Bishops in the Lords
The BHA’s new briefing ‘Religious Representatives in the House of Lords’ provides a background to the issue, and sets out the arguments made for and against retaining the Bishops and those for increasing and diversifying religious representation. The briefing also provides information on the wider context of secularism and disestablishment, and sets out what can be done about the present situation.
In June 2011 the BHA published a briefing on the Coalition Government’s proposals for Lords Reform, which would keep a reserved place for Church of England Bishops.The briefing states that, in effect, ‘the proposals create a new largely independent, and largely unaccountable, bloc for the Church of England in Parliament.’
We submitted written evidence to the Joint Committee looking at the draft House of Lords Reform Bill. We believe the government’s proposals do not simply maintain the status quo but give new powers to the Church of England, decrease accountability and even increase proportionately the number of Bishops to have an automatic place in a reformed chamber. We have strongly criticised proposals which would exempt Bishops from the rules on serious offences, leaving them unaccountable to parliament on the most serious matters. In November 2011, we were invited to give oral evidence to the Committee, on the secularist position as regards Lords Reform, in a session directly preceded by one with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
What are we doing?
We have long campaigned for the removal of the right of Bishops to sit in the House of Lords, especially since the prospects for reform became (slightly) greater in 2002, and the public are strongly on our side in wanting to remove this religious privilege. In 2008, the Government proposed in its White Paper to retain the right of Bishops to sit in Parliament in a partially appointed chamber, and to give the Church of England new powers to decide precisely which Bishops will represent them.
In January 2010, the BHA supported a debate organised by the Labour Humanists “Should the bishops be evicted from the House of Lords?” – the first such public debate on the subject to be held within the Houses of Parliament – which featured BHA President Polly Toynbee successfully arguing for the motion.
In February 2010, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson discussed religion and the law, including the retention of the Bishops in the Lords, on BBC Radio 4’s discussion programme Beyond Belief with the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, convenor of the Lords Spiritual.
In March 2010 the BHA worked with POWER2010 who set up a system where people could write to the Bishops to let them know that we want them to engage with debate about reform of the Lords. Over the course of the campaign, over 64 000 letters were sent.
In May 2011 the Coalition Government published its proposals for reform in the House of Lords Reform Draft Bill and White Paper. The BHA published a supplementary briefing on those, which propose to retain a place for Bishops in a reformed chamber.
In June 2011 the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group hosted a panel discussion on the government’s proposals to keep Bishops in the Lords.
What can you do?
Watch this space for any more information about this campaign.
You can also support the BHA’s campaigns by becoming a member. Campaigns cost money – quite a lot of money – and we need your financial support. Instead or in addition, you can make a donation to the BHA.