Shalt thou pray in British parliament? Group of MPs move to scrap practice, Indian-origin MP against
The early day motion has been backed by the National Secular Society (NSS) at a time when church attendance in the United Kingdom has been dwindling. Reciting Anglican players has been a practice in parliament for at least 450 years, but MPs hold mixed views about it.Updated: Jan 20, 2019 23:54 IST
A group of British MPs has moved a motion to stop the ancient practice of starting the day in parliament with Anglican prayers on the ground that they are incompatible with a society which respects the principle of freedom of, and from, religion.
The early day motion has been backed by the National Secular Society (NSS) at a time when church attendance in the United Kingdom has been dwindling. Reciting Anglican players has been a practice in parliament for at least 450 years, but MPs hold mixed views about it.
The motion has so far attracted support from ruling Conservative, Labour, Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats MPs, but at least one senior law-maker – Labour MP Keith Vaz – wants the practice to continue.
Tommy Sheppard of SNP said: “Parliamentary prayers is one of many archaic Westminster procedures that is long overdue a rethink. The current system completely ignores that MPs, and society as a whole, come from all faiths and none.”
Conservative Crispin Blunt added: “Whilst religious worship occupies a strong part in some people’s lives, it should no longer play a role in the way we conduct our political affairs as an independent, open and diverse nation.”
Soon after the motion was introduced, Vaz, MP from Leicester East with a large Indian-origin population, moved an amendment that overturns the contention that prayers should not play any part in the parliamentary business.
The original motion is: “That this House recognises that religious worship should not play any part in the formal business of the House of Commons; believes that parliamentary meetings should be conducted in a manner equally welcoming to all attendees, irrespective of their personal beliefs; further believes that Parliamentary Prayers are not compatible with a society which respects the principle of freedom of and from religion; urges that prayers should not form part of the official business of Parliament; and calls on the Procedure Committee to consider alternative arrangements.”
Vaz moved this amendment: “Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and insert ‘recognises the importance of prayer to the work of Members, whatever their faith or beliefs; understands that prayers have been a central part of the work of this House since 1558, and that it has followed its present form since the reign of Charles II; commends the way in which the Speaker’s Chaplain leads prayers, which provide a time for reflection, perspective and calm ahead of the important work of the House; and recognises that Members are under no obligation to participate, should they object to such proceedings.”
However, NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: “Religious worship is for individuals who choose it – not for nations or legislative bodies. Members of parliament are of course free to pray in their own time, but institutionalised prayer doesn’t belong in the legislative process”.
“Parliament should reflect the country as it is today. Ending this anachronism would be tangible example of the reform needed in the house and represent a positive step forwards for modernity, equality and freedom of conscience,” he said, adding that NSS campaigns for an end to official government prayers in parliament and local councils.
First Published: Jan 20, 2019 22:35 IST