Humanist parliamentarians: ‘End parliamentary prayers and bishops in the Lords!’

10 January, 2024

Left to right: Tommy Sheppard MP, Baroness Meacher, Thomas Mohan, Mari Vaughan-Owen,

The All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) met on Tuesday 9 January to discuss religion and belief in the UK Parliament and the progress on recommendations from the APPHG’s Time for Reflection report which was first published in 2020. The report discusses Parliamentarians calling for Anglican prayers before the start of parliamentary business to be replaced with a time for reflection, and said that the automatic right for 26 Church of England bishops in the Lords should be scrapped.

The meeting heard first-hand testimony from Tommy Sheppard MP, Co-Chair of the APPHG; Baroness Meacher, crossbench peer; Mari Vaughan-Owen, humanist pastoral carer in the Senedd; and Thomas Mohan, Public Affairs and Policy Officer at Humanists UK.

Tommy Sheppard MP opened the meeting by discussing his experiences as a humanist MP in Parliament. He highlighted how Anglican prayers in the chamber at the beginning of every session each day exclude MPs across a range of religions or beliefs and are an outdated practice, especially given that over half the population belong to no religion and around 12% identify as Anglican. MPs who attend prayers are able to use prayer cards to reserve seats for the rest of the day. With 650 MPs and just over 400 seats, this means on busy occasions, such as PMQs, MPs may be unable to get a seat, affecting their ability to gain access, ask questions, and participate in parliamentary business putting them at a democratic disadvantage.

Baroness Meacher spoke about the automatic right for 26 Church of England bishops to sit in the House of Lords. She explained that not only do they have their privileged right to be there, but that they also enjoy special privileges above and beyond other peers. For example, if another member of the House of Lords is speaking, they must stop and allow a bishop to speak if they wish to, or be shouted down by the rest of the chamber with calls of ‘bishop’. She then went on to dispel some of the common arguments made to keep bishops in the Lords and highlight the urgent need for Parliament to modernise to better represent the UK and uphold the reputation of the second chamber

Mari Vaughan-Owen, humanist pastoral carer in the Senedd, demonstrated the importance of providing non-religious pastoral care by discussing her own experiences as a non-religious pastoral carer. She gave a personal account of how she became a personal carer and why she chose it as a career path. She also discussed her reception and work after recently being appointed to the Senedd as a non-religious pastoral carer.

Thomas Mohan of Humanists UK discussed the importance of secularism in protecting freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all in the UK. He also looked back at some of the vital work that Humanists UK has been doing to help ensure FoRB across the UK and future opportunities to safeguard this. He discussed APPHG member Lord Scriven’s Bill, to disestablish the Church of England and remove the automatic right of bishops to sit in the House of Lords. He finished by saying we are backing efforts in in the Isle of Man to remove the automatic right to vote in the Tynwald for the Bishop of Sodor and Man.


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at or phone 020 3675 0959.

Find out more about the All-Party Parliamentary humanist group.

Read about our work on secularism and bishops in the House of Lords.

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