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House of Lords: Prayers

Volume 694: debated on Monday 16 July 2007

asked the Chairman of Committees:

Whether he will arrange for a committee of the House to consider whether representatives of churches and faiths in addition to the Church of England might take part in the Prayers read at the start of each sitting of the House.

My Lords, as the House will know, Prayers are read at the start of each sitting of the House by one of the Lords Spiritual. The Lords Spiritual sit as Members of this House by virtue of their being representatives of the established church. If the noble Lord wishes to submit a written proposal to change this arrangement, I will ensure it receives consideration within the Procedure Committee.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. I declare an interest as a minister of the Methodist Church. I express our appreciation of the immense contribution made by the Bishops over many years, but is it not time for us to recognise the new diversity in the outside community? By having worship in this House according to different faiths, would we not send out a message to those faiths that, under the traditions of the Christian church, we are encompassing them as well? There are many people of different faiths and no faith in this House. Will the Chairman of Committees consider setting up a small group to discuss this?

My Lords, I echo the noble Lord’s words about the contribution from the Bishops’ Benches in this House. We are very glad to have them here and they contribute a great deal to our deliberations. Fortunately, the future composition of the House is not for me. However, as I said in my original reply, if the noble Lord were to write and his letter were to receive support, that would be a matter for the Procedure Committee.

My Lords, I am most obliged. Does the noble Lord recollect that His Royal Highness, Charles, the Prince of Wales, has on many occasions spoken of the title Defender of the Faith, enjoyed by British monarchs for nearly 500 years, not as a reference to the pamphleteering zeal of his predecessor, Henry VIII, but as an acknowledgement that in this century we are a multi-faith community? Bearing in mind that the established Church of England has no status as such in Wales or Scotland, does the noble Lord agree that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, is most appropriate?

My Lords, as I said, the Bishops are Members of this House in light of the fact that they are members of the established church. That may or may not apply to Scotland or Wales, but that is the fact of the matter at the moment.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that even those not from an Anglican tradition—indeed, even those of us from Wales—recognise the profundity and poetry of the current Prayers, which form a remarkable and acceptable introduction to the parliamentary day? Does he also accept that it would be unwise to tinker with matters now while there is a debate about the future of this House?

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord on his second question, and I do not intend to get involved in such a debate.

My Lords, your Lordships have before you on Prayer duty today a Bishop who was born as the son of a Congregationalist manse to a father who was previously a Methodist local preacher. Therefore, does the Chairman of Committees agree that this Bishop is either an ecclesiastical fidget or the living embodiment of the very breadth that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, seeks?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has put it very well indeed. As I understand it, the Bishops speak for all faiths in this House.

My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees accept that in the Scottish Parliament Prayers are given by representatives of all the faiths, and even on occasion by humanists? Does he think that that is a good idea?

My Lords, no, basically. We are not the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish Parliament does not have the Bishops sitting in it.