Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:23 pm on 18th May 1999.

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Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour 3:23 pm, 18th May 1999

I managed to press the wrong button. It was an administrative triumph in my panic at seeing this debate being brought to a conclusion.

On this occasion I speak as an individual and not in any other capacity. This has been an interesting debate. I have concerns about what we may be about to do. A large percentage of speakers have said that they do not want to recreate Westminster. There is a great danger that that is what we are going to do.

Great stress has been placed on the religious traditions of Scotland. I am very well aware of them and, in an academic sense, I probably have a wider grasp of them than do many people. I am also very aware that many people do not have a religious faith, although they may welcome the possibility of a period of contemplation or a quiet period at the start of the day. It would be improper of me to embarrass members by asking them to declare by a show of hands whether they go to church every Sunday. I suspect that members do not differ markedly from the population of Scotland, in which case the proportion of the gathering here that go to church every Sunday will be around 15 per cent-I may be wrong, but I suspect that that is so.

At Westminster, the vast majority of people who do not have a religious faith hang around in the corridor during prayers. As soon as prayers are over, there is an almighty rush to get into one's seat. There has to be a gap between the end of prayers and the start of business to allow the large majority of members-I suspect-to get to their seats. I raise that as a practical point as I think that that is what would emerge here.

I think that there is a possibility of securing a quiet period for contemplation and reflection. An alternative to prayer was mentioned by Mr Salmond. That might be reasonable.

My problem is that I cannot vote for the motion as I do not know what it means. I have been asked to vote for it on the basis that it does not mean what it says. If we believe that we should have a period of quiet contemplation-several people, including Mr Harper, referred to that-we cannot vote for the motion. The motion, which will presumably be binding on the Parliament and the bureau, specifies prayer. It is clear that prayers and variations on them are meant, not a quiet talk or a humanist talking about his point of view-those are not prayers. We have been told that the prayers should be interfaith, not interdenominational, but the motion says "non-denominational". I have some respect for motions and I believe that voting for a motion endorses the meaning of the words that the motion uses.