MR TONY BENN'S backbench Bill to abolish the common law offence of

blasphemy was introduced in the Commons yesterday.

The Religious Prosecutions (Abolition) Bill has been drawn up by the

Labour left-winger following the row over Salman Rushdie's book The

Satanic Verses.

Publication of the book renewed calls to extend the offence of

blasphemy to other religions besides Christianity.

Mr Benn, MP for Chesterfield, has made clear he would be against such

an extension and instead has proposed the offence be abolished


The Bill has cross-party support, including the former Liberal leader

Mr David Steel and former Tory Cabinet Minister Sir Ian Gilmour.

However, it stands virtually no chance of reaching the Statute Book.

The measure, which received a formal first reading, states that ''no

criminal proceedings shall be instituted against any person for schism,

heresy, blasphemous libel, blasphemy at common law, or atheism.''

Suggestions that Salman Rushdie should contribute to the cost of his

police protection from the proceeds of his book were rejected in the

Lords by a Government spokesman, the Earl of Arran.

Lord Arran said it would not be proper to disclose the cost to date of

police protection for Mr Rushdie.

However, he said the Home Office envisaged that Mr Rushdie would

continue to receive protection ''while the threat to him remains at the

current level''.

Tory Baroness Strange, calling for Mr Rushdie to help meet the cost of

the security, said it would be a ''kind gesture'' on his part towards

the long-suffering British taxpayer.