Prime Minister Bill English says there is no urgency to repeal New Zealand's blasphemy law and it can be dealt with under an omnibus bill.

English said there were probably "hundreds" of old laws that were no longer relevant.

The normal process was to "bundle up" such changes in a Statutes Bill so as to not waste Parliament's time.

"I don't think there is great urgency about it. I see there is some proposal for Parliament to do it all today but it is just one of these laws," English said.


Act leader David Seymour this afternoon unsuccessfully sought leave of the House to table a bill to repeal New Zealand's blasphemy law.

He claimed victory anyway, saying National had previously refused to incorporate the repeal of blasphemous libel laws into the Statutes Repeal Bill. Seymour said he would put up an amendment to make sure that happened.

MPs quizzed on their stance on the way to question time generally supported scrapping the law, although New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said issues concerning real New Zealanders needed to be dealt with.

"You are not able to walk down Queen Street barefooted. Is anyone panicking about that?" Peters said.

Finance Minister Steven Joyce said he was open-minded about getting rid of blasphemy laws.

"I've got a 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son so I need to be careful about saying I would support blasphemy."

Labour leader Andrew Little said he supported getting rid of the blasphemy law, saying he was "a bit of a free speech extremist".

"I think free speech is very important and I think when it comes to debate about religion and faith I think we are all mature enough and adult enough to be able to conduct those debates without causing offence," Little said.


However, he said Parliament had bigger priorities and wanted the matter dealt with through a Statutes Bill.

English was asked about the archaic law at his regular post-Cabinet press conference yesterday, after reports Irish police investigated Stephen Fry for blasphemy after he called God an "utter maniac" and "mean-spirited and stupid" on television.

A viewer reported the offence after the comedian spoke about God during an interview with Irish broadcaster RTE in February, 2015. This morning the Irish Times reported police had decided not to prosecute Fry.

In New Zealand, blasphemous libel is listed under the Crimes Act 1961 as punishable by a year in prison.

Act Party leader David Seymour wants the blasphemy law scrapped. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Act Party leader David Seymour wants the blasphemy law scrapped. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The Association of Rationalists and Humanists in 2015 called for the law to be scrapped after the terror attack at the Charlie Hebdo magazine's office in Paris.

The law has reportedly been used in one unsuccessful prosecution, in 1922.

In 2015 the Government rejected a claim by the New Zealand Humanist Society that new cyber bullying laws would see New Zealand imposing some of the world's strictest blasphemy laws by stealth.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said the society's interpretation of the Harmful Digital Communications Act was wrong.

"A person would have to do much more than simply post blasphemy to fall foul of the criminal offence in the Harmful Digital Communications Act," Adams said.