Renowned British secularist Lord Avebury dies aged 87

Renowned British secularist Lord Avebury dies aged 87 February 14, 2016

Lord Avebury, pictured above, left, with the National Secular Society’s Keith Porteous Wood, was an honorary associate of the NSS who, in 2009, was awarded joint Secularist of the Year (with Evan Harris) for his role in the abolition of blasphemy.
For more than a year he had been suffering from myelofibrosis, a form of blood cancer, and had spoken publicly in support of assisted dying.
According to this report, in an article written in tribute to the peer, Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said:

He supported countless human rights campaigns and formed the first human rights committee in parliament. His knowledge of foreign affairs, particularly of remote parts of the developing world, was second to none. The weak and oppressed in these places have lost a true champion.

He added:

He was always disarmingly frank and pragmatic about his death and he told me once how long a consultant said he had to live. He took the prediction very literally and precisely; I even joked with him he seemed to be treating it like an appointment and we both laughed.
He worked tirelessly on removing mandatory daily collective worship in all maintained schools, causing such consternation with the bishops they sought assurances from the then education secretary Michael Gove that he would not permit this. Speaking in a Parliamentary debate in 2011 after an amendment to abolish the collective worship requirement had failed, Lord Avebury said: ‘Sooner or later we shall get rid of the act of compulsory worship in schools, and the sooner the better.’

I had the pleasure of meeting Lord Avebury when I attended a celebration in London after the law of blasphemy had been abolished.
The politician was the longest-serving Lib Dem member of the House of Lords, taking his place in the upper chamber after losing his seat in the Commons in 1970.
Avebury had said he hoped the assisted dying would be legalised before his own death. Writing as the issue was presented to parliament last year, he said:

I obviously have a personal stake in the bill and the future of the assisted dying campaign. Currently I am not in the latter stages of my illness and I am very hopeful that this year will not be my last.
I know that having the right to control my death if it gets unbearable will be a great comfort to me, especially in the final weeks of my life. I am confident that, when this time comes for me, assisted dying for terminally ill people will be a legal right in the UK, and I will be able to plan the death that I want.

Sadly, it was not to be.
Paying tribute to Avebury, the Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, said the peer would be sorely missed.

He was a true Liberal who will be remembered as much for his unyielding commitment to fighting for Liberal causes as his sensational by-election victory in Orpington in 1962.
He campaigned to lower the voting age, founded the parliamentary human rights group and fought for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, taking up the cases of hundreds of individuals fleeing persecution.
He was a committed internationalist, regularly promoting human rights around the world. He was a strong supporter of citizenship rights for British minorities in Hong Kong and campaigned against the persecution of religious minorities across many countries.

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  • May blasphemy laws ever be abolished and blasphemy ever roll on.

  • John

    Former Eric Lubbock MP for Orpington was also instrumental in getting caste discrimination outlawed in Britain, though – disgracefully – the current government has still not implemented the law in Britain on this matter.
    Perhaps his demise will lead to successful demands for full implementation of the law against caste discrimination?
    The world has lost a truly decent individual.

  • Broga

    A sad loss. One of the best. He will be missed.

  • Angela_K

    Another loss to our secular cause. I wonder how Lord Avebury felt about having the religious Tim Farron leading the LibDems?
    OT. I’ve just watched the film “Spotlight”about the Boston Globe’s work in exposing abuse cover-ups by the catholic church – it is very good.

  • barriejohn

    Sad news. Some of us remember Orpington; in fact, it only seems like yesterday.
    One of the hereditary peers who should have been in “that place” anyway, as his “peers” realized!

  • Barry Duke

    @ Angela_K: I’d been meaning to mention Spotlight, described here by Ricky Gervais: “… The Catholic Church are furious about the film because it exposes that five percent of all their priests have molested children and been allowed to continue to work without punishment. Roman Polanski called it ‘the best date movie ever.’”

  • John

    During the film, a consultant (ex-priest married to an ex-nun) said to some of the Spotlight team that his research suggested at least half – 50 per cent – of all priests fail to meet their vow of celibacy. Shocking!
    What is even more shocking is that when I asked all the people I knew who had seen the film why celibacy was introduced by the Church of Rome, not one of them knew the answer to the question.
    When I pointed out that it was linked to non-inheritance of property, all those I was discussing the subject with immediately grasped it.
    Maybe you could get someone to publicise this aspect of celibacy in religion and how it has warped the minds of priests ever since?

  • harrynutsak

    “how it has warped the minds of priests”
    Um, no.
    Their minds were warped already or they wouldn’t have bothered in the first place.
    They want access to victims. Take that away from all priests and watch them look for different jobs with sweaty hands, eh.
    Refuse physical access to children and watch as these predators go elsewhere to get it.
    People let their kids run around in heavy traffic, risk-wise, all the time. When severe damage is done, it’s too late.

  • Angela_K

    A sad aspect of this film is that the parents of child abuse victims still maintained their allegiance to Catholic church, just as Philomena Lee still does. They didn’t want the vile organisation that abused their children damaged – shows how effective religious indoctrination is.
    Sorry, I seem to have hijacked this thread.

  • Brian Jordan

    OT, what about Pope John II’s fancy woman? It’s all over the news.

  • Broga

    @Brian Jordon: It’s OK. Relax. Papa John never touched her carnally. That must be true as the Vatican said so.
    However, 100 per cent of those not in thrall to the RC church may choose to think differently. Papa J. said God gave her to him. So, I would think that in his mind that it was game on …………

  • AgentCormac

    Sad news. And sad also that in his tribute Lib Dem leader and evangelical christian, Tim Farron declined to make even passing mention of Lord Avebury’s secularism.

  • John

    Farron – another of whom “There is something of the night about him”.
    He is not the only totally self-deluded lunatic in politics.
    He is partnered by a fundamentalist Education Secretary and an Ofsted Chief Inspector of Schools who is equally crazily religious.
    And then these idiots wonder why and how easy is it to radicalise kids?
    You could not make these nightmare creatures up!
    Why are secularists not so equally driven to implement their beliefs?
    Why do we leave political chicanery to these political charlatans?
    Are we all just too honest for our own good – or what?

  • Vanity Unfair

    The first Lord Avebury was Sir John Lubbock who achieved popular fame by introducing the Bank Holidays Act thus starting the trend for paid holidays in the UK.
    Note to foreign readers: this complication of surnames is a feature of British culture and causes no end of confusion when a known person is ennobled and chooses a different name as a title. No sane community would organise itself so.