MP: pray in private, but not in the House of Commons

A Conservative MP has said the House of Commons should stop saying prayers at the start of its proceedings.

The contentious proposal could, Jo Johnson MP said, “save three or four minutes every day” and would better reflect the UK.

But another Tory MP, Peter Bone, challenged this claim, saying a recent poll showed “75 per cent of British people thought that they were Christians”.


Jo Johnson, the MP for Orpington, said: “I am not against going to church, which is something that people should feel free to do, but it is something that MPs should be encouraged to do in their own time”.

The MP is the brother of Boris, the Mayor of London. Last year the Mayor backed prayers in Parliament, saying it was helpful for both believers and non-believers.

But Jo Johnson said the prayers, which are held without public or press present in the Commons, should be moved from the main chamber to Westminster Hall.


Mr Johnson claimed ceasing prayers would better reflect the country “as it is today”, saying it is “increasingly not a monotheistic country – we are not an overwhelmingly Christian country any more”.

Continuing, Mr Johnson said: “There are plenty of places of worship in the Palace of Westminster for them to go to if they want to be put in a God-fearing state of mind at the start of play.”

Last year Boris Johnson supported the prayers, saying whatever politicians “may think about the existence or non existence of God or whatever, it’s quite a good thing that they should focus briefly in a moment of prayer, which is a unique period of reflection”.


Currently a secular campaign group is trying to use the courts to stop a small council from holding prayers at the start of its meetings.

Bideford Town Council, in North Devon, is said to have had prayers at its meetings since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

But the National Secular Society (NSS) says the practice infringes the human rights of non-believers.

Its executive director said if council members wanted to pray before a meeting, they could but “preferably in another room”.


The Christian Institute has stepped in and offered to pay Bideford Council’s legal costs should it lose in court.

Last year Mike Judge, Head of Communications at The Christian Institute, said: “This is really a move by aggressive atheism trying to shove Christianity out of public life.”

In June last year Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said councils should continue to have the freedom to hold prayers at their meetings.


While making clear he was not speaking about a particular case, Mr Pickles said: “Prayers are an important part of the religious and cultural fabric of the British nation.”

“While the decision on whether to hold prayers is a matter for local councils, I want to ensure that they continue to have the freedom to do so”, he added.

And in May, former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey hit out at the NSS campaign.

He said: “The attempt to rule such prayers as discriminatory is an attack on freedom and a cynical manoeuvre to drive public expressions of faith from national as well as local life.”

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