Time for Reflection

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:13 pm on 9th September 1999.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 4:13 pm, 9th September 1999

The next item of business is the debate on motion S1M-131, in the name of Mr Tom McCabe, on time for reflection in the chamber. There is an amendment to the motion. It is a very short debate, and I ask members who wish to speak to keep their speeches as brief as possible.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour 4:24 pm, 9th September 1999

Members will be aware that the first motion to be debated in this Parliament was on the subject of prayers, and that that motion led to the Parliament being called upon to make arrangements for the introduction of prayers. The motion before members today details those arrangements.

Careful consideration was given to the initial debate and that resulted in a wide-ranging consultation. Invitations were issued to representatives of a wide cross-section of beliefs in Scotland to come and discuss their views with the Parliamentary Bureau. That led to an extremely well-attended meeting on 6 July and that discussion proved positive and constructive.

The meeting greatly assisted the Parliamentary Bureau to draft this proposal, and on behalf of the bureau, and I think the whole Parliament, I want to put on record our appreciation to those who represented the various beliefs at that meeting. Members will know from their postbags that we have received substantial correspondence from organisations and from individuals, and members have my assurance that all that was taken into consideration during the formulation of the motion.

In essence, what is recommended is that time for reflection should comprise mainly Christian prayers, but the critical underlying principle is that it will allocate time to all the main beliefs held in Scotland. The aim is simply to reflect the diversity of our country as it is today.

No member of this Parliament will need to be reminded that our proceedings are reported widely. We have of necessity been required to discuss founding matters that make us easy targets for criticism. Today we are again discussing a founding principle, a convention that undoubtedly carries importance for many. For that reason, I plead with all members to remember that how we decide an issue can be as important as what we decide. Irrespective of individual views or beliefs, let us remember how readily and easily our new Parliament, our new institution, can be misjudged. We have a duty to show by example that we are a tolerant and open legislature that is content with the pursuit of social inclusion.

I will spend a few moments on the specifics of the motion. It is proposed that time for reflection be held as the first item of business at the start of our plenary week. It is also proposed, as an indication of the importance attached to this development, that time for reflection be included in the Official Report, to form part of the record of parliamentary proceedings.

The motion further advances the strong view that the people of Scotland should be able to share the time for reflection with members. In that spirit, those who lead reflection will be asked to address the whole of Scotland as well as members in the chamber. The motion seeks to reflect and respect the views and beliefs of as many of Scotland's citizens as possible. I am sure that it is there that some will disagree. I hope that we can debate any disagreement in a way that brings credit to our institution. I firmly believe that further credit will be given because time for reflection will be held in public, which is in keeping with the spirit and aspirations of our new Parliament.

The Parliamentary Bureau considered the procedures to be adopted during time for reflection. We were not minded to instruct members or the public not to enter or leave during reflection, but we hope that a convention can be established that encourages restraint during that time. Work will be done on the pattern to be followed by those coming to the chamber to lead reflection. As members will know, any non-member requires an invitation to address the Parliament and it is proposed that that be issued by the Presiding Officer following advice from the Parliamentary Bureau. If the motion is approved, the bureau will consider who should be among the first to lead reflection.

Before moving the motion, I will make a few brief remarks about Phil Gallie's amendment. It is recommended that time for reflection will comprise mainly Christian prayers. However, there is a responsibility on all of us to ensure that this Parliament is inclusive and that it represents all parts of Scotland. By approaching time for reflection in the way outlined in the motion, I firmly believe that we will achieve the balance between Scotland's traditional Christian culture, as outlined by Mr Gallie, and the reality of Scotland as it is today.

We have a duty to represent all our constituents of whatever faith and of none. I believe that the motion is the best way to achieve that.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that, further to the decision on motion S1M-1 on Prayers, the provision of a Time for Reflection should be as outlined below— Time for Reflection will be held in the Chamber in a meeting of the Parliament normally as the first item of business each week; Time for Reflection will be held in public and will be addressed both to Members and to the Scottish people; Time for Reflection will last for a maximum of four minutes; Time for Reflection will follow a pattern based on the balance of beliefs in Scotland; invitations to address the Parliament in leading Time for Reflection will be issued by the Presiding Officer on advice from the Parliamentary Bureau; Time for Reflection will be recorded in the Official Report.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Thank you, Mr McCabe.

There is very little chance that I will be able to call everyone who wants to speak unless contributions are brief.

I call Mr Gallie to move his amendment.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 4:35 pm, 9th September 1999

I would like to use the lectern. I usually speak without too many notes, but I have some today as the debate is very important.

