Humanist pledges in Lib Dem manifesto

10 June, 2024

Humanists UK has welcomed a series of commitments by the Liberal Democrats in their manifesto for the 2024 general election.

Humanists UK is lobbying all the parties and candidates to support its campaigns and equality for humanists and the non-religious by adopting policies to advance freedom of thought, choice, and expression. Humanists UK will be analysing the other party manifestos after they are published.

Policies in focus

Humanist marriages

In its chapter on rights and equality, the Liberal Democrats say they will ‘expand the rights of couples by introducing legal recognition of humanist marriages.’

This has been a Humanists UK demand at several general elections now. In 2013 the UK Parliament gave the UK Government the power to legally recognise humanist ceremonies in England and Wales, but a series of Conservative-led governments have not done so. In 2020, the High Court found this lack of legal recognition to be discriminatory.

As humanist marriage specifically is a severely overdue human rights breach, Humanists UK will be urging the UK Government, whoever forms the largest party, to lay the order to recognise humanist marriages immediately, which will be cost-neutral for the Government, before attempting any expensive or intricate wider reforms of marriage law.

Assisted dying

The Liberal Democrats promise to ‘Give Parliament time to fully debate and vote on legislation on assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults with strict safeguards, subject to a free vote’

Humanists UK is pleased to see the explicit commitment to a free vote, but would wish for Parliament to properly consider the merits of a Bill covering the incurably suffering as well as the terminally ill. It is vital that incurably suffering people, who are of sound mind and have a clear and settled wish to die, are given the right to die if this is their firm choice. They are among those most in need of a change in the law, having the most suffering ahead of them. If a free vote is to be allowed for the terminally ill, then why not the incurably suffering as well?

Time for assisted dying was also a promise made by Keir Starmer as Labour leader in an interview with Esther Rantzen. Conservative leader Rishi Sunak has also previously said he would allow time for a free vote.

Human rights law

In the manifesto chapter on rights and equality, the Liberal Democrats say they will ‘Champion the Human Rights Act and resist any attempts to weaken or repeal it’ and ‘Defend hard-won British rights and freedoms by upholding the UK’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights and resisting any attempts to withdraw from it.’

Humanists UK welcomes the commitment, having repeatedly challenged political rhetoric about watering down human rights protections. In recent years, Humanists UK spearheaded the largest-ever coalition dedicated to protecting the Human Rights Act from repeal. More recently, it has condemned the use of notwithstanding clauses in Bills to disapply human rights considerations in asylum and other areas.

Abortion rights

Assisted Dying Protest, Westminster. Photo credit: Jake Owens

On abortion, the Lib Dems pledge to ‘Protect everyone’s right to make independent decisions over their reproductive health without interference by the state and ensure access to high-quality reproductive healthcare, including enforcing safe access zones around abortion clinics and hospitals‘.

Having campaigned for this for many years, Humanists UK fully supports this. The UK Parliament has already voted for Safe Access Zones around abortion clinics, but the Home Office has stalled on implementation, as ministers appeared to be considering wide religious exemptions that Parliament had previously voted to reject.

On abortion rights, Humanists UK is calling on all parties to go further by removing abortion from the criminal code altogether, and regulating it as healthcare alone, as has been successfully managed in Northern Ireland.

Children’s rights

Photo Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

In their section on families, children, and young people, the Lib Dem Manifesto promises to ‘Protect and support the rights and wellbeing of every child by… incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into UK law.’

This has been a persistent Humanists UK demand of UK Governments, and would support Humanists UK campaigns for children’s rights on subjects like school admissions and inclusive assemblies. In 2021, Humanists UK and Humanist Society Scotland congratulated the Scottish Government for incorporating the UNCRC into Scottish law. Full incorporation of the UNCRC into UK law was specifically recommended by the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Children’s Commissioners for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

David Lammy for Labour previously promised that Labour would also incorporate the UNCRC into domestic law if elected, but it remains to be seen if this will feature in Labour’s own Manifesto.

Illegal schools and missing children

On education, the Lib Dems promise to ‘Tackle persistent absence by setting up a register of children who are not in school, and working to understand and remove underlying barriers to attendance.’

