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Government’s faith minister calls for more religious leaders in the Lords

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, the Minister for Faith, has called for more religious leaders to appointed to the House of Lords. The suggestion, which was made to The Times, was in response to a question about the ongoing place of Church of England bishops in the second chamber. Instead, Humanists UK has called for the bishops to be removed instead.

26 bishops from the Church of England sit as of right in the House of Lords – making the UK one of only two sovereign states to have religious leaders afforded automatic places. The other is Iran, an Islamic theocracy. Last year The Times ran a survey on the matter, and found 62 percent of the public supporting removing the bishops, eight percent letting them retain their seats, and 12 percent suggesting supplementing them with other religious leaders.

But The Times now reports Lord Bourne as saying that ‘“I’d be more [for] adding other faiths.” He said that there was a “great value” in having bishops in the Lords but that “broader representation” would be beneficial. “There obviously are other religions represented there, but certainly not at the same level. A [former] chief rabbi is there [Lord Sacks] and there are Sikh representatives. We do have a lot of bishops, which I think is fine — they do contribute massively.”’

Last week the latest British Social Attitudes Survey found that 86 percent of the population do not belong to the Church of England, including 98 percent of young adults. 

Responding to the suggestions, Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented,

‘Lord Bourne’s suggestions are ill-thought-out. To attempt to appoint a proportionate number of religious leaders to make up for the bishops in Parliament would mean appointing another 85 people of other faiths, and even then that is to say nothing of representation of the majority of the population that belong to no religion. It is to say nothing of the fact that religious leaders do not represent those who are in fact religious, whether this be in their beliefs, their practice, or their social attitudes. It is to say nothing of the fact that religious people are already over-represented anyway amongst the Lords who are not bishops. And then there is the fact that such an approach would be hugely unpopular.

‘The only fair and equitable solution is to end the privileged place of the Church of England by removing the bishops from the House of Lords and instead allow those of all religions and beliefs equal representation in the chamber through no such special representation at all.’

Notes

For further contact or information, please contact Humanist UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 07815 589636.

Read The Times’ interview: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/call-for-nonchristian-faith-leaders-to-sit-in-lords-6ff3t2nxx

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on bishops in the Lords: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/secularism/constitutional-reform/bishops-in-the-lords/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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