End prayers in House of Commons, NSS urges Speaker

Posted: Tue, 6th Feb 2024

Speaker should use his position to end symbolic Church of England privilege in Parliament, NSS says.

End prayers in House of Commons, NSS urges Speaker

The National Secular Society has urged the Speaker of the House of Commons to review the holding of prayers in the Commons chamber.

In a letter to Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the NSS said that the current practice of conducting Anglican prayers failed to uphold the "values of British society" such as "equality, fairness, and respect for individual human rights and freedoms".

Sittings in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords begin with Anglican prayers. When the Commons chamber is at its busiest, parliamentary prayers act as an antiquated seat reservation system. Even MPs who are slated to speak have no option but to attend prayers in order to reserve a seat.

The NSS said that by "privileging the liturgy of one denomination of one religion above all others", Parliament signals that other faiths and beliefs are of "less worth" than Christianity, and Anglicanism in particular. It argued that this risks alienating non-Anglican members, whether those of other faiths, or of no faith at all.

As well as excluding some MPs, parliamentary prayers demonstrate a lack of respect for the "plurality of belief and non-belief in the UK", the NSS said. It argued that the practice "sends a message" to the British public that "Parliament belongs to the Church of England, rather than to them".

The NSS also said the secretive nature of prayers weakens the transparency of Parliament. Members of the public are barred from the chamber and broadcasting is suspended whilst prayers are held.

The House of Commons has confirmed that there is "no definitive answer" for the origins or rationale of holding prayers in private in this way.

The NSS said it had uncovered nothing in Parliament's Standing Orders, or elsewhere, that mandates prayers, and that convention is insufficient to justify conducting "any part of our democratic process in secret".

NSS: Prayers in parliament 'exclusionary'

Jack Rivington, campaigns office at the National Secular Society said: "With the most recent census confirming that Christians are now a minority in the UK, and with less than 1% of the population attending Anglican services on a normal Sunday, the practice of holding Anglican prayers in Parliament is both anachronistic and unsustainable.

"With seemingly no justification for the practice other than convention, and no identifiable body responsible, the lack of transparency and procedural rigour in relation to parliamentary prayers is also deeply concerning.

"Parliamentary business should be conducted in a manner equally welcoming to MPs, irrespective of their personal religious beliefs. It's therefore time for parliamentary prayers to end."

Write to your MP: end parliamentary prayers

Sittings in both the House of Commons and the Lords begin with Christian prayers. Ask your MP to support the end of this practice.

Tags: Government prayers