A register of children not in schools is one of several necessary steps required for Ofsted and local authorities to tackle the scandal of thousands of children missing from the system due to attending unsafe, unregistered, and educationally inadequate illegal religious schools. Humanists UK was instrumental in bringing the issue of these missing childen to wider attention. The Conservative Government promised action on this several times but later abandoned the plans along with their wider Schools Bill. Labour’s Bridget Phillipson previously promised Labour would also introduce a register.

Relationships and Sex Education (RSE)

On education, one Liberal Democrat promise is to ‘Tackle bullying in schools by promoting pastoral leadership in schools and delivering high-quality relationships and sex education.’

If taken to mean a commitment to comprehensive, age-appropriate RSE without religious exemptions in faith schools, this is an approach Humanists UK can wholly endorse.

Humanists UK was however sad to see no explicit mention of reforming admissions, curriculum issues, or employment rules around taxpayer-funded religious schools, and no mention of guidance on protecting free expression in schools.

Ban on conversion therapy

The Lib Dems also pledge to ‘Ban all forms of conversion therapies and practices.’

Humanists UK and its section LGBT Humanists has campaigned for a ban on this pseudoscientific religious torture for decades, and helped to drive the political visibility and salience of this issue in recent years. It has urged MPs from all parties to support a comprehensive and enforceable ban.

Freedom of belief

In the Manifesto, the party promises to ‘Protect, defend, and promote human rights around the world by… Appointing an ambassador-level Champion for Freedom of Belief.’ 

Humanists UK had previously asked all parties to make this exact commitment, using language like this which is inclusive of non-religious people, such as humanists. Alongside Humanists International, Humanists UK has repeatedly drawn attention to the plight of humanists at risk abroad, most notably in recent years the high-profile case of Mubarak Bala. Humanists UK has used its platform at the UN Human Rights Council, and has worked with the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to advance the rights of humanists at risk internationally.

Domestically, Humanists UK was also happy to see a pledge of ‘funding for protective security measures to places of worship, schools and community centres that are vulnerable to hate crime and terror attacks’. It would like to see funding of this nature also earmarked for Faith to Faithless which directly supports those at risk of abuse from within a religious community, as previously recommended by the Bloom Review.

Citizen’s assemblies

Another commitment in the Manifesto is ‘Establishing national and local citizens’ assemblies to ensure that the public are fully engaged in finding solutions to the greatest challenges we face, such as tackling the climate emergency and the use of artificial intelligence and algorithms by the state.’

Humanists UK has long endorsed this approach to resolving difficult ethical and political issues in a democratic way, having engaged constructively with similar processes in neighbouring jurisdictions such as the Republic of Ireland and Jersey, and having witnessed progress in Ireland, France, and New Zealand using similar means.

Lords reform

Humanists UK also welcomes the promise to ‘Reform the House of Lords with a proper democratic mandate’.

This should mean removing the presence of 26 appointed Church of England bishops from the upper house, who operate as a party, vote on laws, and enjoy special speaking privileges over other members. This would fulfil a longstanding Humanists UK policy.

Constitutional Convention

The Lib Deb Manifesto contains a promise to:

Support the creation of a UK Constitutional Convention, with the aim of drafting a new Federal Constitution that sets out the powers of the government at each tier, founded on the principles of democratic engagement, liberal values and respect for diverse identities, underpinned by a fair distribution of resources based on respective needs. The Convention will establish an inclusive approach for determining the structure of government in England.

Humanists UK has long supported a Constitutional Convention as a democratic means to look again at the UK’s archaic parliamentary structures and outdated religious bias in our politics, including things such as bishops voting in the House of Lords, the fused role of the head of state being Supreme Governor of the Church of England. 

As Humanists UK has pointed out repeatedly, the UK’s overtly religious constitutional arrangements are at odds with its population. Surveys such as the British Social Attitudes Survey have repeatedly shown the UK to be among the least religious countries anywhere in the world, with a majority having ‘no religion’.

The other party manifestos

Humanists UK will be analysing the other major parties’ manifestos as soon as they are released. It is also writing to all its members and supporters with a brief ‘doorstep guide’ for questions to ask to canvassers, and is urging all its supporters and the general public to write to all their candidates on a range of humanist issues


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 0203 675 0959.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 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.