Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill Debate

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Lord Lea of Crondall

Main Page: Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-affiliated - Life peer)

Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Friday 13th March 2015

(9 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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I apologise for intervening and am grateful to the noble Baroness, but this Bill allows that to happen because a council can have a period of quiet reflection or prayers of any faith can be said—all choices are available. The word underlining all of them is “may”, with which she began her speech.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab)
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As regards there being a party line on this side which is—

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I am sorry; I had not finished speaking. I am glad to hear what the noble Lord said but it is not spelled out. It is implied but we need to spell out that it is not essential to have prayers and it is for the council itself to decide what it would like to have. Perhaps it would like to have an inclusive, non-religious procedure invoking help in carrying out its business, or just a period of quiet reflection. I would prefer a period of quiet reflection as, given that I am an atheist, it is the only thing I could participate in. I could not say prayers or invoke help from anybody because I have decided not to do so. We have to think about this issue on a practical level. There is an awful lot in this Bill which makes people think that some of its measures are compulsory.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall
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My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt, as regards my reflecting a party line on this side of the House which is aligned with the views of the National Secular Society, I believe that the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester reflect the position in many parts of the country. This is not a case of religion invading a public space; it is the settled view of society at present. We have debated the establishment of the Church of England. Without going back to the time of Henry VIII, it is a fact that the monarch, as head of the Church of England, is also able to ensure that other religions are respected in this country. I have the highest regard for the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, but I do not think that the examples he gave were at all representative of people feeling excluded, any more than that is true of noble Lords being corralled outside the Chamber in some sort of terrible dungeon waiting to come in after Prayers have been said. I think there is a category confusion in the argument being advanced.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I intervene as a leader of a local authority. I declare an interest as leader of the London Borough of Richmond, where our council meetings—but no others—start with a period of prayer. It is not spoken prayer but is currently admirably led by the mayor’s chaplain, Jeff Hopkin Williams. The prayers do not need to be led by a Christian pastor. In the 30 years I have been on the council, we have had prayers led by people of all faiths and, indeed, by people from the Humanist Association. I respect the views of noble Lords who have spoken about the National Secular Society, but I feel that that society is straining at a gnat and is seeing some tiger or dinosaur stalking the land. What we are actually talking about here is people coming together—I say this to the noble Earl—to conduct public business, sitting down commonly at the start of that business, as we do in your Lordships’ House, and hearing an affirmation from a person leading the prayers with regard to the common purpose of the council. I think back to the prayers that were spoken at our last meeting in which we were asked to respect each other, approach business in a creative fashion, remember that we were in public service and dedicated in the principles of public service. I find nothing exceptionable in that.