The British Humanist Association (BHA) has reacted with sadness to the news that its patron, Lord Peston, had died aged 85.
Maurice Peston was a renowned economist who founded the economics department at Queen Mary College, London, where he retained the title of Emeritus Professor of Economics. He was also an advisor to numerous government departments and Secretaries of State for the Labour Party from the 1960s through to the 1990s.
Within Parliament, where he sat as a Labour life peer, Peston was an active member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. From his position in the Lords, he pressured government on many key issues to humanists and the BHA, including ‘faith’ schools and the teaching of creationism in state-funded schools. He also opposed the religious hatred clause in the Terrorism Bill (2001), signed Early Day Motions supporting voluntary euthanasia, rallied to make Darwin Day a national public holiday holiday, spoke out against religious biases in broadcasting (2006), and questioned the privileged position of ‘faith communities’ in policy-making, asking in 2003 ‘why a committee has been set up to consult “faith communities” on policy making, while non-religious people are not similarly consulted?’
In one memorable speech during the passage of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, he said:
To someone like me, who regards all religious belief as failing to meet even the most elementary epistemological and deontological criteria, there will not be a problem. This is especially so since I, for one, have never gone from philosophical disagreement to hatred. I say that despite my concern about the damage done to young minds by proponents of such anti-scientific idiocies as intelligent design
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented on the news by saying ‘Maurice Peston was an incisive intellect, a rigorous parliamentarian, and an invaluable supporter of the BHA. His death comes to us as an enormous loss, a loss to both Humanism and politics. Our sincere condolences go out to the Peston family at this difficult time.’
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.
The BHA has well over 150 patrons who support its work in various ways through their expertise and prominence in various fields. Existing patrons include significant figures from the spheres of science, philosophy, human rights activism, politics, the arts, and broadcasting. The BHA’s President is the writer and comedian Shappi Khorsandi, who is supported by Vice Presidents Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Professor A C Grayling, and Polly Toynbee. For a full list of patrons, see https://humanism.org.uk/about/our-people/patrons.