My amendment deletes "the balance of beliefs" from Mr McCabe's motion, and calls on the Parliament to commence the week's meetings of the Parliament with a Christian thought and prayer. That is not through bigotry or intolerance, but through my firmly held view that it is everyone's right to follow their religious belief as they choose.

Scotland and the United Kingdom's records are exemplary. My wish is that the same religious tolerance be observed throughout the world. I can imagine the reaction in Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran or Jerusalem should it be suggested that Christian prayers be said before their Parliaments' business commenced.

I offer no criticism of those countries for treasuring their religious beliefs and practices. My amendment is based not on race but on Scotland's traditional culture and faith. Surely no one in the chamber will deny Scotland's place in the family of Christian nations or, indeed, the worldwide Christian community.

The reality of Scotland today is illustrated in the 1991 census, which shows that only 1.3 per cent of the Scottish population is made up of ethnic minorities. Within that, the Chinese community has a large proportion of Christians and there are a number of Asian Christian Churches throughout Scotland.

Scotland's Christian faith can be said to date back to the 1st century, when the Roman legions were here. It was not until early in the 5th century that the Celtic Church could be said to have established firm foundations. Scotland's first bishop, St Ninian, established a church in Whithorn and St Mungo established his in Glasgow at that time—just before Columba arrived on Iona in 563.

The Celtic Church progressed into the medieval period, when a greater identification with western Christendom developed. That was almost certainly led by Queen Margaret, the wife of Malcolm Canmore of Dunfermline abbey fame.

The reformation saw Scotland revert to a more nationally aligned approach to religious observance and that, to an extent, remains today. However, it recognises broader Church interests and is inclusive as a result of the welcome ecumenical movement.

Perhaps an indication of the importance that we and other nations place on Christianity is the fact that our calendar is based on the date of Christ's birth. Our main holidays of Christmas and Easter relate to his birth and to his death on the cross.

Through the centuries, Scots have travelled the world doing good work and promoting Christ's name with great success. I think of Livingstone and Slessor and, in more recent times, Eric Liddle—who was certainly not prepared to compromise his Christianity.

As a Christian—albeit one whose commitment could at times be challenged—I am obliged to agree with the many who have written to me, and I am very thankful to those who wrote letters that I received today. They urge that we should not turn our back on Christian philosophy—that we should not turn our back on the commandments. Surely it must be wrong for any Christian to do other than promote his or her beliefs, and to cut across the very foundation of Christian belief by transgressing the first commandment:

"Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

I move, as an amendment to motion S1M-131, in the name of Mr Tom McCabe, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to leave out from "the balance" to "Bureau" and insert

"the traditional Christian culture and faith of Scotland".

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Before calling Brian Adam, I appeal for three-minute speeches so that I can include more members.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 4:40 pm, 9th September 1999

I thank Phil Gallie and, in particular, Mr McCabe, given the reservations that he expressed at our first debate on this subject. The measured response that he delivered today was most welcome.

I understand Mr Gallie's point of view, but I do not share it. It is difficult, given the correspondence that we have all had from people who hold views strongly and dearly, but the view which suggests that those not of the Christian faith would be welcome to offer prayers and thoughts somewhere other than in the chamber scarcely reflects the inclusive society that we are trying to foster. I do not want us to say to some segments of our society that their faiths are somehow lesser, or that they can express their view in some hole in the corner, somewhere other than in the chamber, while some privileged people are allowed to address the whole nation and the whole Parliament.

I regret that there has been such an approach. I know that Mr Gallie is not attempting to divide on sectarian or other grounds—I accept that. In my view, the only way that we can adopt a Christian outlook is to recognise that there are differences. We do not have to accept what others say to us as our own beliefs, but it is only reasonable that we include them and allow them the opportunity to share their beliefs. If we are occasionally called on to accept views that we do not like, we do not have to be present—it is not compulsory.

I welcome Mr McCabe's suggestion that we respect the time for reflection and do not walk in and out during it, although I understand the difficulty in enforcement.

I welcome Mr McCabe's motion and hope that, despite Mr Gallie's well-meaning personal beliefs, we do not support a view that could be seen as exclusive rather than inclusive.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour 4:43 pm, 9th September 1999

Although I voted against the original motion for prayers, I fully accept, as a democrat, that the majority voted that day for a time for reflection. I recollect that most speakers stressed the need for it to be multi-faith, including all the people of Scotland.

