ORPINGTON MP Jo Johnson has called for the tradition of holding prayers in the House of Commons to be abolished as Britain is no longer “an overwhelmingly Christian country”.

Mr Johnson said yesterday that the custom of saying prayers in the Commons before the day’s business should be moved from the main chamber to the secondary chamber at Westminster Hall as it would “save time”.

He told MPs during a debate on parliamentary reform: “It is important that Parliament reflects the country as it is today. It is increasingly not a monotheistic country - we are not an overwhelmingly Christian country any more.”

Sittings in both the Houses of Commons and Lords have begun with prayers since 1558.

They follow the Christian faith and attendance is voluntary.

Mr Johnson said: “Institutionalised prayer and congregational worship have fallen out of practice in this country over the past century, as people may notice from the attendance at their local church.

“I am not against going to church, which is something that people should feel free to do, but it is something that MPs should be encouraged to do in their own time.

“There are plenty of places of worship in the Palace of Westminster for them to go to if they want to be put in a God-fearing state of mind at the start of play.

“Institutionalised worship in the main chamber is not a good use of everyone's time.”

Speaking to News Shopper after the debate, Mr Johnson said his aim was to modernise Parliament and make it more open to people from all backgrounds and religions.

He said: "I am not seeking to disestablish the Church of England – heaven forbid – but the existing parliamentary rule that bars those who have not sat through this brief Christian service from reserving a space for themselves on the green benches arguably discriminates against people of other faiths."