Scotland politics

MSPs throw out petition on legalising adult incest

Petitions committee

MSPs have thrown out a petition calling on the Scottish government to make incest between consenting adults legal.

Richard Morris lobbied the government to amend the law against incest so that it no longer applies to consenting adults aged over 21.

The petition was not opened to the public for signatures, and Mr Morris did not appear to give evidence.

The public petitions committee unanimously agreed there was "no public interest" in taking it forward.

MSPs were given the option of closing the petition under standing orders, on the basis of a Scottish Law Commission (SLC) report from 2007 which recommended retaining the offence under the current definition.

Mr Morris has written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the Queen and Police Scotland about the issue after starting a campaign on behalf of a Scottish man convicted of incest with his daughter.

Why is this being discussed?

By BBC political reporter Philip Sim

On the face of it, it might be difficult to understand why MSPs discussed this petition at all.

After all, it gathered a grand total of 0 signatures - in fact it was never even open to the public.

And it appears to have been submitted by a man living in Australia who claims to have "almost" written a book on the topic.

But those are the rules - when MSPs receive a petition aimed at changing a devolved law, they are duty-bound to consider it, no matter how cursorily.

Convener Michael McMahon, who said he personally found the topic "abhorrent", said that nevertheless "all petitions which fall within the committee's rules must be given our open and transparent consideration".

Questions may more readily be raised about why such a sensitive topic was scheduled for debate on the same day as one supporting survivors of abuse.

'Prejudice and bigotry'

In his written submission to the committee, Mr Morris said he had also researched and "almost finished writing a book" about incest, and had written to "several major newspapers and Australian politicians".

Mr Morris said the law in its present form is "inappropriate, unfair, ineffective and discriminatory", saying public "prejudice and bigotry" about incest was caused by "ignorance", and likening the issue to historical treatment of homosexuals.

He said: "The Scots incest law perpetuates superstitious, bigoted, outmoded beliefs, and in its present form its continued existence is unjustified."

The current law on incest, the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act of 1995, defines incest as sexual intercourse between blood relatives of opposite sexes.

The last major review of the topic was in 1981, although the SLC also published a report on sexual offences in 2007 which recommended keeping the law as it stands.

Committee convener, Labour's Michael McMahon, suggested that there was "no value" in taking forward the petition, given the 2007 review and the lack of public interest.

After this view was echoed by Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw, the other committee members unanimously backed closing the petition.

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