If we are to be inclusive, it is important that we recognise all the religions and none in present-day Scotland. In order fully to respect the diversity of belief in Scotland, it is important that the time for reflection reflects that, and I do not think that that could be the case if we accepted Phil Gallie's amendment.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative 4:44 pm, 9th September 1999

As the member who lodged the original prayers motion, as it became known, I would like to commend the Parliamentary Bureau for coming up with a speedy and, as far as I am concerned, wholly acceptable solution to what must have been a difficult conundrum: how to balance the requirement for what Donald Gorrie called proportional praying in the original debate with the quite understandable traditional desire for Christian-only prayers, as proposed by my colleague, Phil Gallie. I freely confess that that desire has dominated my mailbag by a ratio of some 70:1. I have read and replied to every one of those letters, and have had most of the Bible quoted at me in their text.

One quotation was not thrust in my direction. It is the one quotation that should most influence the decision that we are about to take, that we should "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". That is a maxim with which I can find no cause to disagree, and which we would do well to adopt as a Parliament. It is, above all, a maxim that promotes tolerance.

If we intend to be a tolerant Parliament, as I hope we do, we must allow MSPs who are not of a Christian persuasion a recognised moment of comfort alongside the rest of us before business begins. Whatever form of contemplation is held on a given day will not prevent me or anyone else, as a practising Christian, from finding comfort from my particular god. If there is no other Parliament in the world that has such a practice, I am sorry—so what? To my mind, that is a reason for us to adopt a new, open and welcoming procedure as we enter both a new phase of Scottish democracy and the new millennium. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you": that is not a bad way to live. I support the motion and commend it to the chamber.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 4:46 pm, 9th September 1999

I support the motion in the name of Tom McCabe and oppose the amendment being proposed by Phil Gallie. I accept the view of Phil Gallie, that Christians have a duty to promote Christianity, but I do not agree with his amendment.

My view is based on acceptance and belief, and on the need to value and support all faiths throughout Scotland. When we reflect or pray, our prayers are about asking for wisdom, knowledge, support and encouragement in all that we do to help each other and for Scotland as a whole. That work brings shoulder to shoulder Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and members of all the other religions. We need to value and respect all the different cultures and religions that make up the Scotland of today and of tomorrow. Tonight at 6 pm I shall meet Dharmendra Kanani, the new senior officer for Scotland for the Commission for Racial Equality, and I shall take that message to him.

If Tom McCabe's motion is agreed to, as I hope it will be, I ask the Parliamentary Bureau to consider including schoolchildren in leading the prayers at least some of the time. I ask that a different child be selected on each occasion, from different schools throughout Scotland. In that way, children of all races and religions will come to accept and understand that we believe in them, and that we value them as the flowers of our future.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 4:47 pm, 9th September 1999

I support the motion. Like other members, I received many letters until it got to the point at which I had to give a standard reply. My suggestion was, and remains, that we should invite people with something to say to speak to us at the commencement of business on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. After those short talks, there should be a period for reflection and, on occasion and where appropriate, a Christian prayer or prayer from another religion, when MSPs can signify their inclusion in any way they see fit.

The motion in the name of Tom McCabe is close enough to my original ideas on the subject, and I enthusiastically recommend it to the chamber.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 4:48 pm, 9th September 1999

That is a challenge. I strongly support the motion. It reflects the views that were put forward in the previous debate. I sympathise with the sincere people who somehow feel that we are deserting Christianity. Members and others who are Christians strongly believe that their views are correct: that theirs is the true God, that Christ is their redeemer, and so on. They must accept that other people believe equally strongly in their various faiths.

Recognising that does not mean that Christians surrender their faith and go along with the other faiths. People who belong to those other faiths are our fellow citizens and they deserve an opportunity for prayers in proportion to their number—which, as others have said, will arise on fewer occasions than for those from the Church of Scotland or the Roman Catholic faith. We are not deserting our faith; we are recognising their commitment to their faith. We can all learn from the wise statements, prayers and sentiments that are expressed by others. I listen to speeches by members of other parties with whom I strongly disagree, but they believe what they say and they have the right to say it. That is democracy. We are trying to introduce a kind of religious democracy, in which we do not desert our own belief but we recognise other people's beliefs. It is a remarkably civilised concept and I very strongly commend it.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 4:49 pm, 9th September 1999

As a practising Christian I notice that no one has yet spoken of tolerance. If Christianity is about one thing, it is about tolerance. I agree with Donald Gorrie that there is no risk to anyone's own belief in the proposal. I feel that the Parliament must signal very clearly that we tolerate a broad spectrum of views in our society and that worship is to be encouraged. I support the motion.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour 4:50 pm, 9th September 1999

It is with some trepidation that I rise to speak because, for me, religious practice is a private matter and I guard that privacy carefully. Nevertheless, since I have some concerns that I hope Mr McCabe will be able to answer, I feel compelled to contribute. I agree with the saying that the only difference between the sacrilegious and the sanctimonious is that at least the sacrilegious have a sense of humour. I hope my comments are not seen as either.

