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MP supports parliamentary prayers by suggesting completely opposite amendment

by Cara Bentley

Since around 1558, sitting in both Houses starts with prayers, usually read by the Speaker's chaplain (currently Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkins) in the House of Commons and by one of the Bishops in the House of Lords. 

Attendance is voluntary but often MPs will often come in beforehand to place 'prayer cards' in front of a particular seat so they can secure it for a spot during a debate later in the day. 

On Tuesday though, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt called for the practice of prayers to be abolished by putting down an Early Day Motion claiming that parliamentary prayers are "not compatible with a society which respects the principle of freedom of and from religion".

On Thursday, the Labour MP for Leicester East, Keith Vaz made suggestions to Crispin Blunt's motion and in doing so re-wrote it to say exactly the opposite. 

The original motion read: "That this House recognises that religious worship should not play any part in the formal business of the House of Commons; believes that parliamentary meetings should be conducted in a manner equally welcoming to all attendees, irrespective of their personal beliefs; further believes that Parliamentary Prayers are not compatible with a society which respects the principle of freedom of and from religion; urges that prayers should not form part of the official business of Parliament; and calls on the Procedure Committee to consider alternative arrangements."

Keith Vaz' suggested amendment recommends that from: "Line 1, leave out from 'House' to end and insert 'recognises the importance of prayer to the work of Members, whatever their faith or beliefs; understands that prayers have been a central part of the work of this House since 1558, and that it has followed its present form since the reign of Charles II; commends the way in which the Speaker's Chaplain leads prayers, which provide a time for reflection, perspective and calm ahead of the important work of the House; and recognises that Members are under no obligation to participate, should they object to such proceedings.'"

There have been numerous calls for a rethink to the prayers over the years.

This latest call comes with the backing of eight other MPs (Tom Brake, Nia Griffith, Kelvin Hopkins, Layla Moran, Tommy Shepherd, Alex Sobel and Emma Dent Coad) and the National Secular Society (NSS).

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "Religious worship is for individuals who choose it - not for nations or legislative bodies.

"Members of parliament are of course free to pray in their own time, but institutionalised prayer doesn't belong in the legislative process. Parliament should reflect the country as it is today.

The main prayer in the House of Commons is: "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. Amen."

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