Prayers in Parliament

The court ruling that prayers should not be on the formal council agenda at Bideford Town Council has been met with predictable outrage. The Mail says it could be extended to Parliament – I’m not sure it’s quite the same scenario, as in Parliament prayers are said when the session begins, at say. 2.30pm, and then another bell goes a few minutes later and those who didn’t want to be in there for prayers enter the Chamber. So you can avoid them.

I’ve been in a few times – there are prayers where you stand facing forward, and then prayers when you have to turn your backs on the other side and face the wall. People say that’s so we can’t draw our swords on the opposition. I can’t remember if that’s one of the true ones, or a myth.

If you’ve got Q1 on the Order Paper, or you’re on the front bench opening a debate, you’d probably have to go in for prayers as otherwise there’d be an undignified scramble to get in place before business starts. (The clerks’ chairs are removed so the priest and Speaker can stand there while prayers are said; as soon as prayers are over there’s a mad scramble as the doorkeepers rush to put the chairs back and the clerks take their seats. The doorkeepers get rather cross when impatient MPs try to squeeze past before they’ve performed this manouevre).

If people want to bagsy seats for PMQs they get in early and put what are called ‘prayer cards’ into slots on the benches. Loads of Tories do it, but I think only Dennis Skinner does it on our side – and that’s probably unnecessary as no-one would dream of nicking Dennis’ front row gangway seat. (It’s his 80th birthday today by the way – happy birthday Dennis!)

For what it’s worth, I would prefer Parliament to drop the prayers. I think religion should, as the National Secular Society says, be separate from politics. And we have a rather beautiful chapel in Parliament, where people could go if they wanted to pray.

I actually asked John Bercow what he thought of this when he was running for Speaker, as I knew he was an atheist, but he said he wasnt that bothered about keeping the tradition. (I suspect he was being pragmatic; it would cause huge uproar if he’d suggested otherwise. MPs are quite a religious bunch).

The main prayer that is said every day is this:

“Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed.


You can make your own assessment as to whether or not the prayer has had the desired impact on our behaviour.

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  • Quietzaple  On February 11, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Pretty clearcut that the law relating to prayers before a Council meeting will be amended.

    Most of my Tory opponents whose religious views I knew were unbelievers – even the one who was fond of saying “Godbless!”

    No-one had a problem with prayers which were always brief and reflective rather than ecclesiastical. I used to support the Humanist Society or whatever they call themselves when
    Linda Smith was President, up to a point.

    It is a shame that intolerance is spreading so thickly in this second recession. Unsurprising, but a pity.


    • Quietzaple  On February 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm

      Town Council used to have a stentorian Labour member of considerable integrity. I wonder what he thinks?

  • John  On February 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    I’ve certainly observed more than just the one prayer card on the Opposition benches but maybe these are left by DUP Members or are ‘Committee Cards’ left by those serving on Bill or DL Committees. Overall, the Government side has the overwhelming majority of the Prayer cards.

  • john sharp  On February 25, 2012 at 8:21 am

    shame on politicians.
    no religion should be allowed in government

  • Rodney king  On February 25, 2012 at 11:16 am

    The fact that mp’s ask god for guidance explains why we have such a lousy government. halfwits all.

  • Steven J. Oram  On February 27, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    I’m more an agnostic than anything, but I quite like the gist of this prayer (though I’d make one or two alterations; ‘Kingdom’ is patriarchal and sexist). It’s not overtly Christian and could be interpreted in a more secular way as an affirmation of the humanistic philosophical/moral principles that should underpin politics. ‘God’ can be interpreted simply as that sense of our highest calling and expression. How about a motion on changing the wording to make the prayer even more inclusive?

  • Alan Jones  On March 5, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    e nuffsed
    Just because prayers have been said in parliament for 400 years doesn’t
    mean it has to continue. After all christians no longer chain childrens swings
    up on a Sunday. Secularists have had to fight hard for the freedom we all now
    enjoy on this day.

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