I hope that when we vote we do it for the right reasons. I agree that if prayers are to form part of the procedure of the Parliament, they must include all denominations in this country. If we are to be representative, so must the prayers. I am concerned, however, that the debate is more about gestures and perceptions than about the actual form of the prayers. If we are to pray together, it should be to our and the country's spiritual benefit; political perceptions must be set aside.

As a Christian I would like to refer to teachings of the Bible which guide my views. In Matthew, chapter 6, it says, do not

"parade your uprightness in public" and

"when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers ... at the street corners for people to see them."

We are further told to:

"go to your private room".

I am also aware that the Bible teaches us not to judge and I am trying not to do so. If prayer is considered to be a private matter and one that should be left to the Churches, then the motion should be opposed. I do not want to do that, but I am concerned that we have here an attempt to posture and to gesture. I only ask that when we vote we do so for the right reasons and that we vote to make this an inclusive Parliament—I am concerned that that might not be the case. When members vote, please be honest.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 4:53 pm, 9th September 1999

I appreciate Michael McMahon's point, which is valid. These prayers will be public, and, as Tom McCabe has said, they will be prayers for the whole of Scotland. We should focus upon the reflection and not on ourselves. It raises also the issue of television coverage and I hope that we do that in a way that focuses on the reflection itself rather than on the members' reflection on the reflection. The bureau has discussed the way in which the reflections might take place—

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I was interested in what Michael McMahon said and there is a case for private rather than public prayer. I am surprised to hear that this is going to be televised. Is that the implication of what is being said?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

That is an issue that has still to be resolved, but I would have thought that, if it is done, it cannot be in the conventional way with a wide picture. The reflection will be recorded in the Official Report . There is an argument for televising it, because in the motion we are saying that this is an event that would, we hope, lead the people of Scotland to reflect with the Parliament. If it is to be televised, it should be done in order to lead the people of Scotland.

That is an issue for another day. What we want to do here is begin the process. I say to Phil Gallie and two other Tory speakers that there is an issue of tolerance here. The ecclesiastical history of Scotland has been a move from toleration to tolerance. Toleration means saying that other people are entitled to their religious beliefs, but that that must not interfere with the primary position of a particular faith.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

If Mr Gallie will let me finish my point, I will let him intervene.

There is a way to move from toleration to genuine tolerance, and that is to say that, while one may not share other people's views, they must be listened to. This motion is moving Scotland, at last, from a position of toleration to one of tolerance, and that is a position that most of us in this chamber would agree with. This is an inclusive matter. We should be tolerant of other faiths.

I will give way to Mr Morgan, because Mr Gallie seems to have given up.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Mr McCabe said that it was necessary to recognise those of all faiths and of none. By definition, people who have a faith tend to be more organised than are those who have no faith. Is it the intention of the motion that on occasion, people from non-faith organisations, such as humanists, will be asked along?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Yes, the Humanist Society of Scotland is on the list of organisations that have been consulted and it will be involved, and that is important.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Will Mr Russell concede that in my remarks I emphasised tolerance, and my acceptance that everyone in Scotland and the UK has the right to follow their own beliefs? I based my comments on those points.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Absolutely, and that is the point that I am making, but there is a difference between toleration and tolerance, and I am asking this Parliament to show tolerance. Today, we can show an example of tolerance.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

This is more than a question of toleration: it is a matter of celebration of unity and diversity. We must not just tolerate: we should be proud of an inclusive approach that is different from that which many institutions have had in the past. It is vitally important that this Parliament supports the bureau's motion by acclamation.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

As ever, Mr Salmond has anticipated me, because I was going to say that in my last sentence. It makes a change for Mr Salmond to write for me. [Laughter.] When we move from toleration to tolerance, we end up with celebration. We should be saying to the people of Scotland that this is how we should celebrate our inclusiveness, our new nation and the way that we envision this country. I ask members to support the motion.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Before we come to decision time there are three matters that we must dispose of without debate.