the Church of England, would strengthen religious belief in the country. On the contrary, it would lead to religion having no influence on national life.

She analysed what she described as the "two Britains", one of which consisted of families that stayed closely united, steering their way through difficulties.

But in the other Britain, said Miss Widdecombe, people lived in chaos, with family breakdown the norm and education neglected or ignored.

One Britain was under siege from the other, she claimed, and cited a sequence of violent crimes that had recently been in the headlines.

Miss Widdecombe was introduced by university vice-chancellor Prof Bob Cryan and after the lecture the outgoing Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Rev Stephen Platten, led a question-and-answer session. The annual Harold Wilson Lecture commemorates the Huddersfieldborn Labour politician, pictured inset, who was Prime Minister between 1964 and 1970 and again between 1974 and 1976.

Previous lectures have been delivered by Tony Benn, Paddy Ashdown, Shirley Williams, David Steel and Robert Winston.

Lord Wilson's widow, Lady Wilson, was absent but their son, the mathematician Prof Robin Wilson, attended with his wife Joy.

CAPTION(S):

Prof Robin Wilson (emeritus professor of Mathematics at the Open University and son of Harold Wilson), Prof Bob |Cryan (vice-chancellor), Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe and Rt Rev Stephen Platten, Bishop of Wakefield
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 14, 2014
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