Humanists UK mourns its patron Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan (1945-2020)

4 September, 2020

Photo credit: Chris McAndrew, source: (Creative Commons 3.0 license)

Humanists UK is deeply sad to announce the death of its patron, Labour politician and life peer, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan.

Born in Edinburgh in 1945, Lord (Martin) O’Neill became a Member of Parliament for Labour between 1970 and 2005, representing the Clackmannan and Eastern Stirlingshire, Clackmannan and Ochil seats successively. In June 2005 he was created Baron O’Neill of Clackmannan, of Clackmannan in Clackmannanshire, and was Chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee.

In 2010 he was one of 50 signatories to a public letter which called for Pope Benedict XVI not to be given a State visit to Britain, and accused the Catholic Church of increasing the spread of Aids through its opposition to contraception, and promoting segregated education.

In 2019, he was one of 183 signatories to a letter organised by Humanists UK, calling on the Government to ban new state schools which can select 100% of pupils based on their religious beliefs, warning that segregating more pupils by faith would be a disaster for social cohesion.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘Martin gave generous support to the full range of humanist concerns inside and outside of Parliament. He was instrumental in reinvigorating the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group in the early 2000s and, while we mourn his loss, we celebrate that legacy.’


Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Humanists UK has over 170 patrons who support its work in various ways through their expertise and prominence in various fields. Existing patrons include significant figures from the spheres of science, philosophy, human rights activism, politics, the arts, and broadcasting. Alongside its patrons, Humanists UK has a President and a number of Vice Presidents. From January 2019, its President has been scientist and broadcaster Professor Alice Roberts, supported by Vice Presidents Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Shappi Khorsandi, Polly Toynbee, and Professor A C Grayling.

The All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group is a cross-party group of Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords of all the main parties, including members from the Crossbenches in the Lords. The Group has grown rapidly, from its first beginnings in the 1960s and now has over 110. The Group is not part of Humanists UK, but Humanists UK provides the secretariat for the Group.