Today sees the introduction into the House of Lords of Rachel Treweek, the Bishop of Gloucester, who will be the first female bishop of the Church of England (CofE) to sit in the House of Lords. While the move may represent progress towards gender equality within the Church of England, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has pointed out that by sitting as of right in the Lords, the bishops still hold an unfair, unjustified and unpopular privilege in representing just a tiny proportion of the UK population.
26 CofE bishops sit as of right in the House of Lords, making the UK the only western democracy to award such a privilege to religious leaders. The Church is not the national church in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and according to the British Social Attitudes Survey does not even represent the majority of Christians in England, who in turn only represent a minority of the population as a whole. Just 16% of the British population are Anglicans, and just 42% are Christians (51% are of no religion). Just 3.2% of those aged 18-24 are Anglican, with just 21% of this age group being Christian. The Church of England’s attendance figures point to just 1.2% of the UK population as a whole attending an Anglican church service on any given Sunday.
Opinion polls consistently show that the policy of the Church itself is out of step with even the majority of its own adherents on issues such as same-sex marriage, assisted dying, abortion, ‘faith’ schools, and even, appropriately enough, whether or not bishops should sit as of right in the House of Lords.
BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘The privilege awarded to the Church of England in having bishops sit as of right in the House of Lords is unfair, in prioritising one group over all others. It is unjustified, in that no sound arguments can be advanced to justify that privilege. And it is unpopular – even 70 percent of Christians are against it. The Bishop of Gloucester’s admission to the House of Lords does nothing to detract from any of these intractable reasons why the bishops should not be in the Lords as of right at all.’
For further comment or information contact BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The last time Lords reform was seriously considered, the BHA ran the ‘Holy Redundant’ campaign around the proposals: http://holyredundant.org.uk/
Read more about the BHA’s work on Bishops in the Lords: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/constitutional-reform/bishops-in-the-lords
Read the BHA’s 2011 briefing on Bishops in the Lords: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/1bha-briefing-bishops-in-the-lords-2011-final.pdf
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.