King James Bible

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 9th December 2009.

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Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills) 11:00 am, 9th December 2009

It is a pleasure, Mr. Hancock, to speak under your chairmanship. I feel that I ought to begin with an expression of disappointment. On three separate occasions I have raised the matter of the 400th anniversary of the authorised or King James Bible with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The most recent occasion was in October. It was disappointing that the Department stated that it would not mark the anniversary. That is especially so because I believe that it runs contrary to the Department's remit.

Under the heading "What we do" the Department's website states:

"We encourage and help the tourism industry to improve what it has to offer for all our visitors and to promote a positive image abroad."

We have the opportunity to attract many thousands of visitors from the United States and elsewhere, yet there are no plans to take advantage of that. The website says that the Department "Sets arts policy" and that it seeks to

"Broaden access for all to a rich and varied artistic and cultural life".

Here we have the single greatest piece of literature in the English language-the highest peak of all English literature-yet the Department says that it will not mark the anniversary.

With reference to the historic environment, the Department's website states that it is responsible for the promotion of historic national treasures, including the royal palaces. One of those is Hampton Court, where, in 1604, King James called the Hampton Court conference, which commissioned the King James Bible. Surely during such a year as 2011, and in connection with such an anniversary, more could be made of Hampton Court; and surely the Department could help to highlight Hampton Court and its role in producing the King James Bible.

The Department's refusal to mark the anniversary is a failure fully to discharge its own remit. However, it is much more than that. I believe that it lets down the nation. I am therefore grateful to the powers that be that we are able to debate the matter today. Of course, the phrase "the powers that be" is part of our language and speech only because of the King James version of the Bible. That is one of the many reasons why the 400th anniversary is so important, and why it should be commemorated.

The King James Bible is the greatest and most influential piece of literature in the English language. Poet laureate Andrew Motion said of it:

"To read it is to feel simultaneously at home, a citizen of the world, and a traveller through eternity."

The great Winston Churchill noted that the scholars who produced it had forged an enduring link, literary and religious, between the English-speaking people of the world. David Crystal said that it

"did something that nobody else had done, or nothing else had done in the history of the language previously. Not even Shakespeare had managed to do as other text in the history of the English language has done as much as the Bible to shape our modern idiom".