We’re calling for important reforms to the way the UK Parliament conducts its business. We want to ensure MPs and peers, from all religion or belief backgrounds, have equal access to seats and an equal opportunity to contribute.
We can do this by replacing morning prayers in both the Commons and the Lords with inclusive time for reflection.
In the Commons, there are only 427 seats for a total of 650 MPs, and those who attend prayers are able to put down a ‘prayer card’ on their seat, which reserves it for the whole day. This means that non-Christian MPs, who don’t want to attend prayers for a religion they do not believe in, are less likely to get a seat or be selected by the Speaker to take part in the day’s business.
In the House of Lords, there are only 400 seats and more than 800 peers. Peers are not able to reserve seats for the day, but they are able to stay in their seats after prayers, and so have privileged access to seats in the Chamber.
This practice discriminates against non-religious and non-Christian MPs and peers, and sets a bad example to the rest of the country too. In a diverse society, where over half of people now say they have no religion, parliamentary prayers give primacy to the views of Christians above all others.
If Parliament is there to represent all of us, it must be a level playing field for people with diverse viewpoints. The approach taken by the Scottish Parliament, which starts sessions with an inclusive ‘time for reflection’ slot, is far better in this regard.
Earlier this year, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said he sympathised with the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, Crispin Blunt, when he raised the issue of discriminatory parliamentary prayers.
We know change is possible. Humanists in British Columbia in Canada convinced their Parliament to introduce inclusive time for reflection late in 2019. We can do the same in the UK.
Today we are asking the UK Parliament’s two Procedure Committees to commission a review of this system and create a more inclusive environment for all parliamentarians.
Please, will you sign our petition today? We believe now is the time to raise this issue again and urge both Houses to create an inclusive system that fairly represents the views of all MPs and peers, and by extension everyone in the UK.
Join the campaign – sign our petition today
Dear Karen Bradley MP and Lord McFall of Alcluith
Respective Chairs of the House of Commons and House of Lords Procedure Committees,
We ask you to look seriously at reform of ‘parliamentary prayers’ and the Commons ‘prayer card’ system. These conventions discriminate against non-Christian MPs and peers, and make it difficult for them to play an equal part in the day’s proceedings, simply because they do not share the religious views of some of their colleagues.
We would also ask that you seriously consider the approach taken by the Scottish Parliament, where inclusive ‘time for reflection’ is held in place of Christian prayers, which would still include Christian voices alongside those from other religions and beliefs across the Houses.
We note that the UK has an increasingly diverse and increasingly non-religious population. At last count, the British Social Attitudes Survey recorded 52% of the population having no religion, with a wide variety of religions making up the remaining 48%.
The UK Parliament sits at the heart of our democracy, and it can’t be right that it continues to actively discriminate against those with different beliefs.
A modest reform of standing orders could be effected with ease and would go a long way towards making our sovereign Parliament more representative of the population it exists to serve.