A multi-faith chaplaincy is set to be created for the House of Commons under controversial new plans by the Speaker’s office.
John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, is backing the move which will include Muslim, Bahá’í, Zoroastrian, Hindu and Buddhist representatives.
However, critics have questioned the need for it and branded the proposal as an “exercise in politically-correct box ticking”.
David Amess, the Conservative MP for Southend West, said: “I welcome the news that this is being introduced if there is a demand for it, but until now I haven’t been aware of such a demand”.
He added: “I’m puzzled by it as I can’t imagine who has asked for this.”
Ann Widdecombe, a former Conservative MP, said: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it if a number of staff want a visiting chaplain, but it starts to become ridiculous if you have every last religion.”
The controversial proposal was made by the Speaker’s Chaplain Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin who was controversially appointed last year.
At present only the Speaker’s Chaplain can read the daily prayers in parliament, and there would need to be constitutional reform before a multi-faith chaplain could fulfil this role.
A spokesman for Mr Bercow said: “It has long been established practice at the Palace of Westminster for the Speaker’s chaplain to invite individuals from different denominations to visit on an occasional basis to be available to Members and staff.
“The Speaker’s chaplain, following discussions with the Bishop of London, is looking at ways to widen the pool of visiting clergy to include individuals from different faith groups.
“This is to better reflect the range of beliefs held by Members and staff in the House.”
Last summer it emerged that Mr Bercow had controversially rejected the Dean of Westminster’s choice for the role of Commons Chaplain, preferring to appoint an inner-city female vicar.
Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin was appointed to the centuries-old position after three weeks of occasionally “bruising” behind the scenes discussions between Mr Bercow and the Dean.
The 49-year-old Jamaican born vicar, whose views have been described as “left of centre”, had been ministering in a deprived inner-city parish, and supports the homosexual ‘rights’ movement within the church.
Dr John Hall, the Dean of Westminster, favoured the appointment of Canon Andrew Tremlett, but his choice was opposed by Mr Bercow.
A source close to Mr Bercow explained his opposition, saying: “We did not want yet another predictable, middle-aged, white man who is like a mini Archbishop of Canterbury.
“Many MPs went to the Chaplain for advice and comfort over the expenses affair or the Iraq War. They need someone they can talk to, not someone who can quote theological texts to them.”